What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What If I Can’t Go to the Top Private High School in My Area?

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For some students, attending a top private high school school seems like a far-fetched dream. Whether you can’t afford it, your parents won’t allow it, or other logistics have dictated your choice, it’s just not possible for you. If this is the case, you may worry that without a diploma from the highly rated private high school just down the road, highly rated colleges will be out of your range too.


Does your high school alma mater dictate which colleges you’re qualified to attend, or is it a myth that selective private high schools become feeders to selective private colleges? How can you stand out if you’re coming from a school that isn’t known for its academics?


Don’t worry, here at CollegeVine we’re experienced at getting students of all backgrounds into the top colleges in the country. In fact, we believe that you are the deciding factor in what college you attend, not your high school, your home state, or your legacy parents. In this post, we’ll outline your options if you can’t attend a private high school, and we’ll offer our advice for how to ensure that your application stands out regardless of whether your high school does, too.


How does going to a top school impact college admissions?

Simply being a student at a top private school will bear almost no weight in your college admissions process. Even if you were able to attend a top private school, you would still need to excel in all the same ways that students at other schools are expected to.


One difference is that top private schools are often recognized for their academic rigor, so if you go to one and do particularly well, this can serve as solid evidence of your academic abilities. However, these same abilities can be shown in a number of other ways, even if you don’t attend a top private school. They just might not be quite as straightforward. We’ll describe some of these solutions further down.


Sometimes, attending a top private school could actually make your college application process even more competitive. If many students from your graduating class are applying to the same selective college, you will need to outperform many of them to clinch a spot there.


Admissions committees often prioritize selecting a diverse incoming class, including all varieties of backgrounds. So, if a selective college receives many applications from other students attending other top private schools, you may have to do even more to stand out amongst a crowd of similar students from similar schools.


How can I stand out to colleges if my high school isn’t known for academic rigor?

Just because your high school isn’t known for its academic rigor, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue an academically rigorous education while you’re still in high school.


Start with the obvious. Take your high school’s most challenging classes and nail them. Apply yourself to the best of your abilities in all of your classes and strive to land at the top of your graduating class. If you can achieve a near-perfect GPA and become valedictorian, you’re going to draw some attention for being academically successful, regardless of which high school you attend.



Also, work your hardest to attain the highest standardized test scores you’re capable of getting. Test early enough that you’ll have plenty of time to improve your initial attempts. Use the resources available to learn more and perfect your strategy. You might enroll in a class, get a tutor, read up online, or use other resources like Khan Academy. Preferably, you’ll use a combination of many of these in order to perform at the peak of your ability.


To take your academics to another level, you can also pursue classes outside of your high school. If your school doesn’t offer AP classes, try to self-study for a few AP exams. This might seem overwhelming on top of everything else you’re doing, but there are some AP exams that are particularly well-suited to self-studying, and you will usually not need to prepare for more than a month or two in order to do well in these. To learn more, see our blog posts The Ultimate Guide to Self-Studying AP Exams and Which AP Exam Should You Self-Study?


You could also consider taking some college-level classes either through a local community college or online. These classes establish your academic initiative and allow you to choose subject areas sometimes not available at the high school level. This is also a good way to show that you are capable of college-level work. See our post Should I Take College Classes Over the Summer? for more information.


Are there other options if I can’t afford a private school?

If finances are your limiting factor, be sure that you have explored all available options before you rule out private school completely. You have probably already explored financial aid options and school scholarships, but maybe there are external scholarships that might be able to help with some of the remaining costs. Many students don’t realize how many scholarships are available that aren’t associated with any specific school. Fastweb provides a list of organizations that offer private school scholarships for grades K-12.


Also consider tax breaks for educational savings accounts. Some allow your parents to put pre-tax dollars into a special account that can be used for tuition, making payments more affordable.


Your state may have some other options for you, too. Some states provide a voucher to help pay for private school if you choose not to attend your local public schools. Other states offer school-choice programs that allow you to attend public schools in other, nearby districts if there is room for you. Finally, some charter schools are among the top performing schools in the country, and you can attend them for free if you apply through their lottery system and are selected. See our post Should I Consider Going To A Charter School? if you’re interested in pursuing this option.


Ultimately, the determining factors in whether or not you get into a specific college will have a lot more to do with the personality and academic qualifications that you put onto an application than it will with the name or stature of your high school. Colleges are interested in attracting a diverse student body, which means that they mindfully look beyond candidates from top private high schools. By taking the initiative to pursue your own form of academic rigor, regardless of what’s offered by your high school, you have the opportunity to truly set yourself a head above the rest.


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.