What to Consider Besides School Rankings

Dec 28, 2022

What matters most for your kids might not translate to a school ranking.

When families start their search for the perfect hometown, top-ranking schools are often high on their priority list. It’s a good place to start, but rankings don’t always tell the whole story. There’s so much more that goes into a school’s culture than just test scores. By honing in on the right criteria to meet your child’s needs, you may actually end up adding more towns to your consideration list.

#1. Class Size

Think about both the graduating class and individual classroom size. What type of environment will set your kids up for success? Will they benefit from attending a large school with exposure to tons of different clubs, courses and athletic programs? Or would they feel overwhelmed and instead benefit from the personalized attention that comes with a smaller school?

It all comes down to what learning environment will help your kids the most. When touring potential schools in your new town, make sure to ask about the graduating class sizes. Some towns have multiple elementary schools that all feed into one middle and high school while others just have one elementary school. Consider how this might impact your child and if you would prefer that they stick with one group of kids throughout their entire academic career or if they would benefit from meeting different students at some point along the way.

#2. Specialized Student Support  

From Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to Response to Intervention (RTI) to gifted and talented programs and hands-on services, countless kids benefit from targeted support during their academic journeys. Depending on your search timing, you may not know what your kids will need in the future. But, digging into a district’s reputation, social-emotional learning strategies, and parent feedback, it’s easy to get a sense of specialized services, should your family ever need. 

#3. The “Pressure Cooker” Factor

Attending a highly-ranked school can come with a lot of pressure. Both teachers and students often feel the need to meet the expectations of the ranking, which can lead to an overemphasis on test scores, AP enrollment, and ensuring a pristine 4.0 GPA. That push to excel can translate to hours of private tutoring, college counseling, and jam-packed schedules in an effort to keep up with the next-generation Joneses.

But a high-pressure environment isn’t the only option. Some kids – and families – simply don’t thrive with these sky-high expectations. Consider how your kids do under pressure and the type of learning environment you want them to be exposed to on a daily basis. Extreme competition and college admissions have zero correlation. So focus more on what works for your child, and look for ways to help them succeed in their ideal environment. 

#4. Additional Academic Offerings

Taking AP, IB or language immersion classes can help your student become more well-rounded and prepared for future success. Many schools do offer all of these options but they are still not available everywhere. If this curriculum is high on your priority list, ask the school if they are available.

#5. Campus Locations

Some schools offer K – 12 classes in the same location which is great for families with multiple kids who want to make drop-off and pick-up easier. However, if you’d prefer that younger kids and older kids attend different campuses, that is something else to think about. 

Consider how your kids will get to and from school. Will they take the bus or will you drive them? Schools in walkable areas sometimes offer a “pedestrian commute” so little ones can all walk together. 

#6. Study Abroad Opportunities

Want your student to experience a new culture? Many schools offer summer and break-time trips abroad. Whether the AP French class is heading to Paris for winter break or a Spanish exchange program over the holidays, these shorter-term trips can give kids a boost when it comes to learning a new language while creating friends for life. 

#7. Internships or Alternative Education Options

Maybe your kids want to gain real-world experience while they are still in high school. Schools that offer internships can help students explore different interests and career paths before they enter college. No matter what they are interested in, from law to zoology, schools that include internships in the curricula can help students learn more about their passions.

Alternative education options, such as independent study programs, can also help students figure out what they really want to do after graduating high school. These programs allow students to help design their own curricula so they can focus on their specific academic interests in a setting that works best for them.

#8. Well-Rounded Extracurricular Programs 

How will your kids spend their time outside of the classroom? If they are into sports, look into the different types of athletic programs offered at the school. But also keep in mind how much of an emphasis the school places on its sports programs – especially if your little ones are not athletes. 

Check out all of the additional programs at the school to see if there are plenty of other activities too. Do they have a robust theater and music department? Are chess and debate clubs available for your child?  And, do they have STEM-focused extracurriculars like robotics or coding?  You never truly know what your child will gravitate to, so it’s great to have a variety of options. 

Deciding where to move is a big decision. We’re here to help make this process easier. Reach out today so we can start helping you find the suburb – and school district – that is right for you and your family.

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