Are you already thinking about high school for your college-bound middle-schooler? Especially if your teen’s middle school ends at 8th grade, it’s important to start thinking about high school options at least 1-2 years ahead.

But, what if you don’t have 1-2 years to plan for a school change? I’ve worked with parents who were considering changing high school for their teen for other reasons, like:

  • Disapproval of curriculum at current school
  • Over-testing in current school
  • Relocation
  • Marital separation or divorce
  • Bad social environment for teen
  • Safety concerns
  • Current school closing

Personally, I’ve had to change schools for curriculum/testing, safety concerns, social reasons, and relocations. Each time has been different because each grade level is different. My children were also quite different from each other.

In fact, as my children entered high school, it was more difficult to consider changing schools because of all the social dynamics that play an even bigger role in their experience. I will admit that I was particularly concerned about the social aspects of high school for my daughter. (Every mom of a daughter can probably identify with me on this.) The teen years can be particularly challenging for girls and moms must be sensitive to the social environment of high school, which can influence their identity formation and self-confidence.

Regardless of the time parents have to make all the necessary decisions about high school, that one decision (which school your teen attends) is important enough that parents must know their options. Parents have choices, such as:

  • Independent (i.e. private) school – day or boarding
  • Parochial
  • Public school district, including charter
  • Homeschool

Again, given the different personalities of my own children, they have attended day, boarding, and public school plus I homeschooled. . .  yikes! 🙂 Each time my children changed schools, I followed a basic process which included school visits, online research, and personal networking.

These three aspects were even more important when choosing the right high school.

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Conduct high school visits for and with your teen

If I’m considering a new school, I generally visit for the first time without my child. This gives me an opportunity to speak with the principal, teachers, and staff one-on-one. I also observe the condition of the school and notice how students are responding. When I meet with teachers, I not only ask them about their grade but also their perception of other grade cohorts at the school.

The postings on the wall can say a lot. If there are a lot of signs with directions about behavior, then it may indicate that a school has safety/discipline issues. I don’t mind waiting in the office because then I can see and hear about typical issues that arise. Sometimes, the office staff may not be as discrete and I learn a lot from those interactions. The other thing I notice is the smells in the school. (It may sound strange but it’s still part of the learning environment.) As best as possible, I’m trying to get a sense for what the school day would be like for my teen.

I only took my child to visit a school if it was a serious consideration. A good opportunity for any child is a “shadow” day. Shadow days are good for any grade level because it allows the child to have the one-on-one experience of visiting a class and getting a better feel for the environment. I strongly advise parents against the first day of school being the first day that a child sees a new school. Changing schools can be just as anxiety-ridden for the child as for the parent.

The campus visit for parents and child is a crucial aspect of the new school search. (Your campus visit is in addition to any open houses held by the school.)


Save time with online searches

There is so much information online that it can be hard to know where to start and how to manage your online time. I love discovering new information but when it comes to searching online, I can waste hours (that I don’t have) reading information on random sites that overwhelm, rather than help.

Here are some online resources that I’ve used to inform my search which may help you save time:

Bonus Tip: Even if you’re not considering a particular school, if the school has a strong reputation, you can still poke around on their site and see what they’re offering. This may trigger some ideas for what questions to ask and how to evaluate the options you’re considering.


Network with other parents at high school

As always, it helps to talk with other parents in and outside your network about a new school you’re considering. I’ve found that I can get more information over a cup of coffee than anywhere else. In each conversation, I make sure to ask these 5 key questions:

  • Why did your family choose this school?
  • What keeps your family at this school?
  • How would you describe the parent community at this school?
  • What’s been your involvement at this school?
  • What do you wish you had known before your teen enrolled?

(If there’s any juicy gossip, I want to here that too, although I may not ask directly.:-))

In fact, even when my children changed to a new grade, I would talk with other parents in the next grade level to get a sense for their experience. Often, the next grade/teacher can be a whole new experience/adjustment.

When you’ve researched a new school for your child, what was your approach? Which resources did you use? Please leave a comment here and share with other parent readers . . .

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Author: Pamela E

Dr. Pamela has helped thousands of teens attend the college of their choice. She brings her 25 years experience in education to assist families, schools, and employers with college selection, admissions, financial aid, and more. Dr. Pamela holds a PhD from Stanford School of Education, and an MBA from Dartmouth.

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