Selective Public High Schools

by Honolulu Mother

This Atlantic article discussed a recent study finding that students in selective public high schools didn’t end up with greater academic benefits than similar students at other schools:

The researchers divided schools into four groups: selective, top-tier, middle-tier, and bottom-tier. The first group consisted of schools that admit students based largely on test scores. The latter three groups were ranked by their students’ ACT scores and high-school graduation rates.

The study compared students against peers who attended different-tier schools but were otherwise similar based on traits including past test scores, degree of parental involvement, and home neighborhood. This approach isn’t perfect, but it allows researchers to estimate the impact of schools while holding student characteristics constant.

When simply making raw comparisons between students at selective-enrollment versus other city schools, the differences appear stark: Students at selective schools scored more than seven points higher on the ACT, which has a maximum score of 36. Yet when researchers controlled for a variety of factors to isolate the effect of attending a selective school, the disparities all but vanished. Attending a selective-enrollment school led to only a statistically insignificant bump in the ACT of half a point. The selective schools also seemed to have little or no effect on the likelihood of taking Advanced Placement classes, graduating from high school, or enrolling and staying in college.

The article notes a couple of caveats, though: the comparisons of individual students across schools were not typically across the whole spectrum of schools, but rather from selective to top-tier, or middle-tier to bottom-tier; and the study did find some non-academic benefits as to attendance and suspension rates, peer behavior, perceived safety, and their trust level in teachers.

We don’t have selective public high schools here, so I don’t know to what extent they’re comparable to the selective private schools that we do have (which were not part of the study). Those of you with experience with selective public high schools, do these conclusions ring true to you? And what do you think of selective public high schools in general — are we missing out on a good thing here? Does it require an urban area over a certain population size for the concept to work?


66 thoughts on “Selective Public High Schools

  1. We have them here in Dallas ISD and two are consistently in the top 20 (?) high schools in the country. I have mixed feelings about it – there are few to no sports teams in our magnet schools and they are supposed to compete with their home school. Kids who are great all around kids with sports and a full AP load would have to make a choice because the magnets are not centrally located. When I look at the number of NMSF’s, I am not that impressed. I think on average, a high performing child will be just as challenged and have a wider range of opportunities in a strong traditional high school. We are increasingly moving to converting public schools to “themes” (STEAM, IB, etc.) and moving to a school of choice model. If it draws more middle class and upper middle class to public schools, that’s great (our public school system is high poverty, high need and does not reflect demographics of the city) but it presents yet another funding and execution challenge that our state won’t appropriately fund and our district has no idea how to raise supplemental funds required to effectively run the programs.

  2. Houston school district has some extremely well-regarded high performing magnets. As the article states, the kids would have been high performing wherever they went. I think the primary benefit of these schools is peer group. For kids who are less interested in sports or other ECs, it gives them a larger pool of like-minded friends available. The downside is those peers live all over town, but for some kids it’s worth it. We do not live within the Houston district, or he would have applied to one.

    We had planned to send my son to the same Catholic school my daughter went to for high school, but left him at the public charter because he was happy there. It is not a school you have to test into, although for the interview they had us being his test scores. I’m curious whether kids with lower scores are granted spots immediately like he was. After his miserable first year of middle school at our huge, overcrowded by 50% neighborhood middle school, with the switch to the charter I would pick him up and he would get in the car saying “I can’t believe this is me saying this, but I love going to school here”. I do not see a benefit academically – I think it is on par with the neighborhood public school. But there are rarely discipline issues (because they can just expel kids) and the people who are there want to be there. The schools do fill a need, but it is not just the academic part.

  3. I read that kids who go to the middle tier schools end up with academic and career achievement that’s better than kids at the more selective schools. The theory is that if you’re the 5th best student out of 500 in a middle tier school you think you’re a genius and aim higher than someone who’s equally talented but only the 250th best student out of 500 at a top tier school.

