March 2008 Issue
Ready for College
Ohio's private high schools focus on preparing students for the halls of ivy.
Mary Beth Ray, 19, of Westerville, had some attractive choices when it came to selecting a college two years ago. A 2006 graduate of Columbus Academy, Ray is now a sophomore majoring in Spanish and psychology at Case Western Reserve University. She plans to attend medical school after completing her undergraduate degree. “I was wait-listed at Harvard, and I also got accepted to Washington University in St. Louis,” she says. “I chose Case because they offered me a fantastic scholarship, and it was easier on my parents financially. Now I love it here!”
Columbus Academy grad Mary Beth Ray is thriving at Case Western Reserve University
If what you just read sounds like every parent’s dream — it is. Not only has Ray adapted well to college life, but she attributes much of her success to her preparation at Columbus Academy, one of Ohio’s premier private high schools. “The environment at Academy was really helpful,” she says. “We had a lot of resources in high school, and right now I have junior standing at Case because of the classes I took at Academy.”
Ray isn’t alone. We talked to several students currently enrolled in Ohio colleges and universities who received their college preparation at a private high school. Hands down, they felt the private high school experience prepared them well for what they are now encountering. From academics to social life, they are singing the praises of their high school alma maters. Here’s what they have to say.
The students took advantage of their private high schools’ rigorous curriculums by enrolling in honors and advanced placement (AP) classes. These programs not only gave them a boost in college, but also freed them up to get right into their major course of study. And in the instances where specific courses were not offered in high school, many of the students believe they were still more than adequately prepared. For instance, Ray tested out of some Spanish and chemistry classes, but when it came to taking the psychology classes she needed, she started from scratch. “I am also a psychology major, and although there weren’t any psychology classes offered at Academy, they prepared me for critical thinking, so I was still ready to take those courses.”
Britta Harman, 19, a 2006 graduate of Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, tested out of two semesters of French at the College of Wooster. “The language department at Reserve was strong, so I was prepared, and the transition was easier for me,” says Harman. She plans to major in French and religious studies at Wooster, but she’s also thinking about pre-med, so science classes are on her schedule.
For some of these students, the academic rigor they were accustomed to in high school simply transferred over to college. “The classes here are pretty much like I had in high school,” says Brian Tighe, 19, a 2007 graduate of University School, with campuses in Shaker Heights and Hunting Valley, and a freshman at Miami University. “It’s like a continuation. It wasn’t harder. If anything, it was a little bit easier.” Tighe, a business major, also took a few AP courses in high school.
Adam Atallah, 19, a freshman at Miami University and a 2007 graduate of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA), took AP courses during his junior and senior years at CHCA. “It was like taking a college course,” he says, adding, “In fact, my AP stats class was probably harder.”
The story is much the same for Jake Beham, 20, a junior accounting and finance major at Ohio State University and a 2005 graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo. “The AP classes I took in high school were a huge help,” he says. “I will graduate a half year earlier because of that.”
Interacting with Professors
Relationships they cultivated with high school teachers contributed to the students’ ability to access college professors. For the most part, their private high schools were small, and the teacher-to-student ratio was low.
“My high school experience prepared me for interacting with professors,” Atallah says. “The teachers weren’t there just to teach, but to have an impact on us beyond academics.” Sometimes that meant hanging out after school, asking questions, getting advice and additional help with academics.
Interaction with professors at the college level can be critical to a student’s success. Students who don’t feel comfortable approaching an instructor may be at a disadvantage. But Harman says she was encouraged to interact with her high school teachers, and that has made all the difference since she’s been at Wooster.
“Reserve really promotes student-teacher relationships,” she says. “That helped because I am not afraid to go to teachers and ask questions or e-mail them.”
Students, accustomed to a structured schedule in high school, sometimes flounder when given the added freedom that comes with college. Suddenly, they’re faced with managing their time themselves — without the watchful eye of a parent or teacher. For many students, it can be their downfall.
