High School is one of the most important influences on the lives of adolescents. It becomes a student’s world at an age when they are still developing their identities, growing into adults, and learning about life. The teachers, students, and learning material serve to influence how teenagers think and view society as they adopt more responsible roles in their own lives. Something that has such a large impact on students' lives should be chosen with careful consideration. A student’s school should be welcoming and tailored to their needs with many exciting opportunities to take risks, make connections and be creative. There are many factors in this monumental decision to consider in order to get the most out of the experience, including:
Whether big or small, this choice should be influenced by a student’s learning style. If they do well working in groups with more peer input, having many classmates may be best suited to them. If they do better in a calmer environment with more personal attention from the teacher, a small number of classmates may be the right choice.
What kinds of clubs are offered? How easy is it to create your own club? Are the groups student run or faculty led? These sorts of organizations provide a way for a student to get involved in their community and beyond and are beneficial to put on a college application, so it is best to be aware of the club options.
Campus location and layout
Does the campus offer many opportunities to walk around between classes or does the campus consist of one building? An on-campus visit or open house is a sure way to get a comprehensive look at the campus and the facilities.
Cohesiveness, hospitality, and inclusiveness of the student body
Students and parents should look to see how inclusive and cohesive the community is. A great way to test this level of hospitality is to have the student participate in a shadow day at the institution in question. This way, they can assess the feel of the student body and see if there are many cliques or if everyone is generally friendly and respectful.
This is a very important aspect of a school's attractiveness. This is the reason why students attend in the first place. Students and parents should be sure to check and see if honors or Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses are offered. They make a big difference in the college admissions process, as universities will check to see which courses the student takes as compared to which courses were offered. The academics should challenge the students but not make them so overwhelmed that they can not pursue their other interests.
Athletic opportunities and policies
If a student is particularly interested in a sport or enthused about athletics, it is a good idea to see if that sport is offered at a given institution or to measure the student body’s level of involvement and support of athletics. One way to measure this is to attend one of their sporting events and assess the level of student-body support and the level of seriousness with which the sport is treated. Another aspect of athletics to check is their policy on cutting students from the teams to see if every student interested in participating in athletics has the opportunity to do so.
Options in the performing and visual art
Parents and students should inquire whether there is a band and choir, an annual musical or play, or opportunities for music lessons. If truly interested in this field, a student can attend one of their concerts or musical performances. Even if a student is not particularly interested in this area, they would benefit from being a part of a diverse and active student body. Visual arts is another area that students and parents should assess before committing to an institution. Is the institution a patron of the arts? Does it support and encourage creativity in its students?
Attitudes of teachers
The attitudes of the teachers greatly affect the overall experiences of the students. Their level of engagement and enthusiasm can make or break how a student feels about a course. Students and parents should look for teachers that are dedicated to their craft, passionate about their subject, and willing to go the extra mile to help their students.
community’s level of activeness
Another factor which influences the experience of an incoming student is the community’s level of participation in extracurriculars, clubs, and events. Students and parents are going to want to find a place in which the students are regularly active in clubs, organize community-wide events, and go out of their way to support their peers. This is what makes an institution special and enriches a student’s life.
Choosing a high school can seem like a daunting task, but, when approached in a methodical manner, it can be an exciting process that can result in a lifetime of unforgettable memories during a vital stage of a student’s growth and development.
Olivia Civiletti is a member of Sanford School's Class of 2017. She will attend Johns Hopkins University beginning in September 2017.