  4. My sense from those who have attended such schools is that many of the benefits are intangible and not easily quantified. As mentioned above, being part of this sort of peer group makes for happier kids, many of whom felt that they didn’t really fit in at “regular” schools. We don’t really know whether those kids who did attend the magnet school would have actually performed as well at their home schools.

  5. My experience is 30 years old, but I think it makes a difference if the student will be required to attend a lower performing local HS. I don’t think my parents would have been able to afford private school if I didn’t attend a selective public HS. My brother attended the local public, and he was placed in the honors program. The same thing happened to the kids that I grew up with that didn’t test into a selective HS. They all went to college, but they didn’t have the same experience as me in their classrooms. One reason was personal safety. There was little to no crime in my HS, but there was A LOT of crime in/near their school and that was a fact of life even with metal detectors.
    A second reason is that they were often with the same kids in most of their academic classes. They didn’t get to experience a wide range of opinions or backgrounds when they discussed books in English. I had kids from so many different parts of the city, and the globe in my classrooms. They brought their life experience to classroom discussions.

    I had a score that was near the bottom of the cut off, and I never felt that I couldn’t keep up in school. I think it helped to come from a selective HS when I arrived at college because I already knew that I was never going to be the smartest person in the class. Most of my new friends were the valedictorians of their class, and it was a large adjustment to just be “average” since so many always in the top in the local HS.

  6. The article does not surprise me, as we’ve discussed the same issue with selective v. non-selective colleges.

  7. Magnet schools have been important to us, as our local high school is sub-optimal. However, admission is determined by lottery and not test scores.

  8. In NYC there is an utter gulf between the exam schools and the rest of the lot. The wealthy send their kids to places like Packer Collegiate, but the striving middle and lower class folks rely on the exam schools. Even the nicer non exam schools, and Catholic schools, just aren’t that great (I deal with grads of those schools all the time, so I know). In low income Asian immigrant communities, kids routinely study for the exams in classes offered by cultural centers and language schools. The only other option is to move to good school districts in Westchester or Long Island.

  9. Looking at the article, I think this may account for their findings
    “Notably, though, the second group of students largely ended up at relatively high-achieving schools in the city—very few went to Chicago’s lowest-scoring schools. And so, the lack of academic boost students gained from the selective schools may be attributable to the relative quality of the fallback schools in comparison.”

    If they studied another city, they might get different outcomes.

  10. Catholic schools, just aren’t that great (I deal with grads of those schools all the time, so I know).

    Is that the fault of the school or are the kids typically of modest ability?

  11. “ Even the nicer non exam schools, and Catholic schools, just aren’t that great (I deal with grads of those schools all the time, so I know).”

    To follow up on Rhett’s comment:
    I doubt that you deal with many of those graduates who have traits similar to the test school graduates: historically strong test scores and (presumably) high parental involvement. Those students are the ones that do about as well as those that graduate from top tier high schools.

  12. Well, they come to us typically with HS averages between 85 and 90, in supposed college prep classes. So the schools are at least making the claim that they have ability.

  13. CoC, you are probably right, but I don’t think many of the kids you are describing (bright, highly involved parents) are ending up at the schools we draw from either. I think a lot of them move to the burbs if they have highly involved parents and don’t make it to the exam schools. I know of some coworkers who did just that.

  14. Well, they come to us typically with HS averages between 85 and 90, in supposed college prep classes.

    I assume their test scores are low?

    Catholic schools, just aren’t that great

    You comment seems to imply a belief that there is some great untapped font of academic ability that these schools are failing to tap. Is that you think?

  15. Here we have magnet schools but not exam schools. Some magnets look at score plus you have to enter a lottery. Others, such as the arts school look at portfolio of work.
    My impression is that most students who want in, get in.
    Hearing from parents in traditional neighborhood schools, it seems that there are disruptive discipline issues starting with middle school. It is basically to avoid this that parents switch to magnets here. The other option is to get on the Honors track in a traditional school and stay there. So, in fact these are schools within schools.
    The other options are charter and private schools. What I can see here is not the average parents wanting their kids to go to Ivy League colleges but just getting a decent education for their kids in a setting that is conducive to learning.

