College Preparatory School (CPS)


Private School
360 students
Phone: 510-652-0111
6100 Broadway Oakland, CA 94618

Parent Q&A

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  • ISEE Scores Needed for CPS, maybe retake?

    (3 replies)

    I'm not familiar with what kinds of scores are needed on the ISEE to get into CPS.  My son did very well but could probably do better on the math sections.  The stanine ranks were Verbal Reasoning (9), Reading Comprehension (9), Quantitative Reasoning (8), Mathematics Achievement (7).  These are good scores but is it worth putting some work in and trying to take it again to do better?

    Those are good scores although the math is not in the 8th or 9th statine which may be what they want.  The math program at CPS is notoriously challenging.  As another parent commented in a question about whether the ISEE is required for CPS, I would suggest you think first about whether CPS is really a good fit for your son.  Is he excited about the school?  Do you know kids like him at CPS currently?  Does he thrive in a high pressure environment? 

    Our eldest went to CPS for two years -  middle school teachers had told us they thought she was very gifted, she did well enough on the ISEE (can't remember her scores though) and on the interview.  But she was pretty miserable from day one.  The pressure and competition and the smallness of the school just didn't work for her.  (I think she also had a not great cohort - the year before her there were some great kids who were a lot more like her - creative and quirky.)  She ended up transferring to Berkeley High where she immediately had lots of friends.  Berkeley High wasn't perfect - there were some great teachers and some terrible teachers (but I'd say ditto about CPS - better ratio of great to terrible but there were a couple of not great teachers there too.). And of course Berkeley High is huge and can be overwhelming at first. But it was also big enough for her to find a diverse and kind and brilliant kids who are still her close friends, years later.  Our youngest who was far more of a competitive type and high test scores had no interest in CPS, went to Berkeley High, went to a very selective college after that.  So again, just choose CPS on whether you think your child will be happy and successful there rather than focus on stretching to get the admissions test scores if there's a chance one they're there they will need constant support and tutoring.  (Not to say you might not choose tutors if they go to public or another high school).

    I totally 100% agree with the poster from Nov 20 on this topic. Math at CPS was a NIGHTMARE for my student and a whole group of their friends. These were kids who went on to great colleges and a few of them majored in Economics!

    Also related, do not assume that going to CPS is going to help your kid with college admissions. Those days are long gone, unless your kiddo is at the top of the totally-distorted CPS bell curve. If your kiddo has a lower GPA because their math or science grades are not As (physics first was terrible for my HS freshman) that can really hurt their college apps. With the trends in college applications and the time spent on each application, most colleges are not taking the time to consider how "fabulous" CPS is compared to other high schools in the area. I add this because the mythology around CPS kids will all go to Ivies still seems to persist with ambitious families. Plus, the longtime wonderful college advisor is gone.

    Please, please heed the wise advice of the parent who posted on Nov 20: "So again, just choose CPS on whether you think your child will be happy and successful there." It's really a great school for some kids, and not so much for others. 

    I'm a parent of a College Prep freshman who participated in the proctored essay and did not take the ISEE. My sense is the school is looking at more than just test scores if that helps as you think about whether or not your child should retake the test. I know how stressful the high school application process can be with all the unknowns, so if there is a way to relieve some stress, my advice would be to take it! 

    Regarding some of the points made by other commenters, after watching my child navigate the first months of College Prep, I have to say I'm really glad she is the one who ultimately made the choice to enroll without us making that decision for her. We narrowed down the high school search to a handful of schools (public and private) and let her take it from there. She chose College Prep with both eyes open about the intensity of the workload, and I think that's been a key factor in the motivation she has to work hard there. She's always been a strong student, but it's almost mind boggling to see how quickly her skills have moved up. She works diligently, and also, she has great partners at school – her teachers have been incredibly responsive and proactive, meeting with her when she has questions, wants to dive deeper, or needs support. 

    Regarding college, also mentioned in other comments, our hope has always been that our kids will get a high school education that gives them the skills they need to succeed wherever they go next -- this seems like it is happening in spades at College Prep. Hope this helps, and good luck with the search process!

  • Admission to CPS - Take Standardized Test?

    (2 replies)

    My child is applying to College Prep this year and at some point they moved to test "optional" where in lieu of taking the ISEE or SSAT they can sit for a proctored, timed essay. Is it truly optional to provide test scores or do most applicants take the test? I'd love to hear any insights from recent applicants or what folks plan to do this year.

    I know 6 students attending CPS this school year and they all took the proctored essay in lieu of the ISEE and SSAT.

    However much the school thinks it is changing, it is not. The kind of kid who will excel here is the one who does well on standardized tests. You don't want to send your kid here unless they score or would score in the eighth or ninth stanine of the ISEE (maybe the 7th). Otherwise, they will likely find the work too hard and quite likely be very stressed out, and they won't have the SAT score to compensate for the hit to their GPA for college admission purposes. 

  • College Preparatory School

    (3 replies)

    My very high-functioning but admittedly sensitive 8th grade child is curious about College Preparatory School. I'm hoping to connect with parents, current or recent students of CPS that would care to share their thoughts on their experience. I'm particularly concerned about the workload, the availability of mental health resources, and the degree - if any - of elitist attitudes on campus (I attended a different prep school for a few years before college and encountered a lot of blithe privileged attitudes). We are also considering Berkeley High and perhaps other private schools. Thanks so much for your advice!

    We have had experiences with both CPS and Berkeley High (BHS).  I think the most important issue for kids like yours is the ability to find a cohort of friends of the same type. CPS, just like regular American high schools, is dominated socially by "popular" kids--rich, white, suburban-mentality type. BHS is the same but with a slightly more international flair because of the IB program. But BHS has a huge student population so that every type of kids will find their own group and be comfortable. In CPS, that is luck, depending on what types of students happened to be admitted that year.  Because of the small student population, the socially dominate group tends to have an outsized impact on the overall social dynamics of the school, and can be clique-y and exclusive.  CPS has smart kids, but not outlier-level of smartness.  The school has a bottom line to worry about, understandably, and of course, all the diversity quota to be filled.  CPS is best for students with above average academics but lack of self discipline. A truly academically outlier kid may suffocate there by the very heavy "busy" homework load. As a comparison, the 9th grade homework load at CPS is probably equivalent to a Junior or senior in BHS that takes 4 or more APs with at least 2 in hardcore STEMs. There is a lot of content feeding at CPS (not a lot of thinking though).  

    BHS is a typical public school, and the quality of teachers is hit-or-miss, with more misses than hits. But their advanced math program is excellent and for once, teaching to the top (doing proofs to understand why rather than memorization), and the advanced math teachers truly care about the students and are very responsible.  Because the homework load is not heavy at BHS, the students have more time to do all sorts of extracurricular activities, and BHS offers so many opportunities for kids to be involved in the community. Kids learn a lot of soft skills at BHS. To be fair, BHS is not for everyone. Your kid has to be independent (academically) and knows what he/she wants in life so as not to be sucked into drugs/sex etc.

    As for the crazy parties, drugs, sex, etc, both schools have it.  CPS has a lot of kids who suffer from depression.  Although they offer a mental counselor onsite, it does not solve the root causes of the problem.  The school administration is really good at suppressing this issue, and like all private schools, spends a big effort on "branding" and "reputation".  At the end of the day, neither schools are perfect, and you will have to make a choice based on the needs of your kid.  I personally would never consider sending another kid to CPS. We entered BHS with our eyes wide-open, knowing all their issues as well as opportunities, and ended up very happy.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more. Best wishes to your kid!

    Hi, I have a 9th and 12th grader at College Prep now.  They are very happy at the school and have made some great friends.  The majority of the kids that I have seen at the school are super sweet and smart kids.  I think the workload varies for every student.  My kids were used to a lot of school work in middle school so the transition for them was really smooth.  But, I have heard that other students thought the workload was a lot.  I think the school does a good job of easing the kids in Freshman year and then the workload increases a bit every year.  They typically have one or two free periods where they can get homework done in advance so that they have time for other activities after school or outside of school.  There's a school counselor who checks in with each of the students to see how they are doing and students can go to her whenever.  They also have advisors who check in on them weekly.  I've found that the students are very supportive of each other and will help each other out whenever they have a problem.  They also have extra writing and math help that they can get if needed in addition to their teachers.  I really haven't heard of any elitist attitudes on campus.  My kids are also the type of kids who don't like drama and will steer clear of it so I might be getting a skewed view.  :)  Please feel free to ask any other questions.  Good luck to your 8th grader!

    College Prep will push kids to the edges of their ability, and as a result of the difficult path the students will feel a sense of achievement and confidence that they otherwise would not have. Moreover, they won't have to find easy college majors that they are not truly interested in; they'll be prepared for any major they truly want to pursue, be it biophysics or
    Classical languages. This is entirely due to the brilliance of the faculty. Many college freshman report that their first year was a breeze due to College Prep; the school deserves its name. Due to the demanding curriculum the students can be stressed out, but the fantastic success in college admissions reduces that stress. This year's early
    admission success was off the charts; by my daughter's count almost half the class was accepted through early decision or early action to the most competitive schools in the country.  That success in matriculation should radically reduce the stress. Students make circles of friends in which they are comfortable. The arts and sports are highly valued at the school. Money is not the only marker of success and status at the school; intellectual engagement and public service count just as much, if not more. 

  • Does anyone know if there are any "feeder" schools into CPS, whether official or non-official? What are some of the middle schools where they have the highest admissions rates into CPS?Thanks!

    I wouldn't call it a 'feeder' school, but I know a lot of kids from The Academy are accepted to CPS. The Academy has a very academic middle school program and the head of school works with students to help them get accepted to the high school of their choice. 

    Bentley, Head Royce, Redwood Day School. Student must have academic performance that qualifies for CPS no matter what school attended.

    Black Pine Circle 

    College Prep usually includes a round-up of students who will be matriculating to the school in one of their spring newsletters. I remember reading through the last one and noticing how varied the incoming students were in terms of where they had attended middle school. It seemed like there were 2-4 students from nearly all the local schools-- public and private. I also noticed that Black Pine Circle had a larger group, and I had wondered if that was because there are so few private high schools in Berkeley proper. I imagine much of this also comes down to how many students from each school choose to apply to a small, highly academic school like CPS. Good luck!

    Thank you for all your responses!

    Montessori Family School has sent many students to CPS (and has 100% acceptance rate to kids' first-choice schools). 

  • Homework load at College Prep

    (7 replies)

    Can anyone give us an idea how much homework the kids do at College Prep?  For example, is it 5 hours every weekend?  I know it’s a great school, just wanting to know the reality of the homework load to ascertain if it’s a potential fit for our teen.

    Home work load is A LOT.  My student is usually extremely efficient, so much so that in an independent middle school, homework never came home. But at College Prep, if the weekend homework is to be finished in one day, that would be at minimum, 3-4 hours non-stop, highly highly efficient work on average. On weekday night, it was 1 hr average, after the open period in school that was fully devoted to homework.  Most of kids in my student's year spent 2-3 hours every night.  If you ask on your visits, the students and admin will tell you that homework are not busy work and are meaningful.  That is the standard answer (and dare you say otherwise!).  The reality is, a lot of them are busy work (especially Physics and history).  Math homework are meaningful and you do learn a lot.  But other classes give homework for the sake of homework (especially on weekends). To give you an example, Physics would give 40-50 problems a night before a major test--just think how long it will take to just read through them.  My student is extremely strong academically (and is doing extremely well academically) and found these homework very frustrating and take time away from real meaningful learning.  This learning style works well for students who are smart but not very self-motivated and self-disciplined.  If your student is very creative, super smart and motivated, this will kill that passion and love of learning. 

