7 tips for finding the perfect fit for high school

Chicago area families may not realize how many options they have when it comes to high school.

“There really is a high school for every type of child and every kind of learner,” says Grace Sawin, founder of Chicago School GPS, who notes that often the best fit for a child is a school that’s new to them.

Attending the annual Hidden Gems High School Fair can be a good place to start the search for the perfect fit for high school, but here are additional tips to help make the process productive and positive.

Keep an open mind

Students have options that include big, small, public, private, parochial and boarding schools catering to interests ranging from STEM to performance arts to global studies. Sawin says that it’s smart for families to stay open to all the options instead of being completely set on exactly what they want. Even if you have an idea of what kind of school your child is looking for, she says, “it’s always nice to see what else is out there.”

Give some thought to what makes your child tick

Consider what kind of learner your child is and in which environments they have felt most comfortable in the past. In addition to academics, consider what their favorite subjects are and what topics excite them. “Not everything is about high test scores and GPAs, and there are different kinds of schools for kids who have different interests,” says Sawin. Also consider scheduling and what would work best for your child, whether that’s block scheduling or having the same classes every day.

Separate name recognition from fit

Use that information about your child to individualize the search to them and to block out the peer pressure. “Even if your child gets into a top school, seriously consider if that’s the best place for them,” Sawin says. The school with the most name recognition may not be the best fit. Families should have the goal of finding the school where the child is most likely to thrive.

Consider extracurricular activities

If a school doesn’t have a specific club, don’t give up. Just ask more questions. Many schools are willing to work with students and add clubs and activities. Sawin also suggests asking schools about exploring offsite opportunities if it isn’t something they can or want to add.

Sports are important for many students and if that’s the case with your child, Sawin advises asking schools about what they currently offer and could offer in the future, as well as the likelihood of your student seeing playing time. “Some schools have great teams, but not everyone gets to play, while there are some small schools where everyone plays,” she says.

Don’t be limited by geography

Many families feel they have to stay in the Chicago city limits, but that’s not true. There are private schools in the suburbs near train stops and may be the same distance, or closer, as some CPS options. And they may be a better fit. “Suburban private schools draw students from all over,” says Sawin.

Visiting a school is essential

You can hear from a school at the Hidden Gems Fair and spend hours on their website, but it’s still important to set foot on campus. It’s possible that you may feel differently when you go to visit it. Sawin says that for many of the families with whom she has worked, the visit has often been a “deal maker or deal breaker.”

Remember that your child is not stuck

Finding the right school for the next four years brings with it a lot of pressure, but Sawin reminds families that if their first choice doesn’t work out, “you are not stuck.” Many schools take transfer students, so it is possible to switch schools.

Hidden Gems High School Fair

  • 1-4 p.m., Sunday,Sept. 30
  • Disney II High School, 3900 N. Lawndale Ave., Chicago
  • Admission:$15 per family
  • More than 30 schools will participate, plus parents and students will learn about testing requirements and how to strategize the school search process as well as get info on essay writing, executive functioning tips and more.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

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