  16. I think it depends on what you have access to. For DD#1- choice was a low performing HS or private Catholic School. She has access to 18 AP courses, which her plan is that 12 will be taken by end of Senior Year. Because her school is small she can participate in almost any/every EC she wants to. Many of the kids only take regular classes and have trouble. For us it had a lot to do with peer group and regardless of level of class general value of education and good behavior.

    For DD#2 – the landscape changed and she wanted to go to a school with IB. It is not in our district and this is the first year they took transfers. This public school is generally UMC attendance or those who transfer in are doing so for IB program, which is an application process.

    So far, I think DD#1 is getting a better education, but DD#2 has many more choices. DD#1 would have drowned in a school this big. DD#2 can hold her own, but could just a little more oversight than she gets.

  17. In the towns I’ve lived in, there are one or two high schools and a few AP classes offered. A few students attend community college for topics not offered at the high school if they are sufficiently motivated. There is a small, alternative school for students who don’t succeed in the larger public school setting.

    I agree with others that the main advantage of a selective school is the peer group. Most of us want to have at least some friends who share our interest in learning. I read about Lauren’s experience with various viewpoints when her class read a book, and I was reminded of my own literature class, where as far as I could tell, only ~3 out of 30 students read the assigned books.

  18. From what I hear there are kids who will do the work and there are kids who just don’t care. For the don’t cares, if they have parents who care, they will at least graduate high school. For the students who don’t care and don’t have parental support making it through high school means somehow limping to the finish line.

  19. One of the positive aspects of both private high schools our sons attended was the very intentional nature of the community. To some extent that was also true in our Fairfax county schools as many parents made strategic choices to locate there, but with the private schools the families were for the most part totally on board with the schools’ mission. I would like to be able to help our kids send their own kids to similar schools down the road.

  20. here is a small, alternative school for students who don’t succeed in the larger public school setting.

    You just raised a very interesting point. My high school had two alternative schools within it. One was for the earnest, earthy-crunchy types, who would go on to good colleges and regular Totebaggy careers. It just involved more “interdisciplinary” stuff and some experimental teaching techniques that weren’t especially outré. The other one was for the “at-risk” kids (and this was Paly in the 70s, so they were all white). It was informally called Apple Pie High. Its purpose was really to keep those kids alive and off the street. I now want to find my yearbook and track those kids on LinkedIn. The only name I can think of off the top of my head is this woman: , who seems to have done pretty damn well.

  21. It’s been a very quiet posting day on the blog, probably partly due to the Veteran’s Day holiday. I didn’t realize schools were closed and many people apparently have the day off. That is, I didn’t realize it until I encountered the packed parking lot of a local shopping center where I thought I was going to be able to run a few quick errands. Oops, no such luck. I could barely find a parking spot.

    I did a little online shopping, finding out that Target has free shipping on everything. In price comparison with Amazon they were a few dollars better, but delivery takes a few days longer.

  22. As a counterpoint to the article HM linked, I read a paper from local Flagship U several years ago.

    They had a unique opportunity to look at the impact of schools on outcomes when a very well endowed local private school opened a new campus on Hawai’i Island. While it drew students away from other island schools, it had minimal impact on the overall student population of the island.

    The study authors looked specifically at the rate of college matriculation of all HS graduates from the island, and found that there was a significant jump in college matriculation, and specifically in matriculation to 4-year colleges, that coincided exactly with the graduation of the first graduating class from the new HS. They further looked at the matriculation rates on a school by school basis, and concluded that the increase could be attributed entirely to the new school. iIRC, the matriculation rates for the public schools remained about the same, from which the authors concluded that the new school had not cherry-picked the students most likely to attend college anyway.

    The authors theorized that it was all about expectations. Local private school graduates have historically had a very high college matriculation rate, well above the rate of public school graduates, and the rate for the first graduating class of the new school was in line with overall private school rates, as well as rates for the flagship campus of that school.

