Admissions

Established High School or New One?

Question: We are moving to Texas and are evaluating two high schools for our child's sophomore year. The district we are looking at is well rated; however, as soon as existing high schools hit a certain student enrollment, they build new high schools to keep the student body at the pre-determined ideal size. We have an option of a high school that is a nine out of 10 on GreatSchools and has received awards, or we could choose a brand-new high school set to open this coming school year. This would be advantageous to my shy child who will then be in the same boat as the other students looking to make new friends; however, I am concerned if my child will be at a disadvantage when applying for college if the school doesn't have an established reputation/has not received national recognition due to its newness. We also have the unpredictability of its future success even though the district is highly rated. How do colleges view students coming from new/relatively new high schools?

College admissions officials evaluate candidates in the context of the high schools they attend. Thus, applicants from “highly-ranked” schools may be viewed through a somewhat different lens than those from less touted ones, but typically neither option automatically gives a student a better shot.


So, in making this decision, your priority should really be to try to pick the place where your child will be happiest. If he or she is content and engaged at school, it will be reflected in the transcript and resume, regardless of which school is selected. This, in turn, should lead to the best possible college-acceptance outcomes.

You mention that one benefit of the new school would be that your sophomore child would be on equal footing with classmates who will all be new there as well. While this may be true when it comes to navigating the hallways or finding the library and the lunch room, won’t there be crowds (even “cliques”) of students who have been together since kindergarten who will be entering this new school together?

And how will the students from the existing high school be reassigned? Will they get to select their high school for next year or will they be enrolled in the new school based on a home address? I’m asking this because you will need to consider the demographics of the new school versus the old one. For instance, if the new school is attractive to less ambitious students because of the reputed rigor of the old school, then this might not make for such a good fit for your child, who will be aiming for highly selective colleges later on (which I assume is the case, based on the concerns you’ve expressed in your query).

And if the demographics are likely to differ in these two high schools, remember that some teenagers do their best work when they are in class with the strongest students, while others can be intimated by competition and tend to shine when they are the stars. Where do you suspect that your shy child fits in?

In addition, as you weigh your options, factors like location and academic offerings should come into play. Can your child walk to one campus but not the other? Is one more easily accessed by bicycle or public transportation? Will you live close enough to either school to make your house a likely hangout for your child and friends? As a parent myself, I believe in “Location, Location, Location” as much for choosing schools as for choosing real estate!

How about curriculum ... will it be the same in both schools? Will the new school offer the same range of advanced classes, foreign languages, etc. as the old one? If the course lists vary from school to school, is there one that meshes best with your child’s current trajectory?

One advantage that the new school might supply is that club leadership positions and sports team memberships could be more up for grabs than at the established school. But, on the other hand, it may be several years before some activities are up and running at all. Have you talked to district administrators about what to anticipate in those areas? Do they expect the new school to provide a full slate of organizations, athletics, musical groups, etc. in the first year?

When college admission officials evaluate a candidate — especially at the more selective institutions — they do usually refer to records culled from past applicants. They may say, for example, “We have never accepted an applicant from this high school with a GPA below 3.9,” or, conversely, “This is a highly challenging high school and we have taken students from there with a 3.6 GPA who have gone on to do very well here.”

Of course, when a high school has just opened, the admissions folks won’t have a history to assess. So if your child does attend the new school, when it’s time for college applications, you will want to be sure that the guidance counselor adds background information to the grades. In other words, the reference letter could say, “Alex’s junior GPA of 3.89 was the best in the class,” or “That 87 in AP Chemistry was the second-highest grade.”

When a guidance counselor has established relationships with admissions officers at certain colleges, this could be a small advantage for applicants from that high school. But, equally compelling is what I’ve dubbed “The Push Pin Theory.” By this I mean that, if admission offices were big enough to accommodate a gigantic map of the world, then staff members would insert a push pin into the location of every high school that enrolled a student at their college. According to my theory, college folks aspire to have a pin for as many high schools as possible. So when a high school is new, it may be especially attractive to colleges where none of its graduates have yet enrolled. (And perhaps your child could land in a best-of-both-worlds spot. That is, an experienced counselor from elsewhere will move to the newly-opened school. So your child will get both a ringer as an advisor and a unique push pin!)

Finally, if time and distance permit, and if your family has carte blanche to choose either the old or new high school, I recommend that you arrange for your child to spend a day at the old school. While, unfortunately, it’s not possible to see the school that hasn’t opened yet, at least by visiting one of the choices, he or she can get a sense of the “vibe” there, perhaps along with some scuttlebutt on who will be staying put next year and who will be moving to the new school. And if your son or daughter has played a starring role in the decision-making process, this should help to ensure the smoothest possible transition, whichever school gets the final nod.

Good luck as you make the move!