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Articles / Applying to College / Will Less Competitive High School Boost Admission Odds?

June 29, 2007

Will Less Competitive High School Boost Admission Odds?

Question: I'm a sophomore in a very rigorous high school in a wealthy suburb. I do well academically, but I'm not at the top of my class here. However, not a lot of students from my school get accepted at Ivies and the like. If I transfer to a less competitive high school, where I am more likely to be at the top of my class, will that improve my college admission chances?

Being a stronger student at a less competitive high school MAY boost your college admissions chances. I must admit I've heard tales of decent (but not stand-out) students at one high school who transfer to another school nearby and graduate with valedictorian status and a mailbox full of Ivy acceptances.


Moreover, if the students at your school aren't getting good news at college-decision time, then maybe your school isn't preparing them well for tests, or the culture in your community doesn't encourage creative extracurricular activities. Or perhaps simply too many students are setting the bar too high and have unrealistic expectations about their college outcomes. Sometimes, too, being in an affluent high school in an affluent suburb can work against you. The Ivies and their ilk are inundated with applicants from such backgrounds, and thus strong candidates from more working-class communities can sometimes stand out more in a crowd.

However, there are lots of things you need to be aware of before you clean out your locker, and head across town to Lower High. :-)

For starters, if your current school is very rigorous, then admission officials will know that good grades--even if they're not straight A's--really mean something. Moreover, if you DON'T have straight A's at your current school, and you transfer to a new one, then that might affect your class rank at your new school--if it's a school that does compute rank. In other words, it may be impossible to graduate at the top of your class at the lesser high school since you've already spent two years at the more demanding one, where your transcript may be spotted with B's or even C's. So you need to find out how your current performance might affect your rank at your prospective new school. Keep in mind that, if you transfer to a school that admission folks know isn't first-rate, your transcript and rank will have to be outstanding in order to garner recognition from the most competitive colleges.

Secondly, spending the next two years in a competitive academic environment might help to boost your test scores. If the classes at the new school aren't as tough as your current ones, not only are you depriving yourself of being in a school that might challenge you in a good way, but also you may not cover as much material, and this COULD lead to a less stellar test performance.

Finally, transferring to a new school as a junior MIGHT mean that you will miss out on leadership opportunities that you would have next year, should you stay where you are.

But most important ... are you happy at your current school? Do you find your classes--and the overall school environment--appropriately challenging or primarily stressful?

I urge you to make your decision based on where you expect you'll be most happy and engaged and not to worry so much about college admission verdicts down the road.

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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