    While this is a bit of apples to oranges, since the new school was a private school, it does broadly suggest that schools can have a tremendous influence on outcomes.

  23. RMS, would I be correct in guessing Heidi Yenney wasn’t in the at-risk alternative?

    “she was introduced to chamber music at an early age as a member of the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. “

  24. Finn,

    What was the ROI on college for the additional kids who went on to higher education due to the new school opening?

  25. Finn and Rhett, when I think about ROI, I also think about how the ROI depends on 1) jobs available in the area/willingness to move and 2) the overall distribution of jobs requiring higher education.

    Higher education is either an investment or a form of consumption, depending on the person, the situation, the unknowable future and the area of study. Maybe it’s a “high risk” investment.

  26. No, Heidi was in Apple Pie High. It was a mixed group. Some of the kids were just really alienated from the mainstream high school environment, you know? None of the rah-rah, pep rallies are mandatory! bullshit. I wasn’t into that stuff either, but my friends and I just sort of didn’t go to those things. Some kids wanted a whole different environment.

    I remembered another girl (I don’t have my yearbook to hand) and she’s now a software engineer for some Silicon Valley company. Looks like she got her B.S. about 10 years later than I did, so I suppose she spent her 20s doing something artsy or groovy or something.

  27. Rhett, I don’t think the authors addressed ROI.

    “Higher education is either an investment or a form of consumption”

    Or some combination of the two.

    I still find it inconsistent that many here, perhaps even a consensus, say it is a waste of money to send a kid to an expensive school, especially for undergrad, but OTOH like to spend on experiences like traveling.

  28. Also, the girl I just remembered and Jean Lowe were both gay, so maybe that was playing a role in who went to Apple Pie High.

  29. Finn, I don’t recall anyone saying that it’s a waste of money to send a kid to an expensive school. I’d rather travel than send (a) child(ren) to an expensive school as a personal choice- and the amounts of money, and the ability to easily change course if one’s financial circumstances change, are quite different between the two options. You’ve discussed before how one’s heritage affects one’s decision about such things. Maybe my heritage is showing.

  30. “the girl I just remembered and Jean Lowe were both gay”

    Jean Lowe’s Wiki page says she’s married. I clicked the link to her spouse, and that page uses male pronouns to refer to him.

    “Heidi was in Apple Pie High. ”

    ?? I thought you said its purpose was “to keep those kids alive and off the street.”

    BTW, having studied with Dorothy Delay is extremely impressive, even if not at Juilliard.

  31. Hm. Well, maybe it was a phase! These things happen. I overgeneralized when I described Apple Pie High. There were many smart, talented kids. Some of them were also playing with fire in the form of drugs and edgy lifestyles, and I expect some of them had weird home lives.

  32. Finn, I think the choice of where to “splurge” is personal, and influenced by our own life experiences. My personal experience with private undergrad was life changing for me, so saving enough for a private college tuition is a priority for me. My neighbor is a very successful partner at a law firm, and he went to a SUNY for his undergrad, and Ivy law degree. He thinks money should be saved for grad school like some f the regulars here. That is his life experience so he thinks it is fine for his kids. I live in a smaller home than some of the posters here, but that is because I would rather live in a high cost area. My cars are ok, but I know some people that would sacrifice anything for an amazing car.

    I enjoy learning about the different choices that the regulars have made when it comes to deciding when/how to spend their money. Some of us prefer private schools vs. luxury autos. Others will happily sit in coach in order to live in a large home. I just think that most of the Totebaggers are so fortunate to be able to make some of these choices. I’ve learned to spend a little more thanks to some of the experiences that have been shared here.

  33. Oh, here’s another one! She went on to UCSD, then Stanford Law, but she doesn’t practice law anymore, she designs and sells jewelry.