    So in reality, the amount of homework someone does while attending College Prep depends upon your kid. Are they disciplined? Do they structure their time well? Or do they get distracted? For my kid, the first year was about an hour a day with more for finals, (she also worked through her free period.) Second year was a little more. Junior year, when every class is honors or AP, there's about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, plus your kid is studying for the SAT/ACT, AP and SAT subject tests, and beginning college searches. It's a lot, but she manages her time well and still has sports and friends in the mix. Most importantly, does your teen want to go to College Prep? It's a fantastic school, but students should be willing and eager to attend. Good luck with your choice!

    In my experience as a CPS parent with a recent grad, it's hard to say how much homework - in terms of hours - your kiddo will have. It depends on the kid's strengths how long they will need to work to be successful in this unique environment. The work is hard. History and English are deep, rather than broad. History, in particular, stresses critical thinking and argument over memorization of facts and dates. Math is taught using a socratic method that works for some kids, not others. The kids I saw who were most successful had the capacity for long hours of work. Some kids care more about getting all As than others. If your kid wants As, they will be working long and hard. Great school for certain types of kids. Not a great match for everyone. That said, everyone comes out very well-prepared.

    At College Prep, it's not about the amount of the homework assigned but what the student gets out of it. I have one child who graduated and one who is currently attending. From what our family has seen and experienced, the students who are successful at Prep are ones who are organized and highly motivated. The actual homework load is not overwhelming. If your child is efficient and gets down to business, they can keep up with the assignments. But your student needs to want to do the homework and do it well. If they rush through their English reading rather than carefully taking notes, the discussion around the Harkness table in class will not be engaging. If they don't do their math problems fully, the students' presentation of problems on the board in class the next day will difficult to follow. Your student may be one of those who currently gets As on tests in middle school without studying. Those days will be over. It's an adjustment and your child will need to be prepared to put in the effort all through high school. As you are thinking through this, focus on the level of motivation your child has rather than how many hours of homework they can handle. Good luck in your high school search process!

    In my experience, it depends on the kid. Some kids load up on classes, which can be time-consuming; and some kids just get through things more quickly than others.

    My child is not efficient, so for the majority of time, he would study most of the weekend on top of the long hours he put in during the week. I'm not sure, but my guess is that he's in the relative minority with respect to the amount of time he spends on homework. There are kids who get things done faster and therefore have more time for downtime. Regardless of individual circumstances, my sense is that most, if not all, kids at CPS feel the demanding homework schedule and work really hard year-round. 

    The school does a great job of providing a nurturing and supportive environment, however. My child, for example, loves CPS; he likes the fact that there isn't any busywork and that he is constantly learning. My advice is for your child to visit the school. Most likely, he/she will know if it's the right school for him/her.

    Good luck!

    The homework load is very heavy – at least 5 hours on the weekend and at least 2 hours weekdays. Our son came from a middle school with a reputation for a lot of work. It was nothing to this. There are days when he has to choose which questions to skip or which material to study fully and which not because we require that he get enough sleep, and he simply runs out of time. Our son wanted to go to CPS even though he knew it would be hard. Still, we underestimated the amount of work it would take to keep up.

    Students have open periods, and some days only a few classes meet. Our child uses this free time well. Homework can usually be kept to fewer than 2 hours a night, and some nights she hasn't had any homework, making possible her playing in a youth orchestra. Our kid has been in bed by 10:00 pm because her homework is done and because she is exhausted by after-school sports. On the weekends homework can be split over two days, leaving plenty of time for sports, sleepovers, movies, theater, and music.

    I have really been happy with our child learning the history of India and China in her first year. She has learned about the conflicts between settled agriculturalists and nomads, the rise of Buddhist ethics, technologies of navigation in the early modern period and the predations of the East India Company. Our younger one saw how excited her older sibling was to learn this history that she had me read to her Peter Frankopan's Illustrated History of the Silk Roads. Moreover, the history teacher has taught our older one how to cite documentary materials and write well. I don't consider it busy work. I consider it to be some of the most meaningful work she is doing. This may go to the question of the value of teaching History at all. I value it, but won't get into that debate. 

    Through the math homework she has learned how to write rigorous proofs. Nothing like that is happening in frosh math at Berkeley High. Frosh physics is about retraining the intuition, and doing multiple practice problems achieves that. I don't think it can be done any other way. The teacher has been so outstanding that our daughter was inspired to read on her own Clifford Johnson's The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe.

    It seems that there are few complaints about the homework in English classes probably because the books chosen are just excellent, and they are taught by a rather unbelievably talented faculty of scholars. 

    All this said, there are tradeoffs. If one wants to go to Julliard or Curtis or play Division I sports, College Prep is probably not the best place, though the great cellist David Requiro is a CPS grad. 

    I get the concerns about burn-out. But here's what my wife and I thought when we accepted last year and still think. If our child decides to pursue science in college, the first two years can be brutal, especially at a UC. Without strong preparation it would be easy to get lost in a big lecture class especially if one has a bad draw of lecturer or graduate teaching assistant. We don't think she'll be burned out by the time she gets to college but prepared to do the work with more ease than many of her classmates, and thus more likely to stick with it. Moreover, her writing assignments won't burn her out as she has to take extra time to learn how to write at the college level. 

    I like what the school is doing, and don't really want them to change much. I think our daughter is getting excellent preparation for the next level. 

  • SSAT scores for entry to CPS

    (3 replies)

    My daughter is applying to CPS and just got her SSAT scores. She has 87%ile in Verbal, 79%ile in Quantitative and 76%ile in Reading and 84%ile overall. How would you rate her chances? Anyone with past experience who can comment? I know scores are not the sole criteria but looking to see if she is in the ball park or not. 

    When my child applied to CPS a couple of years ago we were told by middle school school counselor that 85th percentile on each sub-section was the threshold.  I have no idea of this is true or if it was just a way of cautioning parents about the selectivity of the school.  My kid was accepted with a percentile in the low 90s overall.  My kid does not discuss grades and scores with friends, but happens to have one friend who shares this stuff.  That friend scored quite a bit higher than my kid-- like high 90s.  For our family, the standardized testing was the worst (most anxiety-causing) part of the process.  And I should underscore that I have no idea really what scores are in fact necessary.  The process is a bit opaque and there are probably many factors in play.

    It is a great school with wonderful teachers and kind kids.  

    Like the other reader mentioned, my child also doesn't have the habit of discussing grades/scores with other friends. (I think it's also discouraged by the administration...which is a good thing.) Anyway, my kid took the ISEE and scored high 90s on the all the categories. The school looks for students with diverse interests, so while doing well on these standardized tests is a definite plus, I don't think it will greatly hurt your chance of getting in. Good luck!

    Great school. Great teachers. And incredible kids.

    Thank you for your response. 

  • Hi all,

    We are starting to look at the SF/East Bay private high schools for our middle school son. Anyway, we came across College Prep's website and noticed the incredibly high number of students who are national merit recognized. Is it even possible to have this many (53 out of 90!!) in ONE class?! Wow! Now, this must mean that in the application process, CPS probably put a significant emphasis on the applicants' ISEE/SSAT scores, in order to get this kind of result. I read somewhere on this forum that CPS is looking for applicants with scores that are north of 85% tile. Is this still true? Sounds like the scores need to be at least 95% to get this kind result.

    Finally, are there any average kids at CPS? Or, is it possible to get an average kid into CPS?

    I have two kids who went to College Prep, one who graduated in 2009 and one in 2013. So my information is a bit dated, but I am quite sure it is still accurate. College Prep is a very selective school, and successful applicants tend to be straight-A students, or close. I don't think College Prep seeks kids with high ISEE/SSAT scores specifically to get kids who receive national merit recognition; they seek bright and engaged kids and give them a superb education, which leads to kids who tend to test well.

    You ask if "there are any average kids at CPS" and whether it is possible to get an "average kid" into CPS. If your child is average, the issue is not so much whether he can get in as whether it is the right place for him. There are no average kids at CPS. All the kids at CPS are smart, and some are crazy smart. Like the smartest-person-you've-ever-met kind of smart. Being in that environment is not necessarily easy even for extremely bright kids, who are used to excelling without too much effort in middle school. One of my sons was deflated by working hard for Bs at CPS; it undermined his confidence and made him feel inadequate. He is still glad he went there, but it was a very hard way to do high school for him. The other was exhilarated by being in a class of brilliant peers and relished every second. If my son were an average student in middle school I would not send him to CPS, where he would likely be overwhelmed and unhappy.

    I have one child attending CPS now and I can say after entry (although I did not know it at the time of application) that it was a competitive process. Having said that, there is a mix of all kinds of kids, from brainiacs to artsy to well-rounded arts and sciences, etc. It is also a soft place to attend if you are gender questioning, LGBTQ, etc. The process seems to involve a hand-picking of students that are all academically-motivated but not necessarily A-achieving at the school. The standards are high, the curriculum interesting and challenging, but with a lot of fun days - spirit, multicultural, pride, no homework weekends, and days off every now and then to reduce the pressure. You would have to enjoy school work - no question, but we LOVE the school, the students, and the community. It is like a small liberal arts college in a high school.

  • Hi all,

    Our child will start College Prep this fall. Just wanted to get your perspectives on how math is taught at CPS. We're not familiar with this type of Harkness/questions-based teaching style. For parents with children at CPS, how is it working out for your kids? Our kid did extremely well on the ISEE & in middle school, but definitely not a math genius, and we don't look forward to having to tutor at home. By the way, do most kids skip Math 1 at CPS? Do most CPS students go beyond calculus-BC? (All the CPS kids we talked to at the open house seemed incredibly confident about their math ability...)

    Finally, we know the question about how to balance school and extracurricular activities is asked a lot. But still, just wanted to get some parental advice so we can keep our kid challenged but not get caught up in the rat race. What is a good guideline? What do you do to keep your kid sane? Have you ever consider transferring your kid out of CPS because the other kids are simply too "stellar"?

    I wish I could contact you directly, since I hate bashing CPS in public, but I think the school's system of teaching math is atrocious.  If your child is really good at math, it won't hurt them.  If your child is okay, like mine was, it can be a struggle.  Most of what she learned in math came from her very fantastic math teacher (Irving Lubliner) at Bentley.  The concepts he instilled in 7th & 8th grade got her through CPS.  When it came time for SATs in junior year, we got a tutor.  That's not unusual, but math was the only thing she needed help in.  Senior year was a struggle, and we went back to the tutoring place for help.  It was worth it. 

    I don't know if most skip Math 1, but I would not be surprised, since many of the entering frosh will have had introductory calculus in middle school.  Ours stopped at Math VAB [AP AB]. 

    Nah.  Never considered leaving.  Our kid was stellar.  Just not in math.  :)  The English teachers are wonderful.  The history teachers as well.  The science teachers rock.  Don't know about all the languages, but CPS is a stronghold for Latin and debate. 

    You may (or may not) find this reassuring about the pressure.  Our daughter found the first year easier than her middle school years at Bentley.  I think CPS, to its credit, does realize that not every student comes in with the same academic intensity, and allows for an adjustment to the expectations of one of the top college prep schools in the country.  Sophomore year was not as easy a ride.  :)  Would we do it again if we had the chance to back in time?  Absolutely.  No question.  One interesting thing  our daughter said after her first year in college was that she realized how much more she could have gotten from her teachers at CPS had she put in even more effort.  She did not make the same mistake twice. 

    Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.  My daughter graduated almost 10 years ago, so my frame of reference is dated and getting more so, but I'm happy to help. 

    Welcome to CPS! The math program now works well for our College-Prep student, but it did take some getting used to. Our kid was frustrated in the beginning, pushed through it, and now says she loves math in a way that she didn't before. One thing she did was utilize the tutoring center on campus and met with her teacher weekly. She no longer meets that often, but the second she's unsure of a concept, she's emailing asking for an appointment. Her teacher has been kind and open and genuinely loves teaching (as have all her teachers this year.) She tested into Math 2, but she has friends in Math 1, and she also knows students who started in Math 2 and moved to Math 1.

    I can't speak for other kids and how they stay sane, and everyone's different, but for ours it helps if she stays very organized. When she studies, she's studying, not answering texts from friends or getting distracted. She participates in extracurricular activities, debate, sports, and on campus clubs, and yes, sometimes, especially as we're entering the last few weeks before finals and studying ramps up, it seems like a lot, but then the school gives a break (either a 3 day weekend or no homework weekend,) just when they seem to need it the most. But importantly, she loves it there, wants to go, and thanks us for the opportunity to study at College Prep. Her rat race is with herself. She wants to understands concepts completely, so she pushes herself. Not sure what to do about that other than make sure she has fun on the weekends and laughs at every opportunity! Good luck and again, Welcome!

    I have tutored two math students from CPS. Even though I was a classroom teacher, it took me awhile to acclimate to 1. Not having book 2. Relying only on student notes, and 3. The wide rannge of non trivial and richness found in HW problems.

    I worked with students in Math 2 and 3 . I don't know what the typical students enrolled in.

    As far as your son goes, I would want you to be sure your child can take excellent notes or buddy up with someone who does. It's critical. And that he have strong skills from the prior class because the concepts from the previous class are used right away and throughout the course and students are expected to pull out those past skills. And of course the most obvious recommendation not to fall behind at all. Never.

    After these ominous sounding warnings from me, I agree with CPS students who feel they know math very well after CPS. The curriculum is outstanding.

    I too wish I could speak with you privately because I really value so many of the people and aspects of CPS. However Math has been "atrocious" (like that work from another poster!) all the way through. If your kiddo isn't super strong in Math, it's tough. The school now uses the Philips Exeter Math program and depending on the teacher, it can be a completely "student-run" experience. It just doesn't work for some kids - but works great for others. Math tutors have been our reality since Freshman year, unfortunately, and even then it's a struggle. My kid also knocked the ISEE, middle school math & the ACT out of the park, but that did not translate with this curriculum's approach.

    We did consider transferring at several points - honestly mainly because of Math. But there was enough other wonderful stuff and great, deep learning/critical thinking training going on, that we stuck it out. I think it comes down to your kid's personality and temperament whether or not they get energized or demoralized by the high level of pressure and intensity. I've seen both with my kid's friend group. It's for sure an intense place, but lots of kids love it and there are some really stellar teachers who are all willing to go above and beyond to help kids succeed. Welcome and I hope it's a great experience for your child!

    Thank you for all your honest and helpful replies. Sounds like there will be quite an adjustment for most students. As I mentioned in my previous post, our kiddo is very smart, but is not one of those genius type. Both my wife and I have background in science/computer science and should be able to help out. However, considering the tuition we're paying (and after a long day at work), we prefer to leave all the teaching to the school. Of course, if we have to, we wouldn't shirk off our parental responsibility. Anyway, just have a follow up question: has there been any discussion with the administration to change this particular style of teaching or at least have a hybrid style of introducing math concepts?

    Hi. I'm curious. Why not have your kid try the class before making up your mind? Give it time as most kids, no matter where they go to high school, need some time to adjust to a new environment and expectations. 

  • CPS - social life?

    (5 replies)

    My son is considering CPS and while we like what we hear about the academics, it's not really clear how much of a life outside of studying kids have. It sounds like there's a trend towards school-life balance, but i'd love to hear current stories about this.

    Assuming most kids live outside the neighborhood, do kids hang out together on the weekend? How many activities (sports, clubs, etc) are most kids able to do outside of school? Do alumni tend to stay in contact with one another?

    I have two kids at CPS, and it's a great fit for both of them.  Academics aside,  I hear that the kids are accepting of others, interesting and interested, and socially things move right along.  There are school dances, which are fun.  Sports also help with finding friends.  In addition my kids are involved in sports outside of CPS, and that has been a broadening experience.  They do have meet ups outside of school, so I wouldn't worry about the social aspects at all.

    My daughter is a freshman at College Prep, and I'm happy to say yes! The kids have a life outside of school. Many of the students participate in sports and other activities. Mine for example loves fencing, debate, and in her free time, baking, hanging out with her friends and traveling. We live in Oakland and some of her friends are in Danville or El Cerrito; they make it work with Bart, carpooling, even Uber. We have found the school to be warm and supportive, even encouraging her to take time to travel for tournaments. Good luck with your high school choice!

    My son graduated from CPS in 2013 (actually both sons did, but the older one is so much older his experience is too dated to be useful).  The younger son was involved in theater and debate; that was an activity stretch as both were pretty demanding on top of school work.  His love for the stage won and he let debate go.  He sometimes got together with friends on the weekends, especially later in his time there.  But that was not a regular thing -- more a function of him (he is a bit nerdy and not super social) than the school.  Other kids were much more social.  He still is very close with his CPS friends: they are in frequent text/skype contact, and get together a lot when they are home from college.  

    CPS is an awesome place for the right kid.  I am so grateful there was a school like that for my kids. 

    Hi, my kid is a freshman at CPS.   S/he thinks the kids are great: really nice, friendly, fun. It is an extremely welcoming and warm community of kids.  That said, s/he hardly sees any friends outside of school.  S/he has year-round sports commitments and between sports and schoolwork, s/he is spent.  S/he has gotten together with CPS friends during vacations and for the dances, and occasionally on a Friday after school, but that is about it.  S/he is in very regular text/snapchat communication with a lot of school friends. I think kids who are in drama or debate, or a school team socialize through these activities.  My kids also really feels that s/he needs sleep and will make sure to protect that time.  S/he wanted to do every club and join every group, but has  decided to stick to one club this year.

    In short, my kid really likes and enjoys classmates (my kid is very outgoing and sociable); just feels there is not enough time.  Maybe when the newness has worn off a bit more things will change.

    My kid also knows that some other kids do fit more socializing in.  I think a lot of this has to do with the individual student's studying style, their level of commitment to outside activities, and their own comfort levels.  My kid tends to be anxious, so s/he wants to keep life as non-frenetic as possible to ward off anxiety.  A more relaxed kid could probably socialize quite a bit more.

    It's been 20 years since I graduated so I'm sure other people will have more current feedback with respect to your question regarding academics/activities balance, but in my experience, most students definitely participated in activities and hung out together on the weekends, everywhere from N. Berkeley to Danville (there was lots of driving).  The school encourages life outside of the classroom/studying, in part by focusing on quality, not quantity, when it comes to the academics.  I did not find school to be easy in any way and had to work hard to feel like I was keeping up, and I still participated in sports and socialized on weekends.  As to your question regarding alumni staying in contact - yes, definitely.  It's one of the things I appreciate most about having gone there.  I recently attended a CPS graduate's 40th birthday party and there were dozens of graduates there, including four married couples from CPS. 

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As a current College Prep parent, I want to offer a different view than another reply. My child has extremely high anxiety and the school has been amazing. The support system is outstanding - both the school counselor and the teachers worked with my student to come up with a plan that was very accommodating but still allowed my student to learn and engage. One only needs to ask, and the school will work with the student and family. True, there are many families who might feel that tons of homework or an acceptance brand-name university is the end all be all goal, but definitely not everyone and one could say this for so many schools in the area, both public and private. It's a stellar education and ideal for kids who really want to learn with others who feel the same. I'm tired of the bad rap it gets, especially when my child's friends at schools like Oakland Tech, Berkeley High, and Bishop O'Dowd get even more homework that my student does at CPS. 

I also want to chip in about the college prep, in particularly with regard to your son's situation.  You mentioned two important issues: huge work loads and mental health issues.  Because of these, college prep is not the right school for him.  As a parent of the current CPS student, I can testify that these two issues are exactly two of the major problems with CPS. The home work loads are unreasonably heavy, and some teachers or perhaps many parents equate huge home work loads to vigorous learning, and it creates kids who are tired of or are losing interest in learning. Mental health is a major problem in the student population, but the school refuses to do anything other than the superficial lip services. In fact the school is so worried about its "branding" that it actively suppressed any negative voices from the students, including suppressing student surveys on mental health.  What you see on the surface is not necessarily the true color. 

Hi, I second the school recommendations made by other parents. I also want to provide additional detail on College Prep, a school that I am most familiar with. (My son is a College Prep grad.) College Prep is an academically demanding place, and the homework load is considerable. But, it also is a warm, open, and supportive place, starting with the teachers. (The teachers are the "crown jewel" of College Prep.) It may not be the right place for everyone, and if you want to ensure that your child can successfully transition to a new place and out of the residual health impact from PANDAS without the added stress of a big work load, College Prep is probably not the right place for your child either. But, I want to make sure that other readers do not come away from the impression that College Prep is uncaring. For my son who is sensitive and is somewhat different from most other kids, he found College Prep to be an accepting and safe place. All of his teachers had an open door policy and were actively interested and invested in his (and other students') success. Good luck with your move! 

Though we don't have the firsthand experience with Lick, we had a very good impression of the school when we went to the open house. We really like how the school incorporates its curriculum with a lot of hands on learning. If your son is a tinkering type, it will probably be a good fit. Having said that, we decided to send our daughter to CPS. Anyway, just wanted to give a balanced view of CPS. We like the school for its intellectual intensity, warm community, and its close proximity to our house. She has very much enjoyed the friendship and the learning in all the classes so far. While she has managed to maintain an A average, it is by no means easy. Yes, CPS is a pressure cooker. All the teachers are nice, pedagogically apt, and very accessible, but they also set the bar pretty high, not to mention the voluminous amount of homework they assign. For example, the Math 2 our daughter took in her freshman year (most freshmen test into Math 2) requires a 95% average to achieve an A standing. Since she was consistently getting around 94% in the beginning, the midyear progress report showed A-, and that caused quite a bit of confusion and frustration. In the end, she did pull her average above 95%, but seriously?!! I agree wholeheartedly that kids should learn for learning sake, and they should not study just for the sake of getting good grades. But still, it seems a bit extreme to set the bar that high. What is wrong with sparing these hard working, high achieving (and brilliant) kids from unnecessary stress? Besides school, most of the kids are also involved (and excel) in all kinds of extracurricular even though kids are very supportive of each other's endeavor, but because everyone is in so many "things", there is a constant reminder that "I might not be doing enough..." So it is not a school for everyone. But if your son enjoys being challenged and meeting all kinds of interesting kids with different backgrounds, it might be a good fit. Good luck.

My wife and I ranked College Prep above the other independent schools for one simple reason. The school puts its considerable resources into the hiring and retention of a brilliant faculty. The facilities are quite nice but not spectacular (though some say the new 3D lab is). The teachers however are spectacular...and nice. We were worried that the school would put too much attention on prep for the SAT and AP's. But none of our kid's classes is so narrowly focused. She has had quizzes on the assumptions in a linear equation, the nature of randomness in a sample, the symbolism in a Toni Cade Bambara short story, and the economic and symbolic importance of rivers in Chinese civilization. She has joined cross country for fun, and been attended to by a coach who is a medical doctor and coached on breathing and race strategy. Her times have radically improved in months. She has plenty of time for music and rock climbing out of school with classmates and old friends at other schools. It's a new school, and she worries about how wide and deep her friendship circle will become. 

