My daughter goes to school in NYC, which has a pretty crazy, intense, competitive school choice process. We went through the drama of applications, interviews and testing in the winter and this week is acceptance week. She is a contender for her two top schools. We just found out that she got into what had been her first choice school. We'll find out this week if she got into the other, but it's pretty likely given that the other is less competitive than the one she just got into. The issue is this: now my daughter is saying that if her best friend gets into her 2nd choice and goes there then she thinks she'd like to go there rather than her first choice where her best friend did not get accepted. She has one other friend who made the final round at the first choice but I don't know yet if she will go there and she's not as close a friend (though in her closer circle). Actually, I'll just use the names as it's easier: 1st choice is Columbia and 2nd is Delta (yes, I know, it's a crazy name).
So my question is, do I make her go to Columbia even if she wants to go to Delta because of her friend? Or do I just really try to convince her on Columbia (and how hard?) but leave the ultimate decision up to her? This whole process we have really let her drive the decision-making as it's going to be her school and life and she's pretty smart and reasonable and I tend to have a more collaborative parenting approach in general. However, I'm a little worried about her making short-sighted decisions based on her fear of a new social situation that goes against what would really make her happy. So here are what I think are the relevant facts and I would really like some input.
About my daughter: She's super-smart and thrives on challenging intellectual work and really likes school. She wants to be a writer but also loves math and science. She is very socially oriented once she gets to know people but is shy at making new friends. She doesn't do great with transitions/new situations and is happier when she's most comfortable. She switched schools last year and we ended up switching her back this year (even though it meant a 1 hour commute each way) because she was miserable. I think that was less about not being able to make more friends though and more about a bad school fit: more traditional, conservative, less diverse, less intellectually inclined than her old class. That being said, in every new situation she has made friends - just not as deep as her long-standing ones. She's also done an amazing job maintaining her friendships even when she was away for over a year. She does well with other kids that are intellectually inclined, like to read a lot and talk about "big issues". Also, she comes from a very left-wing, non-comformist family and that tends to be her world-view.
About the schools: Both are pretty high-pressure, intense, academically accelerated schools so there's no difference in terms of amount of homework (2-3 hours/night in each) or academic expectations. However, Columbia is much more progressive it seems with a lot of hands-on learning, projects, travel, etc. They have a really strong English program (she loves reading and writing) and they have a philosophy and argumentation program, which seems really cool. They have something called J-term where they stop classes the last week of May and spend a month on a big theme project (like "watersheds" or "sustainability) and do a lot of fieldwork, including 10 day-2 week trips to places like Puerto Rico (camping in the rainforest), Mexico, the Eastern Seaboard and Paris and Berlin. (These are paid for by the school) They don't have competitive sports but a fitness program that is more life-based where they go swimming, biking around NYC, learn yoga, etc. They have creative arts for a 4 hour block every Friday afternoon. They have a list of 2 dozen very interesting electives that tackle interesting topics. Also, it runs through high school so she wouldn't have to deal with the NYC hs admissions process, which can lead to nervous breakdowns. And once in HS she could take college classes at Columbia University for credit for free. Finally, it is a very diverse and working-class school with over 80% of the students Latino or African-American and the majority working-class or poor (we are working-class). The diversity is pretty important to me. So, basically, it's pretty much a dream school. It is a longer day (8a-4p), which will be tough for my night-owl but I think do-able. She has a couple of people she knows in the school but they are all older and not friends just kids she was in class with a few years ago.
Delta is also a great school but way more traditional. There's way more test prep orientation (no test prep at Columbia) and the subject matter tends to be more traditional. For example, the book they highlighted 6th graders reading at Columbia was "Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie and at Delta it was "Lord of the Flies". I get the feeling Delta is more "skill and drill" while Columbia is more inquiry-based. It's a much whiter school (like maybe 90%) in a city that's majority non-white and I think the student body tends to be much more middle class. So I worry more about the pressure/competition of having the cool "stuff" like ipods/iphones and such. My daughter has never had "stuff". She basically has books and that's it. There's definitely a reputation for some racism, especially as it shares a building with a majority Black and Latino school that is not as privileged. She's Arab-American and looks white so I'm not worried about racism directed at her but I am worried about her being in that kind of environment. Honestly, having just stood outside the school I get a little bit of a gossip girl-lite vibe. Also, from the beginning there's a lot of pressure there about HS admissions and all these kids trying to get into the handful of top schools and being in competition with each other. I think this fuels a more competitive atmosphere. Her best friend will likely go there and some of her other good friends who are a year ahead of her are there as well. She'd have something of an automatic social network to tap into there whereas she'd be starting from scratch at Columbia.
I don't want to over-state the problems at Delta. It seems like a really good school with good teachers and she does well with structure too so I'm sure she'd do very well there. Either way she'd get a good education. But Columbia is far and away my preferred choice and I think it's hers as well from a school standpoint. But I think she's intimidated about starting over somewhere new and she's really attached to her best friend and wants to stay with her (and perhaps is feeling bad about abandoning her/going somewhere she didn't get accepted?). I'm just really unsure how to handle it if she wants to go to Delta. And I don't want to discount the social issues as I think they are almost as important as academic ones at this age and if she's not happy then it doesn't matter how great the school is.
What would you do? Or advise?