  34. Finn, your question made me think about why I tend to value other things over formal education. To me, the purpose of formal education was to become familiar with an accepted body of knowledge in a particular area. If I had studied Shakespeare, I would have not merely watched his plays and read about their history, I would have learned what scholars thought/think about Shakespeare and how that has changed over time and maybe talked with other people about their thoughts.

    When I visited Europe, I read a little about the art I saw the Vatican and the Hermitage, but mostly I just experienced art. More education would have allowed me to experience the art more fully, but if forced to choose, I would rather experience art than learn about it. I visited eastern Europe in 2003 and enjoyed talking to people about the transition away from being part of the Soviet Union. I’ve never seen Paris or London, in part because I really wanted to visit eastern Europe at that point in time and figured what interests me in Paris/London wouldn’t change that much.

    As another example, Baby WCE was having her Zoobies book on bears read to her again tonight, and Mr WCE pointed to the black bear and said, “I saw a black bear last week while I was hunting.” I like the full experience I get from being present or talking to someone who was present at least as well as I like reading for background.

  35. ” I just think that most of the Totebaggers are so fortunate to be able to make some of these choices.”


  36. Finn, I don’t recall anyone saying that it’s a waste of money to send a kid to an expensive school.

    Really? Because I recall seeing a ton of comments to that effect. Most of the comments here about choosing a college come say it should come down to the best financial deal, access to alumni networking, where the big companies recruit, positioning for the best grad school (because of course all of our kids are going to go to grad school), etc. Lauren’s comment above is one of the few that talks about the experience. I think LfB has mentioned how much she valued her experience, maybe one or two others have as well.

    You’ve discussed before how one’s heritage affects one’s decision about such things. Maybe my heritage is showing.

    I agree with this, although I think it goes both ways in wanting our kids to have the positive experiences we had, and also giving them the opportunities that we didn’t have but wish we did. My parents pushed us to go away to school because they weren’t able to. My mom really pushed us to not marry young because her big regret was that she never got to be a single, childless adult. My brother ended up marrying his HS girlfriend less than a year after he graduated college anyway.

    Back to the “college experience” vs vacation debate, I think a lot of people think of the vacations as more worthwhile splurge. They see the value in the family bonding, etc of vacations, they don’t see the value in typical college activities like going to big football and basketball games, intramural sports, playing videogames all night, going to parties, etc. Finn even said he would basically pay his son to take extra classes so he could graduate earlier.

  37. You can have a big, memorable, family vacation to a distant place, not skimping on the splurges and the experiences, for less than $4k/person. A memorable, splurgy college experience in a distant place will run considerably more. So it may be partly that people feel like they can afford to take a few big family vacations, but simply cannot afford to commit to a dream college at $240k+ per kid.

  38. 1. travelling is a good bit cheaper than private universities, where the bill now hits $60,000 per year.
    2. Many of us think that the experience you buy at a good public university is equivalent to, or sometimes better, than the experience at a private university.

  39. Having been in the work force for a number of years, I know tons of people who went to big public universities or some no name ones but are very successful. Many of them have what Rhett often emphasizes, the social and emotional skills along with being intelligent. These skills possibly help them choose a field of work where they can be successful as opposed to looking at grades in a subject and using that to determine which field they should go into.
    The using grades to determine which field to go into, is/was used quite a bit in the home country so you had tons of STEM grads but a lot of these people worked in fields other than STEM.

  40. I am one who has said I don’t see the value in a private university for undergrad because I would rather use that to help fund a masters. With my second child looking at schools, I can definitely see where a small school might be a better fit. I don’t know how to evaluate in advance whether that would be worth the extra $16-$18k per year (after the scholarship he appears to qualify for.)

    Another “experience” I want my kids to have is starting adult life without student loan debt. I want them to have the flexibility to choose the job they want, or where they want to live without worrying about covering loan payments on top of rent. They will have the ability to do their own travel or whatever that way. If I can’t afford both experiences, I have to decide which I think is more important. If I could guarantee the life-changing experience Lauren and LfB had, maybe. But right now the no-debt option has more value to me.