But she does not worry about math even though she was placed in Math II. She did quite well on the quantitative parts of the ISEE but not nearly as well as she did on the verbal parts. And yet math has been easier for her than English. Her English teacher has very high standards for writing mechanics, (comma splice?) and demands that answers be rich in content rather than empty. We are very happy about how seriously the Humanities are taken at College Prep (her acting teacher has a Ph.D., and has created an open space for expression and risk-taking).  

I don't get the concerns about CPS being a pressure cooker. If you get in, you are likely going to get into a very good college even if you are not class valedictorian or get some "B's". My wife thought that the concerns about GPA were absurd. That's a number. The point is that the kid will be prepared for college physics and math, and not discouraged off any STEM track by poor high school preparation. And even if the child does not pursue science, she will have a true appreciation of the beauty of science and the mysteries it has unlocked as every educated person should have. To deprive a child of that just to to prop up a meaningless GPA number seems absurd. The school is there for kids to think deep thoughts with other kids who could not care less about being nerdy and with faculty who could be teaching at a fine liberal arts college. 

We are very happy that our daughter was accepted. 

I had one child graduate from O'Dowd and one from CPS. The one who went to O'Dowd was unequivocally happier with the high school experience. We are not Catholic, but never felt out of place vis a vis the religion aspect. Lots of messages of love, service, and respect. The school has a wide range of kids, a wide range of classes, lots of academic rigor if your kid wants it, but also offers levels of classes where your kid might not be as strong. We were big fans of the support and most of teaching was terrific. It was a very big change from the K-8 private school my kids attended, but we were very impressed in the end.

CPS is, indeed, a pressure cooker. And while it works well for a very specific type of kid, we knew lots of very smart kids who were dragged through with multiple tutors and had their sense of competence trashed. My main "warning" about CPS is that if your kid isn't super strong in Math, beware. The school's math program is a disaster for kids who do not come in with an ability to teach themselves math in a strictly problem-based socratic approach. Frankly, it was crushing to a too-large portion of the class population. There is a very narrow definition of success at the school presently (this has changed in the last few years according to people who had kids graduate 4+ years ago) and when there are no levels to choose from, a student is pretty much stuck if he or she is not strong at a given subject. We tried to work with the administration, but got no response. On the positive side, most of the teachers are wonderful, and all are willing to spend much time outside the classroom to provide extra help. I do think the school is unique & wonderful in that way. CPS students are treated with respect and are not saddled with a bunch of rules, which is also great.

The grading across the board is incredibly hard. We said that while most schools are criticized for grade inflation, CPS practices grade deflation. And that doesn't help in the end with college admissions for many kids.  My takeaway is this: there are some kids who LOVE CPS and thrive there. If your kid is one of those, it's a great, unique place. If your kid is NOT one of those, it's pretty awful, regardless of how enriching, kind, supportive they try to make it. It's hard to feel the kindness and support when you can't pass math and feel inadequate every day. I unfortunately heard too much of that from a fairly big group of wonderful, smart kids.

These are all great schools, but despite the messaging, I think they have somewhat different characters or niches.  Probably most kids would be happy and do well at any of them. We toured these schools and my then 8th grader did the shadow visits.  I am not sure, though, how clear a picture a kid can get from one day.    So this reply is based on limited information: visits to most of these schools, kid enrolled in one of them.  However, kid has happy, thriving friends at all of these schools.  From our visits, we admired the teachers at Branson and CPS the most.  We loved the curriculum at HRS, CPS, and Branson.  We thought the arts at Lick were truly amazing, but the academic curriculum otherwise seemed less interesting to us (these are obviously very individual choices).  On the other hand, the students at Lick were extremely impressive. Branson has the reputation of being less diverse--of course it is in Marin which is less diverse.  Our impression was that they were trying very hard, and in very effective ways, to diversify the student body.  The faculty is already among the most diverse.  We decided not to pursue Branson because the commute form the East Bay seemed overwhelming.  We were unable to visit classes at Bentley, but have very happy friends there.

Kid ended up choosing CPS because it was the most academically interesting and rigorous.  The reputation for rigorous, extremely thoughtful academic work has turned out to be absolutely accurate.  The classes and teachers are outstanding; the expectations for the students are very, very high.  On the other hand, the student body has turned out to be kinder, more supportive, and more open than we could have ever dreamed.  The kids are just hugely nice to each other.  Likewise, the teachers devote time and energy to the students in ways that go way above and beyond.  My kid has met with teachers during lunch, after school, in free blocks, etc.  Every single teacher has been responsive and supportive.  But this does not mean that they are relaxed about grading or that they lower their expectations: instead, they really help the students meet their potential. Because the teachers are great, the students are excited about the material. I have the impression that many of the kids at CPS are truly intellectuals; they are not just good students, they are intrinsically interested in the subject matter.  

On surprise to me was that the kids come from a fairly far-flung geographical range:from Dublin, Hayward, Lamorinda to SF and Marin. I had expected a Berkeley/Oakland focus.  This is a good thing--brings wider cultural mix, but makes it a bit harder for the kids to get together outside of school.

I think the new block schedule has helped reduce the homework load somewhat.  There is no busywork at all.  I think there is stress about grades--at least at this time of year around finals.

Best of luck, it an be a draining process!  The good news it that all these schools offer a lot.

I've had one child at Bishop O'Dowd and one at CPS. My sense is that BOD might seem a bit overwhelming at first to a shy Freshman, but once he finds his place in one of the many clubs or music or debate or a sport, he will be fine. They have a fun orientation week for Freshman to make the transition easier. There's something for everyone at that school and generally it's a great community. Shy kids at CPS would be just fine as long as the school is a good fit. It's a small and extremely welcoming school, but the most important factor at that school is that your child is academically suited to it. It's not for everyone, but the kids who love it really have a great experience there.

Both of these very different schools start in 9th grade so everyone is "new." That was a draw for both of my kids.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Feb 2015

RE:  How hard is it to get in to HRS or CPS?

On a pure numbers perspective, from what I understand, College Prep receives 300+ applications for ~90 spots each year. Depending on the year some number of those 90 spots are taken by siblings and legacies; in some years a pretty high number. Not all siblings or legacies get accepted either. It also appears that they like to accept from a broad range of schools. I've seen as many as 7-8 admitted from one middle school (The Academy or Bentley)in any given year, but rarely more than that and usually more like 1-3 from each school. So your daughter may also be competing against her current classmates in the numbers game.

Your description of your daughter is not unlike how I would have described my own daughter who attends College Prep. My daughter had similar grades maybe a few more B+'s than what you describe of your daughter. My daughter had solid ISEE test scores and I believe strong recommendations from her Math teacher. From her description her interviews went well as she also is not shy and was able to connect with the interviewers. She was accepted to Bentley, HR, College Prep and Athenian. From the little you provided I think that her chances are good. However, if I were you I'd probably add Bentley, Bishop O'Dowd (stronger sports scene than any of the other privates) and even Oakland Tech to your mix. My daughter has friends at all of those schools and they all seem to be having good, if not great experiences. Prep Mom

I have two kids who went to CPS. It is a very selective school, and successful applicants tend to be straight-A students, or close. Seventh grade grades are less important, and a few Bs when the kids are getting their middle school sea legs are probably not deal breakers. But eighth grade grades should be pretty solidly in the A range. The applicant pool and class in recent years has tended to skew female, which can make it still harder to get in as a girl. If in eighth grade your daughter works hard and still gets some B grades, the question may be less whether she can get in as whether it is the right place for her. All the kids at CPS are smart, and some are crazy smart. However hard she works in middle school, she can count on being in a more challenging academic environment at CPS. How will she feel about that? One of my kids was deflated by working hard for Bs at CPS; it undermined his confidence. The other was exhilarated by being in a class of brilliant peers and relished every second. Mom of Big Guys

Math at CPS

Dec 2014

Can anyone enlighten me about how math is taught at CPS? I have been told various things through the years: it is primarily group work; there is no textbook; the teachers have their own unique system. I would like to hear from anyone with knowledge of the topic, and especially from present or recent parents or students at the school about their experience with the math program at CPS, especially how it has worked for advanced and accelerated math students.
Curious Parent
Lack of advanced math was the reason why our son decided against attending CPS. He knew calculus in 8th grade, and wanted real challenges in math. Five years ago, our son visited CPS as an 8th grader. We told the CPS admissions & tourguide that he loved math, and to please show him an advanced math class. Well, they had him sit in on an introductory algebra class. That killed CPS for my son. He chose Oakland Tech, where he was delighted by the engineering department. As a freshman, he buzzed through AP B/C calculus, then took 3 years of math at UC/Berkeley. He is now a math major at an Ivy. Perhaps CPS offers advanced math; we never found out. At the time, the admissions people seemed nonresponsive to our requests for information about math. Parent of a math fanatic

College Prep does teach math differently than most schools. They do not teach separate classes in algebra and geometry. Math there is integrated, and focuses on the relationships between mathematical concepts. The teachers use their own materials. Sometimes students work together on problems after a concept is taught in class. There usually is some time at the end of class allotted to getting a head-start on homework so students can ask questions of the teacher. The integrated program goes up through calculus and AP level work.

I have two sons who went to CPS. Both were natural math students, but neither was particularly passionate about math or interested in studying math in college. Both got a good grounding in math even without tapping out the classes at College Prep. (The education was good enough that both aced the math SATs.) One son had a friend who was brilliant and a real math prodigy. He exhausted the College Prep math curriculum by junior year. So he took some math classes at Cal and spent his time at CPS doing more of other classes (particularly history). He didn't suffer any for it; he went on to be a math major at Princeton and now is getting his math PhD at MIT.

Another poster warned you away from College Prep because the math curriculum was not rigorous enough. I have to say, I am baffled that someone would post about a school they visited once and their student never attended. And I have to disagree with the premise that only a school with the most advanced math class is right for a math kid. It is great to have a kid who loves math. By all means, help that kid nurture the love of math and run with it. But life is not a race, and the best education is not necessarily the one that gets kids to calculus and beyond the fastest. College Prep offers an unparalleled education to its students. They come out intellectuals, steeped in many disciplines, able to reason, to analyze, to argue, to write. That is grounding for life, not just for math.
Mom of Big Guys
My son had always loved and excelled at math before he started at CPS. This all changed in high school. CPS math was a confidence-damaging drain for my son. Most math classes do not use a textbook, which could work for some students. Instead of a text, they have a binder of math problems. What happened to my son was that he would find himself at home trying to do his homework without any support. He would try to find sample problems on the internet--very frustrating. When we asked for some help, the only response was to move him into a lower level math class. Many of the math binders and the exams have a tiny area on each page to work out the problems, maybe 3 x 2 inches sometimes. It was crazy. Then, senior year in AP statistics he loves it, receives an A and gets a 5 on the AP exam--and guess what--they use a text book (online). The AP Statistics teacher was part-time and fun and supportive--the opposite of the math teachers during the previous 3 years. My son is reflective and quiet and CPS seems to prefer the outspoken and extroverted kids who dominate class discussions. It just was not a good match at all. My son is now a sophomore at NYU. Look at the marketing videos for CPS where the kids rave about the teachers ad nauseam--CPS doth protest too much, methinks. --parent of CPS graduate

Unlike that of a previous respondent, my daughter's experience with math at College Prep, as a student who placed into Math 3A (algebra 2 and trig) as a freshman, has been great. She says it seems to work well (and concurs with the original poster's take that it is (small) group focused, is taught using assignment sheets and no textbook, etc.). There's a campus Math Club, and students participate in interschool math competitions, etc. She's in BC calculus as a junior, and will likely be taking multivariate calculus as a senior. And all of the above is in the context of a great school, overall... the dedication of the faculty, and encouragement of peers, has made it a wonderful place for our daughter to be.

