Researching Schools in the 21st Century – Part 1

Fall is the time of year for comfy sweaters, pumpkin spiced everything, and frolicking in piles of leaves. Selecting and applying to schools can quickly spiral into an overwhelming task (read: obsession). I am plagued by the feeling that this may be the last life-altering decision that I make for my eighth-grader. No pressure. I have spent the better part of the year amassing and analyzing information on prospective high schools. Below are some of my favorite websites for school recon.

Public School Review – This site provides data on public schools via easy-to-read charts. A nice feature is that it gives a little insight into the statistics that it provides.

Private School Review – In case you hadn’t guessed, this site is like Public School Review only, you know, for private schools. My only issue with this site is that the info is a few years outdated. (Don’t get too excited when you see lower tuition rates than you expected.)

GreatSchools – GreatSchools provides information and reviews for both public and private schools. It also rates public schools “based on how well a school prepares all its students for post secondary success—be it college or career” (“About GreatSchools’ ratings”). In my opinion, the reviews are the best part of this site. Some of the other sites have them as well, but GreatSchools’ are the most extensive.

SchoolDigger – This site provides information about all schools and ranks public schools based on standardized test scores. It has a nice enrollment bar chart for private schools that makes it easy to spot long-term trends.

Niche – This site is my favorite. The data is current and it covers both private and public schools. They give each school an overall grade as well as individual grades in academics, teachers, clubs & activities, diversity, college prep, and health & safety. It also ranks them against other schools in different categories (e.g., Best Catholic High Schools in New Jersey, Districts with the Best Teachers in Colorado).

The school’s own website is a good place to start gathering information. It will have the most accurate information on things like tuition, course offerings, extracurricular activities, admissions process, etc. Just remember that a schools website is a marketing tool for them. They aren’t going to point out that enrollment has taken a nosedive or that the school went on lockdown 32 times last year.

Don’t forget to look up the schools on social media before you conclude your fact gathering expedition. Look at the pictures. Check out events and traditions. See how much engagement there is from parents and students. You can glean a lot about a school from their social media accounts if you read between the lines.

Let me know in the comments if I missed any good sites. Please subscribe and share if you liked this post.

Works Cited
“About GreatSchools’ Ratings System and Methodology.” Parenting, www.greatschools.org/gk/ratings/. Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.
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