  41. What DD said.

    I can’t “guarantee” a life-changing experience. But working and saving puts me in a position to try to set my kids up with the best possible chance for that. Some kids will do fine at BigStateU; I 100% would not have, and I strongly suspect DD is the same. Maybe her best fit will be at a reasonably-priced place, in which case, awesome. But just in case it turns out that her choices boil down to expensive private that is a good fit vs cheaper big public where she will likely get overwhelmed and lost, my goal is to be in a position where I can happily write that check.

    I honestly think the whole “a college education isn’t the investment it used to be” story is overplayed. While there are many ways to succeed without a college degree, and many ways to fail with one, the data continue to demonstrate that overall, people with college degrees are doing significantly better than those without. So it still seems to be the best odds for my kids.

  42. My experience was life changing, but I doubt it will be similar for my DD because she is already living a very different life vs. my childhood. My mother never attended college, and I was able to attend a private because of heavy financial aid. I was naive about my financial situation compared to kids today. I didn’t know that I was the token work study person in my campus office job. Kids didn’t go to Soul Cycle or have fancy bedding and computers when they arrived at college. We all used the computers in the computer lab, and our jeans were all from the same stores. The only time I felt out of place was when I started to visit the homes of my friends in the burbs of NJ/NY.

    I am fairly certain that I still would have ended up in a bank or public accounting firm training program if I went to Binghamton instead of a private college. The actual academic classes would have been similar except for some of my core classes that I took outside of my major. The life changing part for me is that I was exposed to people, places and experiences that I don’t believe I could have duplicated at a SUNY school in the 80s. My daughter won’t have the same experience because she has already been exposed to so much more because she’s part of our family, and we live a very different life than our parents.

  43. Lauren’s comment encapsulates what I believe to be true about some selective private colleges, without any personal experience- the expose some students to a wealthy social stratum.

    It will be interesting to see how this effect changes if/when the income distribution of the students in the college changes.

    When people I know talk about “private college”, they are usually talking about nonselective religious colleges.

  44. Guys, you can have a life changing experience at BigStateU. Although I was at a private university due to financial aid, it was a big R1, and I am certain I would have had a similar experience had I gone to my first or second choice schools (U of Michigan, U of Washington – accepted but not enough aid). For me, it was the experience of being at a large R1 university with a lot of activity. You can get that at a public or a private. You can have a life changing experience at Directional State U. When I taught at one, I had many students tell me how important the school was to them. Many of them went on to great companies, including one who did a PhD and ended up at Microsoft Research, and another who ended up as a team leader at IBM Watson. My DH taught at an elite SLAC at the same time, and I could compare – our classes were the same size, we were just as involved with the students, our technology was pretty similar, we did research projects with our students – and yet our tuition was a fraction of the tuition at the SLAC.

  45. I went to BigState U. I did not have life-changing experiences there, though I did well academically and ended up at an elite law school where, like JD Vance, I was thrust into a very different world. I would have loved to have attended that school as an undergrad and vowed that my kids would have better options, which they did. The primary reason that I agreed to move to the Midwest was so that we could take advantage of the tuition benefits here. Not sure I would have wanted them or us to incur the debt that other families did in order to send them to a dream school, but I was glad that we didn’t have to make that choice.

  46. In my area, bright kids tend to go to the big state flagships. A senior I have been talking to, has been accepted to University of Alabama and Ole Miss. She is waiting on Chapel Hill and other similar Southern schools. There is just not the exposure to go to SLACs or expand the search geographically,
    I was talking to an alumna of University of Wisconsin Madison, she was telling me how difficult it was for her niece to get in now, whereas years ago it wasn’t so.
    It will be interesting with my kids, to see where they end up. Getting into selective schools for undergrad is tough.