A CPS Parent

Oct 2014

Re: Schools that offer 3-D printing classes

College Preparatory School (CPS), a high school in Oakland, opened up a new ''X-Lab'' last school year with 3-D printers and other fun tech tools. My daughter used the 3-D printer to create a fan blade (solar powered) for her Rube Goldberg machine in her Advanced Physics class last year. - Sharon (parent of BPC and CPS graduates)

Sept 2014

Re: Homework loads for various high schools?

I had two kids go through College Prep (one graduated in 2009, one in 2013). Neither found the homework load crushing. The older kid was not super engaged and did the minimum to get Bs. The younger one was completely engaged, loved the academic environment, and did much more work. But he is pretty sharp and was efficient -- e.g., he always finished his math homework in the time the teachers gave to start homework in class, and he is a very fast reader so he could whip through reading. With that, he estimates he did 1.5-2 hours/night -- more when projects or papers were due. That is probably on the low side. He says some of his friends put in 3+ hours/night.

A lot depends on what style student you have. College Prep kids are all really smart, but even among them there are kids who can whip through stuff that comes harder to others. If your student is a grinder, who spends a lot of time to master material and get tasks finished, the homework load may be very heavy. If your student is efficient and masters new material easily, it's not bad at all.

March 2013

Re: Private High School: the ''value proposition''

''Value'' is, by definition, subjective. Every family has different variables, and only you can weigh them and assess the value of a private school education for this kid and for your family. I'm not sure anyone can help, but I will try.

My sons went to CPS; one is in college, one is now a Senior. CPS is an extraordinary place. I have never seen such a group of engaged and bright students, or gifted teachers, as I have seen there. I just went to the student-run Cabaret Night. The talent of the kids was breathtaking, the enthusiasm and support from their friends in the audience was heart-warming. CPS's small size means no one can back-bench the education. The teachers really get to know the students and vice versa. My Senior loves his classes, his activities, his teachers, and his friends. He keeps saying how happy he is at CPS -- particularly that he has found a community of kids who don't think it is weird to be smart, read The Economist, or quote Shakespeare. Both my sons have gotten a superb education at CPS -- learned to write well, and to think deeply and broadly and for themselves. I am grateful there is a school like that for my kids.

But be forewarned: Your kid, however bright, will be average at CPS. All the kids are smart, and many are scary smart. Different kids respond differently to that environment. My older son found it deflating; he had effortlessly excelled in school before, and was discouraged to work way harder for less stellar grades. The academic challenge undermined his confidence. My younger son is more academically motivated and is exhilarated by the intellectual environment. He is not undone by the high standards, even if it means he gets some B's. How will your son deal with not being the smartest in the class?

On college admissions: CPS has great reputation with the colleges, which go deeper into the class to accept CPS kids. But the top colleges still expect top grades, and it is not easy to get top grades at CPS. I wouldn't go there on the expectation it will yield an Ivy League ticket. And the mix of demanding classes and super-smart kids can depress GPAs enough to make it harder for CPS kids to get into UCs, where admission is rigidly numbers-driven.

Is it worth scrimping for? That's a tough call. We have gulped at the tuition, but have been able to manage it and still pay for college. If it were a choice between CPS and paying for college, though, it would be a hard choice to make. For the older son, I'd have opted for public school; although he got a great education, CPS was not such a perfect fit for him that it would have been worth putting him in college debt. For the younger son, who has thrived at CPS, the foundation for a life lived fully and confidently was probably worth it. Mom of Big Guys

Yes, I think there is value for certain kids. My kids went to BHS and wouldn't have been happy at a school like CPS, but my husband went to CPS and for him it was a life-transforming experience. He was always a smart kid who loved learning, but his impulsiveness and obsessiveness drew him to the ''bad'' kids, and often got him into trouble in public school, and as a result his grades were mediocre. He went to CPS as a sophomore on scholarship. There he found his ''people'' -- years later many of his closest friends date back to CPS. His peer group at CPS inspired and challenged him to higher levels. That was a big value. I think he would say the other great value was gaining an adult-level appreciation of art, literature, music, history, and philosophy, taught by skilled teachers who related to their students almost as peers, holding them to high standards. He had always been good at math and went on to get a PhD in engineering, but at CPS his world opened up to include the humanities, which still give him a lot of pleasure.

In terms of pay-off, I would say that a smart motivated student would succeed regardless of his high school, and also that a school like CPS does not guarantee later success, however you define that. My husband's CPS friends are now in a variety of careers - writers, college professors, elementary school teachers, small business owners, even a priest. But for him, his experience at CPS started him on a new road and made him the man he is now - lover of books, excited by new ideas, curious about the world around him, and eager to learn new things. local mom

CPS vs. Head-Royce for high school

Jan 2012

Hello BPNers,

This question was last posted in 2007. Could we please get your advices on this subject one more time? We're comparing CPS and Head-Royce and having a hard time judging how these two schools will fit our daughter who is academic-focused, motivated, doing well in school, but also wants to have a social life (doing music/sport, chatting with friends, shopping, having fun, etc.) Our questions:

1. Can such kid be happy at CPS? Because of our daughter's academic success to date, everyone we know assumes that we'll want her to go to CPS. We do have CPS at the top of our list and we care very much about the academics. However, we do want her to be happy in school as well.

2. Are CPS teachers caring and friendly? Do they create joyful, fun learning experiences that motivate students to want to learn and explore more? We were surprised at some teachers (9th grade teachers) during the open house -- they appeared disengaged and not particularly friendly. Our daughter had this same experience with two teachers during her visit. Did our family just hit two bad days?

3. How welcoming are Head-Royce kids and families? Will cliques be an issue for a new kid? Will a nice, middle-income family (with an old Honda and no BMW or Volvo) fit in?

4. From the BPN comments we read, many families suggested that CPS is the stronger academic high school than Head-Royce. We, as an outsider, cannot identify the major factors that would make it so. Is it the teachers? The teaching style? The classes offered? The kids? If a motivated-to-learn kid can magically be in these 2 schools at the same time, what about CPS could make her learn better, happier at CPS, and what about Head-Royce could make her learn better, happier at Head-Royce?

We thank you for any insights you can share with us. Anonymous

My son is a junior at CPS (and his older brother is a CPS alum, now in college). CPS is an extraordinary place. I have never seen such a group of engaged and bright students, or gifted teachers, as I have seen there. I am profoundly grateful that there is a school like that for my kids. Answers to your specific questions:

1. Kids at CPS are like all kids, and they are involved in a million different things (including hanging out with friends). My younger son, now a junior, does debate and theater. He loves school, and his activities, and his friends. He is working hard, but managing everything. He keeps saying how happy he is at CPS -- particularly that he has found a community of kids who don't think it is weird to be smart, read The Economist, or quote Shakespeare.

2. CPS teachers are all caring and committed. Some are friendly, some more reserved -- like people everywhere. There are many wonderful and inspiring teachers. Most teachers make close connections with kids who seek them out.

3. We liked that everyone at CPS is new. There is no existing social scene that kids have to fit into.

4. Both schools have strong academics. I suspect the education you get at either place is equivalent. CPS doesn't do a lot of AP classes -- just a philosophy that AP doesn't mean much in a place where all classes are challenging. It does not at all affect college admissions; CPS kids all go to great colleges. (The college counseling there is fabulous.) CPS also encourages cooperation rather than competition. It is an intense place, because the kids are all smart and engaged, but not because kids are vying to edge each other out.

One observation: Your kid, however bright, likely will be average at CPS: All the kids are smart, and many of them are scary smart. Different kids respond differently to that environment. My older son found it deflating; he had effortlessly excelled in school before, and was discouraged when he had to work way harder for less stellar grades. For him, the academic challenge undermined his confidence. My younger son is more academically motivated and is exhilarated by the intellectual environment. He is not undone by the high standards, even when his grades are not quite what he'd like. You know your daughter. Will she be okay if she works hard and still gets Bs? That is the experience of many, probably most, CPS kids. If she has to be at the top, it may not be a good place for her. Happy CPS parent

My daughter transferred from Bentley to Head-Royce in elementary school to get a more rounded education. HR did not challenge her academically. She was years ahead of her grade. Socially she was accepted, had may friends, playdates, sleepovers, etc. but it was a little too much, over the top. After two years she left HR.

HR did however have a fantastic music and sports program - outstanding!

Today, she is at CPS and loves it. She is academically challenged and loves it. The kids are kind, caring, and supportive. Like any high school, there are drugs and alcohol but it's at a minimal and has not been an issue with us. There is not that pressure to be or not-to-be. The school is diverse in every way, you can be who you are and feel good about it.

She spends up to 2 hrs Mon - Thurs and Sun (when needed) on homework. Does music, has friends (at CPS and outside of CPS), and a social life. She is thinking of joining a sport.

There are some teachers she absolutely loves and others she does not care for. Regardless of how she feels, she respects all of them, and does her work cause that's what's expected of her. I can not imagine an environment where she absolutely loves everyone and everything. Life just isn't that way.

CPS is not for everyone. It's a school for extremely bright kids who are self motivated and enjoy learning. . A Very Happy Parent

I've had children on both schools-- they are quite different so their different school experiences reflect that to a certain degree but I have also checked out my impressions with other parents who know both schools. My overall advice is: Don't reflexively pick CPS because of its more academic reputation and 'selective' college admissions record. CPS selects its ninth-graders based on high test scores (which four years later help with college admissions), whereas Head-Royce students are admitted in kindergarten, sixth grade, and other years as well as ninth. That being said, Head-Royce students attend an impressive and interesting array of colleges. Head-Royce students are diverse in background (plenty are middle-class), interests, and learning styles and the school works hard and successfully to form a community. The high-school program is thoughtfully designed. Teachers are generally warm, caring, and supportive, and engage with students in non-academic pursuits (e.g. community service, advising) as well as academic matters. The school conveys the positive attitude that parents, students, and teachers are partners in an effort to make the high school years both academically challenging and personally happy for students. CPS is a cooler, less welcoming social environment and is less concerned with supporting the student-as-teenager and in developing a sense of community. It is academically intense and teachers are available for academic help, but your impression that some teachers are quite disengaged was borne out by my experience. There are some great and inspiring teachers at both schools, but my sense is that CPS teachers focus on academic instruction and are less willing to engage outside the classroom. However, CPS has a new head so changes may be coming. In terms of academic intensity and curricular rigor, CPS may have a slight edge, but Head-Royce is a kinder, warmer school. HRS/CPS parent

Our son is a junior at CPS. I had heard that the school was very intense, rigorous, competitive, and stressful. I have been thrilled to discover that while the curriculum is rigorous, the atmosphere is friendly and supportive and not the least bit competitive. For example, the teachers do not curve the grades; everyone has the opportunity to receive an A in a class. The teachers and administrators are accessible, accommodating, and do everything they can to help students succeed. Compared to the excellent public school that my daughter attended, I must say that the quality of the teaching and the curriculum at CPS are better.