Still, some of the students we contacted said that their high schools took a different approach, one that more adequately prepared them for this transition. “At my high school, they put a lot of the responsibility on the students to get their own work done,” says Bryan Lincoln, 19, a freshman at Miami University and a 2007 graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School. “They gave you freedom like you have in college, but they were still there when you needed them.”
Aaron Potash, 19, a 2007 graduate of University School currently attending Ohio State University, says that many of the teachers he had in high school had taught at the college level, so they were accustomed to running their class like a college class. Students were given a syllabus, material was discussed in class, and homework was reviewed the following day. “It was expected that if you didn’t do [the work], you didn’t get called out on it, but you would be in a worse position,” says Potash. “We were not watched all the time.” Consequently, Potash made the leap from high school to the honors program at OSU without a hitch.
Time management was also a lesson the students learned from their involvement in extracurricular activities. Harman experienced this firsthand at Western Reserve Academy, where she was required to play three sports. “I am still playing soccer and lacrosse at Wooster, and it feels very normal to me,” she says. “People ask me how I have enough time to do all that, but at Reserve we got out of school at 3 p.m. and practiced until 6 p.m. I actually feel like I have more time now.”
The students say that their high school experience also provided them with unique opportunities that translated into being better prepared for college — and for life. That involved everything from traveling abroad to participating in community service.
Piper Beckwith-Collings, 19, a sophomore at Kenyon College and a 2006 graduate of Western Reserve Academy, traveled abroad twice during high school. In 10th grade, she ventured to France for two weeks with the French III Honors class at Reserve. During the first week, she lived with a host family and attended school, which left the second week for touring the country. “My fluency [in French] skyrocketed,” she says. During the spring of her junior year, she traveled to the Czech Republic and Austria to perform in various cathedrals with the school choir. “I think that’s what makes Reserve unique — to have that many opportunities abroad.” She is currently applying for an opportunity to study art history in Florence.
Today, high school and college students are exposed to community service at a young age. That was the case for Atallah, who participated in a mission trip while attending Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. “At CHCA, students are required to have 120 service hours and two mission trips during high school,” he explains. “And the students plan the trips.” Atallah and a group of his peers traveled to the Smoky Mountains to work in a children’s home in Sevierville, Tennessee, where they cleaned the playground and facilities and spent time with troubled kids.
Ray had a similar experience. “At Academy, I was part of the service board,” she says. “I am now fundraising and public relations chair for Habitat for Humanity at Case.” It was Ray’s participation in community service at Columbus Academy that gave her the confidence to attend her first community service meeting in college. “It’s not just reaching out to the community, but I have gotten to know people at Case,” she says.
Many of the students refer to their high school collectively as “family,” often referring to the camaraderie among students and faculty. Eric Tannenbaum, 18, graduated from University School in 2007 and is currently taking classes in biology and cello performance at Oberlin College. Tannenbaum says he entered University School as a seventh-grade swimmer and left as a committed musician. The entire faculty, he says, was supportive of his decision to change his focus from sports to the arts, and many of them attended his senior cello recital. “This taught me to respect the achievements of others, whether it is in athletics, the arts or academics,” he says.
St. Francis de Sales graduate Beham went from the small atmosphere of his high school to Ohio State, but he insists that the social skills he learned in high school transferred over. “When I graduated I knew everybody in my class, and we were all good friends,” he says. “It’s similar in college. Ohio State is one of the bigger schools in the country, and I have had no problem meeting people and making friends.”
Some of these students also believed that although their high schools were small, they were still part of a diverse learning environment. “The multiplicity of opinions and lifestyles at University School prepared me to succeed in a diverse world,” says Tannenbaum.
From academics to social life, attending a private high school has made all the difference for these Ohio college students. Not only were they prepared for the rigors of college, but they did not hesitate to give the credit to their high school alma maters.