There are people, institutions, school districts and media organizations that care a tremendous amount about the Newsweek ranking of America’s Best High Schools, which was released last week. The rankings are based upon the number of Advanced Placement exams (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or Cambridge exams given in the school divided by the number of students in the senior class — a statistic that should measure academic challenge available and undertaken in a specific school. The rankings included 1600 high schools, or about 6%. Our local news organizations jumped on the idea that our comprehensive high schools made the list. Amusingly enough, a high school in Texas made both the America’s Best list and a list of failing schools, which demonstrates the manipulability of statistics.
Does it matter if your school made the list? When it comes to applying to college, not really. Selective colleges take great care to evaluate each student within the context of the high school that he or she attends. As your transcript is evaluated, the admissions officer is looking at your grades and class rank (if provided), and the rigor of the curriculum that you have chosen to take. If AP or IB courses are available, then they expect you to have challenged yourself in several facets of the curriculum. At the other extreme, if you attend a high school that offers little in the way of advanced courses, it won’t be held against your application. If you are not challenged by the standard offerings in your school, you might want to look to your community for other ways that you can challenge yourself academically. Are there online courses, community college classes or summer programs that will quench your academic thirst?