The students are friendly. Although most students come to the school already knowing a few classmates, for the most part, the students are all new. As such, pre-formed cliques do not appear to be a problem. There are plenty of extracurricular activities as well. happy mom

I don't usually respond to postings but this one really touched me. It was just two years ago that we were facing a similar decision! My daughter chose CPS despite our real family concerns that it puts too much emphasis on academics and wouldn't create space for her to grow socially and emotionally. It turned out to be a great choice. She's a sophomore and is absolutely thriving. The teachers are wonderful, her friends are terrific, and she's discovered dance! The fact is that motivated kids like to be with other motivated kids and that's who is at CPS. She definitely works hard but she and her friends find lots of times and spaces that aren't all about working hard too. The socio-economic mix is quite diverse; some parents do put a huge amount of pressure on their kids to succeed but that's not true for everyone. I know my daughter has a friend who is happy at Head-Royce so I don't want to be negative about the comparison. I can say, however, that one really positive thing about CPS is that everyone starts together as freshmen so there's no need for outsiders to ''break in''. Good luck with the choice! Happy CPS Parent

Nothing else to add to what Happy CPS Mother wrote in her letter last week. Go wonderful CPS mother! Happy CPS Teacher

Hi--your daughter sounds as though she will have a fine experience wherever she matriculates: both schools offer excellent programs and feature happy, successful students. They are different schools, of course, and one of the overarching differences is that HRS is K-12 and Prep is 9-12. This affects (for better and worse on both sides) everything from social life and school spirit to the academic range of the students. Because of this, HRS is in some ways more comparable with, say, Bentley and Prep with, say, Marin Academy--K-12 schools inherently feature a different dynamic than do the 9-12.

Ours is a College Prep family, so I can answer some of your questions based upon our experience there. We have a Prep alumna, a son currently at Prep, and middle-school child. Both of our Prep students are/were active outside of class in music, athletics and youth groups. Both have/had extra-curricular time to spend with friends and family--the time devoted to social activities driven more by each child's temperament than by school culture or pressure.

The Prep curriculum is indeed demanding, and Prep works best for those teens who truly love to engage intellectually. At Prep, the word ''joy'' is taken very seriously--the school really wants students to find delight in their peers, work, teachers, activities and themselves. They make a significant effort to create a rigorous, engaging curriculum and concurrently build support into every aspect of the school so that students can lead balanced lives. Both of my Prep kids have loved their education there, but in different ways reflecting their very different personalities.

Given this, I am concerned to read that you felt that some of the Prep teachers were ''disengaged and not particularly friendly.'' That has not been our experience at all in the past five years. I would be happy to learn more about your impressions of the open house and shadow day and perhaps provide some additional information if you would like.

As you work through the application and admission process, don't forget that the Admissions Office at each school is a source of of a wealth of information. They can probably recommend current students for your daughter to contact for an unedited, teen view of the experience at each school. If, in March, you all are choosing between HRS and Prep, your daughter can take advantage of a second shadow day where she can revisit the schools and see how they feel from her perspective as a second semester eighth grader. Good luck! Prep parent

I was astonished at some of the comments from the parent comparing College Prep and Head-Royce, describing College Prep as a "less-welcoming social environment" with teachers focused narrowly on academics. Nothing could be further from our experience, and the post prompted my daughter to write her own reply, which I am including.

At College Prep our daughter has found a community of diverse learners, aptly characterized by a teacher as having "crackling intelligence" (not necessarily measured by academics) and "genuine kindness." The latter is a very important aspect of the school community, and considerable institutional effort goes into nurturing it. Freshman and sophomore classes begin the school year with class retreats incorporating many team-building activities, and the entire school goes on a snow trip together between semesters. Teachers interact with students on many levels outside the classroom, and share some of their non-academic interests in courses offered during an annual intra-term week. Choices include cooking, photography, knitting, auto repair, films of several different genres, visits to local museums, hikes and other topics. An atmosphere of caring about each other and about the community we live in permeates the school.

My daughter wrote: I am a junior at College Prep, and I love it. I love my fellow students, I love the teachers, and I love the atmosphere. College Prep not only welcomes striving to excel academically, but it also encourages you to strive to be a better person. College prep has students from an array of different backgrounds, learning and otherwise. Students are not only chosen because of test scores; we are chosen because our love of learning. The teachers at College Prep share that love, and love sharing it with us. Class discussions, especially English, can range from deep conversations to witty badinage, but throughout all the classes we experience different points of view, which helps us grow as students and as people. We may not be as sporty as Head Royce, but we grow together as a community, each student and teacher with their own niche, coming together because of our joy in learning.

Editor note: see also reviews of Head Royce in response to this question.

Dec 2010

Re: What GPA is needed to apply to CPS or Head Royce?
Call the College Prep and Head Royce admissions directors and ask about their admissions criteria. If you/she are really interested in these schools you should also attend an open house and take a tour. I'm a College Prep parent ('09 and '12), while the school is focused on academics, they are interested in a diverse and well-rounded student body. It's been a great academic experience for both kids, my older son was well prepared for a rigorous university experience. Good teachers, no teaching to the test. My older son did very well on college entrance exams without any external courses, just the prep he did with a book. The student body tends to be somewhat self-selecting, kids who aren't academic aren't interested in the school or leave shortly. The school also has strong music and drama programs. Can't speak to team sports, my kids weren't interested. Very few discipline issues, no campus violence. College Prep parent

Nov 2009

Re: Which middle school for CPS students?
My daughter just graduated from CPS and loved it. It is, however, not for everyone. Most of the kids are very bright and academics are everything. My daugher attended the Academy for middle school and they, at the time, did an adequate job preparing her (she is in college now). My son now attends The Academy and it is much better now than it was five years ago. They have beefed up the science and math programs tremendously, as well as French. They have also hired a teacher to come in exclusively to help with writing(one area that has been a bit of a concern to parents). I would highly recommend the Academy. CPS, in my opinion, is the best of the private schools in the area and one of the best in the country. sc

Nov 2009

Re: Which middle school for CPS students?
Students come to Prep from a wide variety of middle schools--private, public, charter, alternative, parochial, homeschool. As the parent of two current Prep students, I would say that the main factor in success at Prep is not a specific middle school as much as the characteristics of an individual student. Prep is a great fit for energetic teens excited about learning in all its many guises. Some children, notably those from very academic schools, do come better prepared in the mechanics of grammar and mathematics as well as in time management. Yet, in terms of overall happiness, intellectual engagement, extracurricular involvement, social interaction, and connection with faculty and staff, most students seem very successful no matter where they went to middle school. Even if ''success'' is defined strictly by grades, students from every type of school background have the chance to do well at Prep.

The homework load can be challenging at first for students who did not attend a highly academic middle school. My two students, who attended an arts-based alternative school, needed to refine their time management skills--they both play sports and musical instruments and had to figure out how to incorporate homework into the mix. That said, their homework is generally very engaging and even exciting. My kids will often say how much they enjoy what they are studying, even if it takes longer than anticipated to complete assignments.

If your child is enthusiastic about learning, Prep can be a great place no matter where s/he is at school presently. Prep parent

August 2009

Re: Public vs. private "real life" experience?
Hello to you. Wanted to share our experience. Our son went to a private K-8th grade school, and we were eager to put him into Berkeley High School come 9th grade, which we did. That was our intention all along. However, 9th grade there was a lost year for our child, at least academically. It matters which small school your student is in. The fit has to work, the whole environment has to work for your kid. It wasn't good for ours, and after a negligent response by the school administration to verbal and physical threats our kid received at the end of the year, he wanted out. He's now at CPS, so we've experienced both environments. Both schools have pros and cons and my heart was broken when we decided he needed to leave BHS. I do not believe a kid at this age needs those ''real life'' experiences we all have dragged on about. There's a level of cushy entitledness at the private high schools that makes me ill, but they get plenty of experience outside of school, and there's time after high school, too, to be involved in their communities... CPS and I'm sure others, have many wonderful volunteer programs. One might say that at this age when kids can be vicious and out of control, that the intensity of it isn't real, either, that it's endemic to the age. Frankly, it can cause some real hurt. Then again, BHS is an energized place filled with interesting kids and they're seriously trying to make a go of it there - to bring everyone together... it always comes down to who your kid is and to try to make the fit a good one, if one is able. I just don't go for that real life stuff anymore. (I'd be happy to talk with you more, let me know) g.

August 2009

Re: Public vs. private "real life" experience?
When my husband and I thought about schools for our kids, I knew that a college prep high school was not necessary to do well in college and graduate school. I had attended a rural public high school that had no college level courses (e.g., calculus), and I had done well in college and law school. However, I also knew that I had to work harder to catch up because I was not as well prepared as my fellow students. I had survived many mediocre high school teachers who did nothing to stimulate an interest in the subjects they taught.

We decided to send our son to College Preparatory School, where he is thriving. CPS is 40% students of color. More than 25% of the students receive financial aid. The average grant for those students is $19,000 (on tuition of $29,950). CPS will distribute more than $1.7 million in financial aid in 2009-2010. Community service is important to us, and it is an integral part of the schoolC",b"s culture ( It includes maintenance of an Oakland playground, bi-weekly preparation and serving of a meal at the Berkeley MenC",b"s Shelter, and academic enrichment for underprivileged students from Oakland public schools ( DC

Jan 2009

Re: Which private school for North Berkeley family?
Hi, my daughter is a freshman at CPS (now officially College Prep) this year, and is thrilled with it. The teachers are all fabulous, and are always willing to spend extra time with her, be it to give help or just to chat. The kids are all ingratiating and supportive. Though the workload is heavy, she enjoys what she has to do. The small classes are intimate and rewarding, and she is challenged in a way that was rare in her past education. The school is definitely suited to a certain kind of student though, and kids who attend must be willing to work hard. However, alongside this academic rigor, the school offers many opportunities for fun and enjoyment. I don't know how it compares to Marin Academy (she didn't look into the school), but she certainly loves everything about CPS. Hope this helps. j

Dec 2008

I am very interested in the academics CPS can offer my child, but I am overwhelmed by what I can see of the overall culture of the school. Is it possible to go there without doing all the extra things?--extra-curricular activities, many trips, paying all the extra things for the parents' organization? We have an extremely close family--we already have a culturally-rich home life and take a lot of trips, and I am not inspired to give my money for the things their PTA selects--decorations for events, etc. (I am otherwise an Involved Parent.) Is it possible for a student to study there without being swallowed up in the school's plans for my child's private time? I have made personal/professional changes to be present in our home life, which is very joyful, and I am concerned about being in a school that intrudes on that, or insists on my child's participation beyond what is healthy for our family. I asked a CPS parent about that: she said oh, it was very painful but time to let our children go. This made my concern much worse. My family very naturally spends inter-generational time together, like many families we know, though you wouldn't know we all exist from the popular media. If my child can get into CPS, it seems like a shame to pass up such wonderful academic training--but will we be free to find our own level of participation in the larger school picture? Joining a school, not a cult

My child started CPS this year and has not been swallowed up by extra-curricular activities. Kids are free to choose what activities they want and the level of engagement they want as well. Some activities like sports and debate take a lot of time and, given the amount of homework, don't leave a lot of free time. But it's definitely OK only to do what you care about and not be pressured to overextend yourself. The academics and teaching are great-- that's why we picked the school. cps parent

I was a freshman at College Prep 21 years ago, but have stayed an active alumna, and was also staff at the school last year. Granted, the culture may have changed, but the leadership and many of the faculty remain, and in my dealings with the students last year, I recognized the student ''types'' and the atmosphere from my own days there. In my experience, there is no institutional pressure to participate in extracurriculars, beyond the fact that some classes are required (such as a certain number of units in the arts and physical activity before graduation). The bigger issue is that the programs are so strong that many students (myself included) were drawn to participate fully. In fact, my faculty advisor had to routinely ask me to sign up for fewer classes and activities, because I was trying to do too much. As for the money or time expected of a parent, that is also highly individual. I had a single working mom who could not afford the time or money to contribute, and while she wasn't an active member of the parent community, I never felt that she or I was judged for it. And there are many ways for a parent to shape their own involvement, whether with the community service program, or by joining the grounds committee to work with the gardener, or offering an Intraterm class. I did not have the strong family that your child is lucky enough to have, and so I found all the family I needed within the College Prep community, but I had many friends who balanced family and school life more evenly. Given that, it is a very rigorous and demanding school, and your child, if s/he chooses to attend, will be very busy with homework and school projects. In my experience, it was worth it.

