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Private School Rankings and the High School Myth

Authored By: 
George Higgins, Headmaster

Are you starting to look for a school next year?  Just like the college admission game, getting into a private high school in Manhattan can be a strategizing and stressful experience.  Although there isn’t a report like the one U.S. News & World Report publishes so parents can see top ranking schools, there is an unspoken hierarchy passed among parents and other education professionals as to which schools are “the best.”

Given the ease of the Internet, most parents would begin with a Google search.  Something like “ranking nyc private schools.”  And guess who shows up at the top: paid advertisers!  (If you’re not careful, or don’t know the ins-and-outs of how Google works, you might miss that subtle line across the page or ignore it as irrelevant.)

What follows below the line is a listing of organizations that work with all of the private schools and should be unbiased in their rankings.  What do you think they have to say to parents who want to know who’s at the top?  One website posts this:

  • Unlike the public schools, private schools don't participate in and publish yearly testing results.  So there is no apples-to-apples NYC private school student performance ranking publicly available.
  • From time to time, magazines and newspapers publish NYC private school rankings based upon various criteria that usually center upon admission to top colleges.  At Abacus Guide, we collect this college rankings data for private schools.  However, we find this ranking data problematic and misleading for very specific reasons.
  • We exclusively compile Manhattan, Brooklyn, Riverdale, and Westchester private schools rankings based upon our confidential analysis of how difficult the schools are to get into, and what kind of ERB results the schools typically require from applicants. 

If ranking can be misleading and difficult to accurately assess, the better question is, “Should we?”  I suppose there will always be someone needing to say he is in the “best” school, even though that assumption may be challenged.  But given the enormous choices and diverse climates among the myriad private schools that exist, the better questions is, “What school would be the best match for the student’s needs and expectations?”

By the time a student reaches the 9th grade, he knows what he likes about his current school and what he doesn’t like; how he learns best and what type of environment he needs to perform well in school.  Keep these factors in mind when combing through a school’s website.  Once you narrow your search down to a handful of possibilities, make an appointment and visit each one.  The new school may not feel there is a good fit and won't offer you admission.  With the schools that offer placement, have the student spend a day (or even half a day) observing classes.  Now you have a fairly good feel for each school.  Since there is no “perfect” school, choose the one that comes the closest to an “ideal school” for that student. Now you’ve found the best school!