  47. Scarlett and WCE, I was going to mention Vance’s description of what he learned at Yale — the social stuff, not the academic stuff. He does a decent job of explaining the relevance, though I think there’s a lot more to say on that front.

    our jeans were all from the same stores

    I’m so old. I remember some people bitching about how there were no “decent stores” in town and you had to go to San Francisco to get your clothes, and I was like, “What do you mean? There’s an Army Surplus store just two blocks down.” I really did buy a ton of my college clothes there. Sigh.

  48. RMS – my DH bought a lot of clothes there when we were in college.

    Anon- thanks for that list – I was not even really aware of some of those schools, or that they were so much smaller, since I was not in Texas during my college years. The ones he applied to are mostly the larger ones, with the exception of UT-Dallas. Because they are not competitive schools, he has already heard back that he has been accepted to 5 of the 6 he applied to. The unknown is a state flagship, and he just decided to apply to the other flagship as well. He is not in the top 7%, or even close enough to it to think he’d get in to one of them, but it can’t hurt to apply. Both of the flagships have some sort of “alternate acceptance’ (can’t remember the actual term) where they say if you go to one of this list of schools in our system for your freshman year and get at least a 3.2 you can transfer to the main campus your sophomore year. My daughter opted not to do that, but ended up transferring to one of the flagships her sophomore year anyway. Based on that experience, I feel reasonably confident that he’ll be able to transfer in the future if he chooses to. He still is leaning toward going to the local community college his first year and then transferring, but who knows how he’ll feel by end of the school year. At least he knows he has options.

  49. Unrelated to anything, I took DS and his friends to play paintball yesterday for his birthday. His friends said I’m cool because I played with them :)

  50. “Finn even said he would basically pay his son to take extra classes so he could graduate earlier.”

    That’s not quite what I said.

    I questioned whether working part-time would be cost-effective, which would depend on the cost of attendance.

    If we estimate the time necessary for a typical class at about 10 hours a week, at a college where 5 classes is the norm, the cost per class is about 10% of the annual COA. For many privates, that’s about $6500/class, which is more than most kids would make in a semester working 10 hours/week.

    If he goes to a HSS with a typical COA ~$65k to $70k, I would urge DS to take an extra class rather than take a job if he had an extra 10 hours/week at a HSS, unless the job had an educational component,

  51. “a dream college at $240k+ per kid.”
    “private universities, where the bill now hits $60,000 per year.”

    At a lot of privates, this year’s COA is above $65k/year. I expect that many will hit $70k next year, and I’ve seen people talk about ~$290k as a full ride for a c/o 2017 HS grad to a HSS.

    I’m figuring that by the time DD starts, it’ll be closer to $320k.

  52. You all are taking my musings a bit too literally.

    I was just commenting on the seeming (at least to me) contradiction between the value, oft stated here, placed on experiences, with travel being a common example, with the view expressed by many that undergrad education is largely a box to be ticked on the way to grad school and career, as opposed to an experience in itself. I was not thinking of direct tradeoffs between travel and undergrad education.

    My 3x/year routine of reflecting on the value of my kids’ education, done when sending in semester tuition payments and when committing to paying another years’ tuition, has me regularly considering not just the educational, but also the experiential, benefits of their schooling. These reflections have influenced me to also strongly consider undergrad education for its experiential value.

  53. “you can have a life changing experience at BigStateU.”


    I did, and it was what I had in mind for DS (and also for DD later) when we mapped out our college strategy. We were looking at flagships like ASU, OU, UA (RT), UofSC (Gamecocks) and UA (Tucson), where they have Honors Colleges, in addition to generous merit aid, in addition to privates like USC (Trojans), BU, and Northeastern.

  54. If he goes to a HSS with a typical COA ~$65k to $70k, I would urge DS to take an extra class rather than take a job if he had an extra 10 hours/week at a HSS, unless the job had an educational component,

    You said more than that – you said you would give him the money he would earn at a part-time job so he could use the time to take an extra course instead. That’s effectively paying him to take an extra course.

