Niche 2020 Survey of Parents Searching for High Schools

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Parent with child looking at a high school

This fall, Niche surveyed parents to learn about their school search experience over the past 12 months. The survey was open from October 15 – November 15 and posted to Niche, sent to registered parents, and shared in the Niche Parents Facebook group. Results were segmented into preschool searches, K-8 searches, high school searches, and college searches. For high school searches, we received 210 responses from parents whose child started at a high school last fall.

The Big Takeaways:

  • The most important factors that parents consider when looking for a high school are safety, teacher qualifications, and how challenging classes are.
  • 8% of parents chose to change schools because of the pandemic and another 8% had to change schools because their child’s school closed permanently.
  • When considering schools with a curriculum emphasis; 35% considered a STEM school, 19% a liberal arts school, and 18% health science.
  • 43% of parents feel that their remote learning is effective. That’s quite a bit less than 62% of those in hybrid models or 81% with children learning in-person.

School search considerations

Parents who have looked for high schools in the past year were heavily influenced by local schools when deciding where to live, 78% factored it into their decision. The most important factors that parents consider when looking for a school are safety, teacher qualifications, and how challenging classes are. Schools tend to tout their ranking, and while 73% of parents considered that important, teacher qualifications and safety both topped 92% considering them important. Many schools also place an emphasis on athletics and arts, but these were the second and third least important elements to parents. The only factor less important to consideration was whether or not the school has International Baccalaureate opportunities.

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The majority of parents did consider multiple schools, the most frequent response was three with a median of five. Only 13% of parents only considered their local public schools when searching for a school, so there is a high degree of opportunity for earning families’ consideration. Just under one-third of parents reported that they didn’t start looking for a school until 6 months or less of starting school, with more starting over a year before they would enroll. Only 8% of parents considered an online school; public options were slightly more popular than their private or for-profit peers. The only school type that earned more than one-third of parents’ considerations was their local public school at 68%. The next closest were private or independent schools with a religious affiliation (28%), charter schools (20%), and private or independent schools without a religious affiliation (18%). The most interesting specialization for parents were STEM programs at 35%, followed by liberal arts programs at 19% and health sciences at 18% considering.

Enrollment and re-enrollment

Public schools were the top choice by a wide margin, traditional public schools enrolled the most students followed by charter, magnet, and online public schools. At the consideration phase STEM programs were quite popular, but when it came to enrolling only 14% of parents surveyed chose a STEM program. Of the parents who chose to enroll in a religiously affiliated school, 70% chose a Catholic school and 14% chose an Evangelical Christian school.

More than two-thirds of parents considered cost important, and 73% report not paying anything for their high school. Of those who are paying for their child’s high school, nearly half are paying more than $10,000 per year after any financial aid. Most are covering the cost with income and savings with only 9% taking on a loan to cover the costs. Voucher programs are not available in all states, but 3% of parents reported using them.

Most parents would consider changing schools for a variety of reasons, only 26% said that they would not. Forty percent of parents would consider changing schools for better academic opportunities, less than was reported for K-8 school parents. Safety is the second most common reason that parents would change schools, followed by a lack of counseling or support staff and cost. Parents were more likely to change schools 

Effect of COVID-19

Only 24% of respondents said that the pandemic has not affected their family. While high school parents were the least likely to report that they were having difficulty handling remote learning, about half of those whose child(red) were remote learning did have a challenge. There were 16% who said that they changed their child’s school; half of which were because the school closed permanently; 6% were because of concerns about the way the school handled their pandemic response and 2% because of cost concerns. Half of parents reported that their child was fully remote learning with another 27% hybrid and 23% fully in-person. Most parents were very comfortable with the precautions being taken by their school; 83% of those experiencing in-person education agreed and 77% of those with hybrid learning did. Only remote education was rated as ineffective, mirroring what parents reported in the spring. It does not appear that more time to prepare and adapt has made much of a difference in their experience.


Read more Niche survey results and data dives.

Will Patch

Will Patch is the Enrollment Marketing Leader at Niche and helps clients with their enrollment strategies and digital outreach. He also shares insights and research on the Enrollment Insights blog and through webinars and a monthly newsletter. Prior to coming to Niche in the summer of 2019, he served Manchester University for 9 years in roles including Digital Strategist, Social Media Coordinator, and Associate Director for Admissions Operations. Outside of Niche, Will also coordinates the #EMChat community on Twitter, with weekly chats Thursdays at 9:00 PM Eastern.