My daughter attends a very competitive high school. Do admissions officers know each high school relatively well? Will they know how hard it is to be in the top quarter at her school?
Yes, admissions officers try their best to be familiar with each and every high school in their assigned area; however, you may find that one admissions officer is in charge of hundreds or thousands of schools. While they try to know the schools by reputation they may not know the specific details quite as well.
One thing that helps is the school profile that should be sent along with your transcripts. A high school profile outlines the overall picture of that school—the number of advanced classes offered, percentage of graduates attending college, clubs and organizations and whether they have limitations on things like the number of AP classes a student is allowed to take. You can ask for a copy of your school’s profile in the counselor or registrar’s office.
Admissions officers will do their best to distinguish what’s going on at each high school in their area. If you have any doubt this might also be an opportunity to have a well-written counselor letter of recommendation that states in specific terms exactly how competitive your high school situation is.
I know sometimes students will use this as an excuse. Oh, my high school is so hard. Nobody can get into the top 10% or the top quarter. Keep in mind; colleges are looking at applications from lots of candidates who attend very competitive schools. You may not be alone. Colleges will try and keep it in mind but the bottom quarter at a competitive school is not going to be seen as more impressive than top quarter at a not so competitive school.
There are some advantages to attending a challenging school. You will be academically prepared for college-level work. A lot of students from lesser schools find themselves behind or in need of remedial coursework. You already know how to balance the challenges of demanding academic work. You have better developed reading, writing, problem solving, and analytical skills. While your class rank may suffer now, you will enter college prepared to achieve.
Don’t let the competitive atmosphere of your high school become an excuse for complacency. Do the best with the opportunities and challenges presented to you.