Going to College from an Alternative High School

College, Alternative High School

November 12, 2018

The college search seems to start earlier every year. Even as our kids prepare to enter high school, we're already thinking about how their classes and curriculum will prepare them to get into the college of their dreams. Getting into a 'good school' seems to be on everyone's minds.

You have might have heard that to gain admissions into a good college, your high school experience needs to be as traditional and straightforward as possible. Don't trust that myth! In fact, if you approach it the right way, your kid's experience at an alternative high school can actually benefit them in their pursuit of higher education in a number of ways.

The Myth of Modern College Applications and Admissions

From a distance, college admissions requirements are as straightforward as they are scary. You need a specific high school GPA and ACT/SAT test scores to get in. Especially if you want to attend a 'good school' that carefully selects applicants, many parents think that their kids have no chance if they don't score on the top percentile in each.

In reality, these acronyms have started to matter less and less in recent years. Hundreds of colleges across the U.S. have gone 'test optional', including heavyweights like the University of Chicago and Temple University. They recognize that standardized testing is a less-than-ideal method to see whether or not a high school graduate is actually prepared for the next step.

Colleges also recognize that GPAs don't typically tell the whole story. Yes, you will typically see a minimum GPA as part of the admissions requirements, but as long as you meet that threshold, your application typically receives serious consideration. 

Put the two together, and a clearer picture emerges. Traditional benchmarks matter as minimum requirements, but not as dis-qualifiers as long as these requirements are met. Instead, admissions offices go far beyond these numbers in determining the goodness of fit for any potential student. 

3 Ways an Alternative High School Prepares You for College

Given the above truths, graduating from an alternative high school does not just put your college applicant on equal footing with their peers from public high schools. In the right context, it can actually provide a significant advantage. Consider these three ways in which an alternative school can prepare your child for college better than a more traditional educational path.

1) Tell an Educational Story

Traditional high schools teach to graduation. Students take the classes they need to make sure they get their diploma, with few choices sprinkled in as electives. By the time they graduate, their transcript are more or less indistinguishable from their peers in other parts of the country.

Now, compare that with a transcript from an alternative high school. Here, you have the chance to shape your path in a much more active way. Project-based learning enables you to focus on larger issues, rather than busywork. By the time you graduate, your transcript tells a story that represents your passions as a student eager to take the next step.

As thousands of students compete for spots in colleges, the more traditional path offers little separation between the two options. An alternative path, especially one in which you are able to choose the direction of your studies and classes more independently, allows you to build a profile as a student that turns into your educational story for admissions offices.

2) Get Real-Life Experience Outside the Classroom

Traditional learning is typically classroom-based. A teacher lectures in front of the class, everyone takes notes, and homework assignments are straight out of the textbook. This type of system might help you get good grades, but does little to actually prepare you for the next step or life in general. 

In an ideal world, all high school students learn with real world examples, leveraging connections with community and business leaders to understand the practical applications of theoretical concepts. That includes travel opportunities for experiential learning. In college, you will have access to this type of learning. Look for an alternative school that emphasizes this connection to real life, rather than having to make the switch when college starts.

3) Prepare for Learning, not Standardized Tests

'Teaching towards the test' is a format that's all too common in public schooling. The reason for that lecture-notes-textbook approach mentioned above is closely connected to this issue. If students in public high schools score well on tests, their schools get better funding. Is it a wonder that many schools emphasize this type of preparation?

Unfortunately, outside of increasing test scores, it doesn't help students all that much. High school should prepare them for the real world, not a multiple choice test on theoretical topics. By the time they're in college, your child will be expected to work more independently, on larger projects, with real-world applications. Internalizing that mindset early, which you can accomplish through a project-based learning approach, eases the transition and encourages a love of active learning.

How to Leverage Your Alternative Schooling into a Great College Application

Given the above benefits, it's clear that graduating from an alternative high school doesn't just put your child on equal footing with their traditionally schooled peers - it actually gives them an advantage. Of course, that can only be true if they know how to frame their application. Consider the following advice to make that happen:

  • Don't run away from your schooling. Rather than making it 'fit' with public alternatives, emphasize the benefits that you've received through project-based learning and a focus on practical applications.
  • Think about college early in the process. The projects you work on throughout high school should combine to tell a story about who you are and what your interests are.
  • Search the right colleges. Get information from your dream colleges on how they consider students from alternative schools, and what their history is in accepting these types of students.
  • Maximize your opportunities. Studying in an alternative school provides you with travel and project opportunities many other high schoolers simply don't have. Take advantage of them - they'll be important extra-curricular activities to mention in your application.

It all starts with the right school. To learn more about Empower Community High School, and how we will help to prepare our students for college in a way that is both unique and powerful, contact us.

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