Mediocre Excellence or Excellent Mediocrity?

We’ve had our yearly discussion of high schools at our house.  For clarification, we are talking about private schools.  Which, of course, means I can never run for mayor. Anyway, it doesn’t matter that my kids are only starting the 4th and 5th grades this year.  We must talk of these things because of the sheer cost involved. 

I have to budget for high school now, because of the huge variance between what we pay for tuition now (which is very, very reasonable), and some of the high schools we are looking at.  The difference in cost can range from an amount that is roughly what we’re paying now for elementary school, to $18,000 more than we are paying now.  (I won’t be sending my kids to that one).

(NOTE: Yes, we could always have a discussion on what a rich elitist I am.  However, since any such discussion would be based on a false premise grounded in ignorance, let’s stick to the subject at hand, shall we?)

The cost also varies wildly based on whether or not I convert to Catholicism.  Don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. 🙂

But that’s not what I came here to talk to you about.

My concern right now is academics.  And I have a strange question for you academic-type people.

Right now, my kids go to an academically rigorous school.  Oh, they don’t kill them or anything, but my kids have always tested about 4 or 5 levels above their current grade levels, yet they are middle of the pack when it comes to their peers. 

And that brings me to high school.  Let’s say our goal is getting the kids into really good universities one day (hopefully, with scholarship), and successful careers after that.  Are we better off sending them to a high school with a very rigorous academic department, with the prestige that accompanies it, or do we send them to a less rigorous academic school, with sights set on them graduating at the top of their class?

Which looks better to a prospective university?

Compounding the issue, right now my daughter wants to go to an all-girls school.  There are currently two in Nashville, and one of them is out of the question (because my last name is not Frist or Ingram).  The other is very good academically, but I might have to get a second job to afford it.  But I’ll do what it takes.  Anyway, once puberty hits, I don’t think she’ll be as keen on the idea of an all-girls school, but I could be wrong.

My son?  He doesn’t care, as long as the school has a good baseball team.

Of course, my job could always go away tomorrow, and this won’t be a concern anymore.  Thanks to SSA, at least one of the reasons I send my kids to private school isn’t an issue anymore.

Anyway, the question at hand: High Academics (middle of the pack), or Less Strenuous Academics (top of the class) ?

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4 Responses to “Mediocre Excellence or Excellent Mediocrity?”

  1. nm Says:

    Since the answer to your question depends on which college(s) they’ll be applying to, I’d suggest not overthinking this so much and thinking about what schools suit them best in the present, a couple of years down the road. Really. Truly. Seriously.

  2. Busy Mom Says:

    I am a graduate of the second one, and, my dad currently teaches there.

    Trillian should go there.

    I know colleges look upon it favorably.

    That didn’t answer your question, but, Go Scarabs!

  3. Diana Says:

    I’ve only been teaching for four years, but in that time I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among the students in my classes (I’m a Latin teacher, so I usually get the cream of the crop). Some of them are SERIOUSLY burnt out. They are taking 4-5 AP courses a year. They are playing varsity sports. They are taking violin lessons. They spend every spare minute doing homework. They spend almost no time working on their peer relationships. Several appear to be headed for a breakdown.

    Everyone got too good at following the prescribed path of SAT scores, strength of schedule, extracurriculars…

    Academic excellence is certainly something to strive for, but colleges nowadays are looking for young adults who know how to think for themselves and who have social skills. I say take the pressure off and send them to a school that will enrich their total growth.

  4. bridgett Says:

    Colleges look for a lot of things. Top colleges are completely over-applied, so they will look at a ton of different factors including rigor of the high school curriculum, test scores, writing abilities and clarity of expression, independence of mind, leadership ability, well-roundedness, interviews with alumni, and legacy/potential for donations from family. They also look for geographic diversity in their incoming admits — you could try moving to rural western Idaho or something if you really want the “edge.” However, as it is, steering kids to aspire to the name Ivies before they get out of short pants is a losing proposition. The competition to get in is so incredibly fierce (4000:1 odds, with all 4000 of those kids terrific and talented in their own way and in other circumstances equally fit to be admitted) that it will only make you and your kids miserable (and make them feel like losers) if you allow yourself to get too focused on achieving a specific result that is, even with super effort on all parts, unlikely to happen and no guarantee of all the things we’d like to believe it guarantees.

    I know this isn’t what a concerned parent wants to hear…but you’re not raising a resume or a competitor in a fierce global market. You’re raising a kid. You need to look to their happiness and nourish whatever it is that makes them shine. Give them the space to let that grow. And remember what you want most for them, which is presumably to be kind, generous, loving servants of God and humankind. If you take care of that much, they will find the right fit of the college that will continue them on their paths.

    But specifically, to your question, I’d go with the more challenging environment if they seem excited by the prospect of learning new stuff. They won’t be bored and they’ll be better prepared for college whereever they happen to wind up.


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