To this day, I still tell people my four years at College Prep were the best in my 18+ years of schooling. Class of 1991

My son is a senior at CPS. He is a student there, but his life is focused elsewhere. That has been fine with us, fine with him, and (I assume) fine with the school. It is an extraordinary learning environment, with the brightest, most engaged collection of kids you will find anywhere. It can be much more than that -- a community that defines your kid for four years -- but it need not be. Yes, the auction can be a bit over the top, but other than that the school is pretty down-to-earth. The local trips (class retreats) are wonderful opportunities for the kids to bond and learn about each other. The snow trip is optional. The more exotic trips are intraterm options, which you need not choose. I have never thought of CPS as cult-like. No Kool-Aid Here

Dear ''Joining a school, not a cult,'' If ''cult'' is the word that first comes to your mind when you think about CPS, it may not be a good fit for you. Here's my take: If you're going to do anything with excellence, it takes time and commitment. Your child is entering a four-year period during which s/he will become a young adult. There is no telling what s/he will find a passion for, but I can tell you that CPS is a wonderful place for that to happen, that you will be amazed at the talented and mature person your child becomes, and that, no, you do not have to yield your life to school but can define how much time you and your child want to commit. You're going to have to learn to give up some control wherever your child goes to school, however. Prepare yourself for that. Parent of a CPS senior

We're a CPS family, and before that we home-schooled, so I'm with you on the commitment to rich family life and other involvements outside of school. I'd say you and your child will be completely free to choose any level of participation in extra- curricular activities and involvements at CPS, with no disapproval if you are less involved. The thing to know is that the academics themselves take up an immense amount of time, and your child will be occupied more of the day than any of you are used to. If you can absorb that shift, and it's a big one, I don't think you need to worry about the rest. CPS families are an eclectic bunch and you won't find it cult-y at all. Best wishes, from one involved family to another. CPS parent

My children graduated from CPS in 2001 and 2004, and both had an overwhelmingly positive experience there. The high school experience is one of moving away from one's family (sorry to re-state that, but it was true for my kids, and we are still a very close family) and CPS is a great place to do that. My adult-ish age children learned how to be involved and invested in their learning at CPS; they had fabulous relationships with teachers and deans...some of their best friends at age 25 and 22 are from their friends that they went to high school with. It can be academically challenging and hard to be in a place with so many bright kids (especailly if you are an ''average'' kid at CPS, which can feel like you are not the great kid that you had to be, in order to get into Prep in the first place). As far as CPS culture, we as a family had minimal involvement with the school...we made a few ''family'' friends and went to a few school plays...It's a great place with nice kids and bright and engaging teachers...not perfect, but worth a serious look! Former CPS Mom

have you looked at maybeck high school in berkeley? they're also very academic and a great high school, website both my children go to cps and the idea of it being a cult never occured to any of us. for us, outside school activities are minimal. perhaps it's because our kids do very little of it [although daughter does more than son] and they've never felt the pressure to participate. sometimes a student will have a party and the whole grade is invited. cps really tries to include everyone especially in the freshman year. please, don't feel you have to do anything you're not comfortable with. sometimes people ask to be nice, they just want to make everyone feel welcome. feel free to say no and after a few nos, they usually get the hint. Anonymous

Hi, You don't mention whether your child is currently in public, private or homeschooled, so I'm not sure what your experience thus far has been. But for us, coming from a very tight-knight independent school community, actually the transition to CPS was a bit of a shock in the *decrease* in parent involvement as well as a substantial *reduction* in the connection between our child's school life and social life.

There is actually very little that we as parents are expected and welcome to do at school. The school's attitude seems to be that high school kids need to be as independent as possible, and so parent involvement is kept to peripheral things, mostly having to do with fundraising. You can get involved with the parent association (and/or pay the dues) or not, volunteer for the booksale, the gala, multicultural evening, diversity committee, etc., but you sure don't have to.

As to requirements for extracurricular involvement for your child that might impinge on your family time or finances, again, there isn't a whole lot. There are only two things I can think of that are particular to CPS, and that is the winter snow trip and the spring intraterm. I think something like 70% of the kids (maybe more) go on the snow trip. Like the freshman orientation, or sophomore/junior/senior retreats, these are good opportunities for your kid to get to know their classmates outside of class. It is heavily subsidized by the school, so not a lot of cost involved unless your kid opts to ski. Many kids go and don't ski, just hang out at the lodge.

There is also the spring intraterm, the week before spring break. It is obligatory, not an extension of spring break. This is a week of interesting activities/classes/trips that the kids select ahead of time, offered by a teacher or group of teachers, most of whom are sharing a hobby or avocation outside of the usual academic interests. So one option might be spending the week repairing bicycles to be sent to Botswana, or learning Vietnamese cooking in the morning and discussing the social ramifications of the Simpsons cartoons in the afternoon, or hiking at Joshua Tree. The trips involve some fundraising, the rest are either free or have a low fee for materials. It's not taking away from your family time as your kid would ordinarily be in school that week if they were elsewhere - but it does provide a nice break from the academic schedule.

Your child may choose to get involved in extracurriculars such as sports, music, drama, dance, etc., and if so, that's great. I must say, the most pleasant surprise to us at CPS (aka College Prep) has been in those sorts of programs. Dance is an outstanding program, appeals to both boys and girls, and puts on an extraordinary show. Likewise the drama and musicals (in alternate years) are of very high caliber and offer multiple ways to be involved, either on the stage or behind the scenes. Lots of kids play sports - a very high percentage are involved in at least one sport, and that often provides a stronger social bond than the classroom does.

So I'm not sure why you think CPS is like a cult, as there is no more expectation for parent involvement (and in many ways, I'd say less) than at other schools. If anything, I'd say it's the reverse - in my opinion there could be more opportunities for parents to be informed and involved, and more ways for kids to connect, hang out, and blow off steam from the academic load. But I think the school is trying to walk a fine line given the fact that some parents, if given the option, would be overbearing in their involvement. Our family is also very tight knit, we have a great network of relatives and friends with whom we spend our free time, but I wish that our child felt as much of a connection to her high school as she did to her previous school. The families are more geographically far-flung so that's part of the problem, but if you're not an extrovert, it can be hard to feel connected to the new community. Do allow your child the opportunity to explore the extracurriculars and make CPS feel, if not like home, at least a place they really want to be. ....CPS parent

Nov 2008

Re: Which Private High School?
I have had two children in HRS for high school, one graduating last June; a few yrs earlier I had another at CPS. CPS is indeed a fine school: strong academics and great teachers. HRS also offers plenty of academic challenges, especially in science, and every year graduates very competitive students. The student body is more diverse academicaly at HRS, which results in more choice within the subjects and greater sensitivity to individuals but all the courses are intense and the students work hard. I thought both the faculty and staff were quite dedicated. Both of my HRS students (as well as my CPS student) have proven themselves well prepared for college courses. Socially,both of my HRS students arrived in upper school grades and had no difficulty finding a comfortable place on campus; at CPS everyone is ''new'' but at HRS students come in not only at 9th grade but also all through middle school, so the flux is continual. New kids seem pretty popular as they stir the student mix around. There are surely cliques in both places, with slightly different compositions (nerds, jocks, artsy students, socialites, academic overachievers etc) but everyone finds a good place. It sort of seems that as HRS continues to grow more diverse, the older aura of ''rich kids on the hill'' is antiquated. At CPS, it was my experience that there is great reliance on the students to make decisions, to take responsibility and to mature quickly, all good goals, but applied across the board. At HRS, i felt there was more choice for students, and more support for students with different strengths on both ends of the scale. HRS was for us a kinder, gentler place and a great fit for my kids. In my mind, the two schools are competitive in mission but with different approaches to education. E.S.

June 2007

Re: CPS vs. Head Royce

My daughter just finished her freshman year at CPS and has been very, very happy there. She also was accepted at Head Royce and has friends there.The friends that she has made are all very kind, bright and motivated young people. There is an intensity in the academic area, but she seems to thrive on that (although, I must admit that there were a few moments of high drama during exam, term paper time). She joined the CPS softball team, having never played softball before in her life and that was a great experience too. Since we are not a Head Royce family, it's hard to compare. The word seems to be that Head Royce is a bit more ''social'' - but, as I said, my daughter is quite social at CPS and happy there. I've also heard that there is a bit of cliquishness at Head Royce between the kids who have been there for middle school and/or elementary and the kids who come in at the high school level, but don't have any direct experience of this. This was very important for my daughter, who wanted to go to a high school where everyone was starting fresh. As for where both schools draw from, I would guess that there are just about as many students from your area at CPS as there are at Head Royce. The Rockridge BART station and College Avenue bus lines are a very short walk. Finally, I have found the parent community to be a nice one. There certainly isn't the same camaraderie between families that there was in elementary school, but I have felt welcomed by the parent community. Good luck! Ann

I can't speak to Head-Royce, but CPS is an incredible school. Our son just finished his sophomore year there, and we are so pleased and impressed by everything at the school. The student body is a rich mix of personalities and backgrounds from all over the East Bay (many from North Berkeley and the Oakland hills), and the most insightful and engaged group of teenagers I have ever seen. The faculty is terrific and committed. The culture is healthy -- the school encourages cooperation, not competition, and the kids are generally nice to each other. The counseling/advising team really watches for issues and supports kids who hit a rough patch. The facilities are good, except for the absence of sports fields (Head-Royce is far better in that regard). CPS uses facilities elsewhere (e.g., fields at Merritt for soccer and lacrosse), which works out fine but means teams get home later from practices than they would if playing on-site. Rockridge BART is a 15 min. walk away, and I think there is a CPS shuttle to get kids in the morning. The parents at CPS include many successful professionals, and some are quite affluent. But many CPS families are not, and the culture is decidedly NOT snobby. (There are not a lot of seniors driving new BMWs there, as there are at some other schools.) We feel incredibly lucky that our son has the opportunity to learn and grow at a place like CPS. Happy CPS parent

April 2007

Re: Private high school for N.Berkeley kids?
We live in N Berkeley and my older son is a sophmore at CPS. He really likes CPS and the school is a good fit for him. CPS's strength is academics, but they have a good arts program. We've been to some very impressive student music and drama performances. I've seen art shows of student work that were also amazing. My son isn't an artist per se, but he's been taking stagecraft this year and is really enjoying it. While they do have sports teams, yes there is a field and they use other facilities, I don't think the sports programs have the strength of the arts and music programs. Kids at CPS come from every where, not just Oakland. There are other kids who live in N Berkeley, some come from Marin, Walnut Creek, Moraga, etc. Kids pick a common place to meet to get together, meet on Shattuck to go to a movie, etc. Sometimes they will go together for burritos or pizza on College Av after school. As a full time working parents (and I do a lot of business travel) we really appreciate it that the CPS teachers and administration have their act together and we spend no time dealing with school issues. CPS Parent

November 2006

We are now looking for private high schools. I have read the old postings. I would appreciate any info concerning amout of homework per night at Head Royce, CPS, Bentley High, and Lick in the high school. Also, I have heard some of the schools are extremely stressful to the poiont of making the kids unhappy or depressed. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
Thankful Parent

My son is a sophomore at CPS, a school that he really likes. I don't think it's a 'pressure cooker' school, though it's definitely an academic high school, which is what he wanted. He has homework every night, though he's able to get some of it done during his free periods during the day. Neither one of us considers the homework load unreasonable. CPS is conscious of the well being of their students and regularly considers whether the homework load is appropriate. There are no-homework weekends designated throughout the year. A point to consider is that my son does not participate in after school sports (his choice), a competitive athlete with a busy training schedule might have a different view of the homework. The best way to decide if a school is a good fit is to schedule a visit. After his visit day, my son chose CPS as his first choice school.
CPS Parent

October 2006

Anyone had any experience with College Preparatory School on Broadway, Oakland ? What is the homework load? victoria

My son is a sophomore at CPS, and both he and I love it. Although it has a reputation for being very academic, we have not found the homework load to be bad. The school has a real community feeling, inclusive of parents and all students. All students are very welcoming of one another, regardless of eccentricities. The administration and teachers are very accessible. It's a wonderful place.