  55. My 3x/year routine of reflecting on the value of my kids’ education, done when sending in semester tuition payments and when committing to paying another years’ tuition, has me regularly considering not just the educational, but also the experiential, benefits of their schooling. These reflections have influenced me to also strongly consider undergrad education for its experiential value.

    I agree with you here. I also include the social aspects (things that are purely fun and have absolutely no redeeming value in terms of furthering a career) as part of the experiential value. I”m not sure if you are including that as well. Of course the is a limit on what I will pay for that (I don’t know exactly what that limit is but it’s definitely under $240K).

  56. “Of course the is a limit on what I will pay for that (I don’t know exactly what that limit is but it’s definitely under $240K).”

    Yeah, but it’s going to be hard figuring out where to draw that line.

    A friend of a friend has a daughter who got into Princeton, full pay, as well as USC (Trojans), with (I believe) a full tuition scholarship. A current HS senior would be looking at something like $290K for 4 years of Princeton vs. ~$80k for 4 years of USC with the scholarship. She really wanted Princeton. Where would you draw the line in a case like this?

    Or how about a somewhat more common case, with a NMF half tuition scholarship at USC, so the comparison is more like $290k for Princeton vs. $190k for USC?

  57. Totebaggers, any recommendations for a Constitutional Law book ? What the President can and cannot do, what the Supreme Court can and cannot do, relationship between the branches of government etc.
    I have not taken any of this in school/college so a simple book will do.
    Now, Totebag lawyers, don’t be gleefully recommending your Consitutional Law 801, 500 page tomes ;-).

  58. “Guys, you can have a life changing experience at BigStateU.”

    Well of course you can. I just said that *I* couldn’t have.

    For me, the point of saving the money is to be able to choose the best fit for each kid — the place where my kids can take the most advantage of the opportunities they will have. DD could totally rule the world, or she could struggle and panic and fail out freshman year. So for her, at least based on what I see now, academics takes a back seat to “fit,” support systems, accessible profs, and all of that. Even if DD got into HYPS, I would not want her to go, because she would be overwhelmed by the competition/environment/expectations.

    OTOH, DS will be just fine anywhere. For him, it will be all about the program. Environment isn’t really that important when the kid probably won’t emerge from the lab for 4 years anyway, you know? :-)

  59. LfB – has your DD tried things that are not perhaps a comfortable fit ? I was curious because longer term there will be situations where she will have to adapt and venture into unfamiliar territory. Right now, she has you as coach which is great but later on she will be on her own.

  60. @Louise — oh, yeah, this is the constant 2 steps forward, 1 step back march of our life. :-) She has always been, at heart, very insecure, just this giant black hole of need that no amount of attention or love could ever fill up. And the ADHD doesn’t help, because she knows she can’t always trust her own brain, and when she messes up she gets down on herself. But she craves independence — specifically, being seen as a competent adult — more than anything in the world. So all of that combines together into “I’d rather not try than try and fail.”

    That’s why our parenting over the past few years has focused more on habits than anything else. E.g., letting her manage her schoolwork by herself, but then swooping in when the grades drop. Even the Khan Academy/extra schoolwork as her “job” — we want her to learn that you practice until you get it, that it’s good to ask the teacher for help, etc. And I don’t want to make it all gloom and doom; as much as I fret about things, we have always been more hands-off on schoolwork than pretty much every other parent we know here, and DD now manages 95%+ on her own, with just a little periodic dad help studying for math/chemistry tests, or mom input on “what the heck does my English teacher mean?” This year she started off precalc with a 64 and had worked her way up to a B by the time first quarter grades were due — my only “help” was talking her off the ledge and reminding her of all of the resources she had to help her figure things out.

    So the hope is that she continues to gain the confidence in her own ability to work through the hard stuff and find resources and figure it all out by the time she goes away in another — gasp — three years. But I also want her to go away someplace that has a bit of a safety net, where you don’t have to know how to work the system just to register for the classes you need to graduate, where someone will notice if you don’t show up to class, where the profs are accessible for questions instead of off doing their own research while TAs do the teaching, etc.

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