There are pros and cons of attending a private high school over a public one. However, increasing your college acceptance rate is not necessarily a factor these days. Let’s talk about why.
What do colleges look for?
Colleges look at a few key things in applications, largely your GPA, your standardized test scores, your experience, your activities, and your transcript. All those factors weigh in on whether or not you will be accepted to a school. It is the combination of these that paint a picture of you as a student. Therefore, you want to give colleges the highest quality “paints” that you can. You do this by working hard as a student and as a citizen of your town.
The factors that matter about your high school are things such as whether you have weighted classes or not, or whether they offer AP courses. Colleges might pull up information on your high school—what the GPA spread looks like, or what the average test scores are—which will then serve to inform them how you as a student perform. Where you are in that GPA spread, whether your school officially has class rank or not, is important. Colleges like to be able to say how many of their students were valedictorians or in the top 20% of their class.
Benefits of attending a private high school
One thing that might benefit private high school students is that guidance counselors at private schools usually spend more time (about twice as much) talking to students about colleges. In that way, those students might have a slight advantage. There is also a difference between peer influence. Around 95% of private high school students (non-parochial) go on to a four-year institution, versus about 49% of public high school students. So if you feel that you need to surround yourself with motivated people to stay on track for college, then a private high school might be something to consider. However, being able to motivate yourself in high school is excellent prep work for college.
A private high school doesn’t automatically mean a better education
Just as private colleges and universities are not inherently better in the area of academics, a private high school does not guarantee a better education. You find fantastic teachers all over the place, and you can have bad teachers too. For college purposes, you need to strive to do the best you can. Showing dedication to either maintaining good grades or improving as time goes on is a good indicator.
Use available resources—talking with your teachers, peer mentoring, study hall, etc.—to do that. Take what difficult courses you can. But, remember that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t take every hard class. Sometimes you actually miss things by taking the harder route. For example, my advanced math track somehow failed to ever bring up the unit circle until ACT prep, whereas every other student knew about it. Consider whether your classes are weighted or not: Is it worth taking an AP class when it’s weighted the same as the standard class?
Students still have to put in the effort
While it’s true that there are still private high schools that serve as “direct” pipelines to Ivy League schools, those students still have to put in the effort to get in. And that is what college applications come down to in most cases: Did you put in the effort? Did you put all you could into achieving what you want? Did you set realistic goals for yourself? Colleges can only accept so many students, which means that high school students—private and public—get turned away in droves. Your chances of being accepted do not immediately go up because of attending a private school.