Preparing for College

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.