CPS is a fantastic school. Small classes, great (for the most part) teachers, and a beautiful (if somewhat small) campus. Opinions on the homework load vary. If your child went to an ''academic'' middle school, s/he may find the load less than what s/he was used to (at least in freshman year); others can find it daunting. The school does offer a summer program for incoming freshman who may need some extra help getting up to speed. Go to an open house and talk to the kids who will be there, and you'll get a sense of how good a fit it might be for you and your child.

My son just started CPS in September. It is a fantastic place. The curriculum is interesting and challenging, the culture friendly, the kids engaged and diverse, and the teachers committed. All the kids are very bright, so your bright kid will in all likelihood just be average there. If he/she (you?) needs to have straight A's to feel worthy, prepare for a shock. But what an environment to learn! There is a lot of homework, but manageable -- if your child is able to stay organized and use time well. We feel lucky to be there.
So far so good

The amount of homework depends on how compulsive your child is about studying. Our two boys did not study more than several hours a night for most of the time. The homework increases over the first three years and the junior year is the most demanding. One kid did a lot of sports and the other one was on the debate team and traveled a lot. Their grades were slightly below the average GPA. They both got National Merit Scholar awards for being in the top 2% of the students who were tested for the PSAT and so did 85% of the students in their class. They were well prepared for college and have much better grades-- practically straight A's.

April 2006

Can someone please comment on the academic pressures of CPS in Oakland? My daughter is a straight A student, bright in math and science, and loves sports. We want to understand how much homework the kids have on average each night, whether it is possible to juggle sports and homework (how frequent are deadlines/ assignments?), and what the social environment is like (lots of cliques? lots of bookworms?). She's looking for nice friendly people who are bright and mature but not obsessed with academics to the exclusion of sports and fun on weekends. Any comparisons to other high schools in the area (Head Royce, Bentley) would be very much appreciated.
Concerned Parent

My daughter is in her third year at CPS (attended public shool through middle school), and she loves it. I'd say it is a really good fit for her, but it's certainly not for everybody. We love the small classes (average about 15 kids), highly involved teachers, range of student clubs, active parent group, and committment to a well-rounded education. Every student is required to take several classes in the arts in order to graduate, and most take more than the minimum. They also have a variety of community service opportunities. Most kids at CPS are engaged in both academics and something extra-curricular (sports, music, drama, debate...), so they are pretty busy. The homework load is definitely heavy, but that seems true for her public school friends who are on the ''academic track'', too. Like other high schools, sports involvement is a big time committment, with practice and/or games just about every day during the season. Have you looked at the CPS web site? Click on the Programs tab, then Athletics (or any other area of interest) to see more specifics.

As for ''cliques'', I guess that's hard for me to say as a parent. There are certainly ''groups'' of kids who enjoy each other's company, but I imagine that's true anywhere.

I highly recommend you schedule a visit, when your daughter can spend several hours with a current student. You can also contact me via e-mail if you'd like to chat more about it. rk

My daughter graduated from CPS last year. She had a very good experience there and played sports all three seasons for three of her four years there. She had lots of homework but managed it pretty well. She got some of it done during the school day (free period) but did have quite a bit at night. Sometimes it was overwhelming but overall it balanced out. It really depends on the kid and their ability to organize and prioritize. It is certainly possible to juggle sports and homework - all the kids who play sports there do it. There are cliques but they tend to be based on interest groups (the drama tech group, teams, dance kids, music kids etc.) I thought the kids there were nice. They are definitely focused on academics - they wouldn't be there otherwise.

If you are interested in the school, ask to speak w/ some current parents. You have good questions and should be able to get direct answers. I can't comment on other high schools except to say that we didn't send our son there - it wasn't the right fit for him. He would not have thrived w/ the academic pressure.

i was a cps student 90-94. it sounds like your daughter would do very well there. there was a lot of pressure, but in retrospect i think most was self-generated among the students.

March 2005

Hi! This is a response to the parent who requested feedback about CPS vs. Marin.

If you are in the East Bay of course the commute is better to CPS: The Rockridge Bart Station is right down the street, lots of kids take the BART and walk up the one long block uphill to the school (the parent association makes discoued tickets available to families). Driving, it is right of highway 24.

It is hard to say which school is better for which child and which family. A school that is best for one may not be best for another based on any number of criteria including values. I have 2 daughters at CPS, a freshman and a senior. After a 4 year experience there I have to say that it has been a good place for my senior, she has consistently said that none of the kids are mean. My experience with the kids has been that they are a very polite, well behaved bunch. They are all bright but not arrogant and stuffy about it. My senior has consistently not spent more than about 2 hours a night on homework, she is organized and does use her free periods at school to get some work done. The exceptions are special projects and final exams. Through the years she has also done basketball at school, been in a school play, and done art, sewing, hip hop and ballet outside of school. She is not that academic a kid but she gets her work done. CPS is a nice place with some very nice people, both kids and adults.

February 2003

My 8th grade daughter has applied to CPS and Marin Academy for next year, IF she is accepted at either or both, we need some feedback from both satisfied and dissatisfied families. Not only about academics, but stress, social life, diversity (not only racial), and practical issues such as transportation (we live in Albany). Any feedback would be great! rk

Had a kid at both--CPS, the bastion of overwork and competition; Marin Academy, much gentler, albeit academic (but not as zealous as CPS). My older daughter was miserable at CPS; my younger daughter loves Marin. CPS is way too rigorous and prides itself on it. And, no, my older daughter was no academic slouch; she got into Brown and Tufts, opted for Tufts, and steadily maintains about a 3.7 GPA. Some parents and peers (at CPS) had a judgement about her picking Tufts over Brown, by the way. Marin is just way more sane and measured in its approac Been there

We don't have children at either school, but I've compiled a lot of opinions and observations from others, as we're looking at these schools now ourselves. Overall, both are excellent.

CPS is more academic, more intellectual. MA is more artsy, more creative. Kids at CPS are very engaged in what they're learning and debate is big there. Debate comes out of the classroom to influence conversations about current events at lunch, etc. MA has a block schedule. This allows for more classroom participation and the school is more student centered as well, leading to lengthy student moderated class discussions. While good in many respects, this can also lead to wasted time and less knowledge being absorbed as people do like to hear themselves talk...At CPS the teachers are more in control and lecture the students. The shorter class periods are intense and jam-packed. Competition for grades is intense as everyone is highly motivated. The kids at CPS are smarter (compare the SAT scores). Kids at MA feel the school is their school and it is designed to meet their needs and desires. It's looser, less structured, perhaps more accepting of learning differences. The teachers are closer to the students and take them on outings like bike trips, etc.

CPS offers Latin, MA doesn't. I hear the Spanish at MA is the hardest around. MA's theater is much nicer. CPS kids are more articulate. MA has a stronger head of school. CPS has an unusual math program that would either be great or a disaster. MA is stronger at several sports and has a pool and a great soccer field. It's usually sunny in San Rafael and a bit chilly in the trees at CPS. CPS is smaller (330 vs. 400 students). I get the impression that because the campus is organized the way it is students from different classes get to know one another. AT MA I hear the freshmen are all clustered at the lower building and they don't get to know the upper classmen as well.

Which would we choose? If we had the luxury of a decision, I don't really know yet! Opinions gratefully accepted. Devon

October 2002

I'm wondering about The College Preparatory School, a private high school on Broadway in Oakland, near Highway 24. Has anyone sent their children there and liked it/disliked it? How good a school is it? Thanks for any information. Amy

To the person who asked about CPS: CPS is one of the best private high schools in the area-- probably one of the two best. My daughter is a freshman there. We chose the school because the academics are excellent, but also because when we visited, and when my daughter visited classes there, it was apparent that the students were happy and very excited about what they were doing. [My advice: this was not true at every school we visited-- look for places where the kids are happy and happy about what they are learning.] I found when I investigated that kids who graduate from CPS go to great schools, but they also have made good close friends at CPS that they tend to keep for a very long time. The teachers at CPS have a light course load so that they can be available to the kids, and they really are-- and the kids talk to their teachers 1-on-1 a lot because of this. I was very worried about snobbery, and have found none. So far both my daughter and I are very happy with the school. The disadvantage-- it is SO expensive. Anonymous

Here are some pros and cons regarding CPS high school:

The pros:

- Caring Administration and Staff
- Some very good to excellent teachers
- An environment that takes learning seriously

The cons:

-intense, bordering on anxious, parent and student population regarding performance and college selection--can make it hard around exams and college application/acceptance time
-little economic diversity
-some not-so-great teachers, as well

My first-born felt stressed-out by all of the academic zealousness around her at CPS. She is a very motivated child and didn't benefit from what she considered an intense environment academically. She also didn't feel very supported by some staffs, peers, and fellow-students' parents when she opted to go to Tufts University over Brown University--she is a very happy sophomore at Tufts and is glad that she didn't go to any of the other schools that she got into--Brown, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, etc.

My younger child is a freshman at Marin Academy, and while MA takes academics seriously, as well, and sends students on to every bit as prestigious colleges/universities as CPS, the culture there is more low-key. In retrospect, my oldest would have benefitted by more ''laid-backness''--maybe, this is the culture at a lot of schools, but, all of her friends at Berkeley High who went on to top-notch West coast and East coast schools didn't feel this kind of extreme pressure while applying to schools. Maybe, there was greater diffusion of information of who was applying to what school at Berkeley High, and, therefore, less scrutiny of one's academic performance and college acceptance.

My daughter felt burned out by CPS, and deferred enrollment one semester to Tufts. She recharged in those three months and is now a happy, unstressed soph. at Tufts who maintains a 3.79 GP

Happy It's Over

To the Parent Who Wants Info on CPS,
My son is about to graduate from CPS. Although it has its limitations, it is a very good school for the right student. My son is not a 4.0 student who wants to attend Harvard. He is a well rounded person who will work work when it is required of him. He is active in sports and has a social life. I think the important thing is to figure out with your child where they want to attend school and why.

A child who is not prepared for the rigors of CPS may have problems if they blame themselves for setbacks or are uncomfortable asking for help. CPS is a wonderful school for the right student. Most of the teachers are interesting. They demand a lot from their students and they give a lot back. It is an intellectually challenging school but not unkind or snobby.