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Articles / Applying to College / Is Going to a "Good" High School Important?

Jan. 27, 2015

Is Going to a "Good" High School Important?

Question: How important is going to a “good” high school in college admissions?

 Admission officials evaluate candidates in the context of where they attend school and don’t penalize students who attend less celebrated high schools and thus may not have access to an endless array of advanced courses or to special extracurricular opportunities.

Of course, students who go to high schools with high academic standards may work harder and be pushed more, and this can translate into better SAT or ACT results and better preparation overall. (Score one for the “good” schools.)

On the other hand, it’s usually easier to graduate with a great class rank at the less competitive high schools than it is at the so-called “good” ones. (Score a point for the lousy schools!)

Admission officials at the most sought-after colleges and universities are usually familiar with the “best” high schools—both public and private—and are always on the lookout for the top students from such places. They may even have a long-standing relationship with guidance counselors at these schools which can help seniors at admission-decision time. However, the Ivies and other “elite” colleges are always besieged by applications from these well-regarded high schools which can make it hard for any single student to stand out in a crowd. A student at a more obscure high school, on the other hand, may benefit from being the only applicant from his or her senior class to a particular college (and sometimes the only applicant in years … or ever) which can be a plus as well.

The bottom line is that there are some advantages to going to a “good” high school and some advantages to going to a less-rigorous or well-regarded one, and college officials–especially at the most selective institutions–bend over backwards to understand where each candidate is coming from.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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