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Rankings and American high schools

When international parents explore academic educational opportunities for their children in the US, it’s natural to consider the rankings of US high schools. After all, rankings provide a sense of prestige and assurance.

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"Families with more modest budgets can find reputable American high schools that provide an excellent education and comfortable price"

However, it is important to recognise the limitations of relying solely on rankings. Agents should consider many other factors when advising their discerning clients on options for academic high schools abroad and a pathway toward higher education.

The illusion of rankings

Rankings undoubtedly hold an allure, especially for those less familiar with the American secondary school system. Yet, it is crucial to understand that there is no formal and unbiased ranking system for private and boarding high schools in the US (unlike the university or public school ranking systems which are transparent and objective). Some well-known American high school ranking websites accept payment for placement, undermining their objectivity.

“It is crucial to understand that there is no formal and unbiased ranking system for private and boarding high schools in the US”

Furthermore, rankings are biased toward American students at the schools and may not include factors that are uniquely essential for international students. Relying solely on rankings may lead to a distorted perception of a school’s true value for your client.

Competition at top-ranked schools.

While highly-ranked schools may appear desirable to clients, it’s important to acknowledge the fierce competition associated with them. These schools receive a staggering number of applications for very few available spots each year. Unless a student is already at the top of their class, possesses exceptional skills in academics, English fluency, arts, athletics or leadership, gaining admission to these schools without extensive preparation can be highly challenging and discouraging.

The holistic approach.

Experienced educational agents understand that what every parent desires is a school environment abroad that is an excellent match for their child’s abilities, fostering well-rounded development in academic, social, and intercultural realms.

It can be helpful for agents to advise alternative approaches to fixating on rankings; encouraging clients to consider the following factors to understand the suitability of a high school.

  1. University acceptances. Review the high school’s track record of college acceptances. A high rate of acceptances to high-ranked universities signifies the school’s ability to prepare students for higher education and a competitive future.
  2. Teacher-to-student ratio. Evaluate the teacher-to-student ratio to ensure your child will receive individual attention and personalised instruction, facilitating their academic growth.
  3. Population of any single nationality. A strong international program reflects the school’s preparedness to support foreign students. However, an overly high percentage of one single nationality may impede a student’s English language proficiency and hinder cultural fluency. Seek a balanced representation of international students at boarding schools; or consider a well regarded private or public school with an American host family – some host more than one student. This can be a great way for students to have an instant friend! But the host family should never host students who speak the same native language.
  4. Host Family program oversight. If the American school offers a host family program, ensure it is certified by CSIET, the only not-for-profit organisation in the US that audits and evaluates host family programs for international students attending high school in the US. A thorough audit process and annual certification ensures that CSIET-listed organisations have the processes in place to support the wellbeing and safety of international students.
  5. Student mental health resources. A successful experience abroad at such a young age can do wonders for students’ confidence in their own abilities and self esteem. But culture shock and homesickness on top of the normal stresses of being a teenager can be disruptive. Does the school or organisation have resources to tap into to support students experiencing mental health challenges?
  6. Campus environment. Examine the campus facilities, resources and after school programs. Some independent schools may lack the expected environment and range of extracurricular activities necessary for holistic development and top university acceptances.

Beyond rankings: A balanced approach

Parents who prioritise their child’s best interests can be encouraged by agents to look beyond the black and white rankings of high schools (which now we can see are not so black and white). By considering the aforementioned factors, agent can share a comprehensive understanding of a school’s suitability.

Moreover, it is essential to understand the budgetary aspects driving a decision. While famous boarding schools may merit a significant financial investment, families with more modest budgets can find reputable American high schools that provide an excellent education and comfortable price. Collaborating with an organisation representing a wide portfolio of schools can offer an unbiased approach, allowing tailored recommendations based on the child’s needs and goals.

Choosing a US high school is a significant decision that requires careful consideration.

While rankings may initially captivate parents, it is crucial to acknowledge their limitations and focus on evaluating factors that truly support a child’s growth and development. By looking beyond rankings and adopting a holistic approach, agents can advise their clients on the “right fit” for their child’s abilities, ensuring a fulfilling educational experience in the US.

About the author: This is a sponsored post from Carla Kearns. Carla is a seasoned communications expert with a passion for international education and global engagement. As the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Educatius, she plays a pivotal role in shaping the company’s brand and driving strategic initiatives with stakeholders around the world. Applying decades of global experience in strategic partnerships, international marketing, and thoughtful leadership, Carla develops and drives comprehensive communication strategies to enhance Educatius’ visibility and engage diverse audiences.

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