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Articles / Applying to College / Should Talented Daughter Return to Public School?

June 20, 2007

Should Talented Daughter Return to Public School?

Question: My daughter was a top student at a highly competitive public school. However, she is now in private school, where she is the only sophomore taking Calculus AB (she is also only 14, having skipped a grade in elementary school). She is working hard in this class but only earning a high B. Because she is aiming for Ivy League universities, would we be wise to move her back to public school whereshe can improve her grades and class ranking? We would also be able to save money for her college education. We are just plain middle class parents blessed with an ambitious child. What do you think we should do?

Important decisions about a child's schooling should not be made by an Internet advisor any more than they should be made by The Psychic Friends Network. :- ) Nonetheless, I will offer some thoughts that you can put into the hopper when you discuss this at home and perhaps with the counseling staff at your daughter's school or at the public school she might attend.


First of all, please realize that a "B" in AP Calculus earned by a 14-year-old sophomore will not torpedo her Ivy chances. When making admission decisions, college officials at the Ivies and other elite institutions take a "holistic" approach to the process and will thus view your daughter in the context of her school environment. In other words, they will note that she is taking a very advanced class at a young age, and they will see also that she attends a private school that may not be known for "the easy A."

However, keep in mind, too, that the Ivies and their equivalents turn away thousands of applicants each year who have tip-top grades and test scores. In order for a candidate to make it through the vaunted Ivy gates, he or she must offer not only strong "numbers" but also other achievements that are outstanding and, often, uncommon.

Thus, in making plans for your daughter's next two years, you need to ask yourself:

1) Where will she be happiest? Since she's been in both public and private school, she must have her own opinion of where she will best thrive, not just academically but also socially and emotionally.

2) Which school will give her the most opportunity to stand out in the crowd BEYOND the classroom? What are her true passions? How can she explore them? Note that elite-college admission officials tend to be most impressed by applicants whose successes go beyond the typical school clubs and activities. (An exception is athletics, which is a whole other story.)

In addition, you don't say whether or not your daughter's private school ranks its students. Most private schools do not but some do. If your daughter's current school DOES rank, where does she fit in the pecking order? If she is not at the top of the heap but WOULD be at the public school, that might be a factor when you debate the transfer. But, on the other hand, if her current school does NOT rank or if it does, and she is at or near the top of the class there (and at many private schools, students with B's can often lead the class), then you should not worry so much about her B's.

In any case, I urge you to ask your daughter where she feels she best fits. Like most teenagers, she may have a strong opinion. :-) However, if the cost of the private school is becoming a burden to your family, you should certainly explain that to your daughter because she is old enough to understand and appreciate it. Don't feel that colleges "prefer" private school applicants because that is not at all the case. When it comes to getting an admissions "edge," there are pros and cons to both public and private schools.

Good luck to you, whatever you decide.

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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