Each year, Ibrahim Firat, president and CEO of Firat Solutions, puts out The Firat Guide, a handbook to Houston’s private schools, as part of his mission to help families figure out their kid’s needs and objectives, and how to achieve them.
“We start with the end in mind,” Firat says of meeting with students and their parents, many of whom he advises well before the kids enter high school. “I ask if they have a college in mind. I ask about interests, passion, career goals. A student will say, I want to be an engineer at Duke. Okay, let’s start working toward that goal.”
Broadly speaking, students typically fall into three different categories. We asked Firat how he advises each:
Option A: Seeking the Ivy League
If your child has their sights on Yale or another top-tier institution, they might want to start on a rigorous path early. “If they’re in St. John’s or Kinkaid, Houston’s two most competitive schools, they’re thinking about Harvard, Yale, Brown, Berkeley, Duke—that’s what’s happening socially inside those schools,” Firat says. “If you know you want a competitive college, that should start with selection of classes—the advanced path of math or science, social studies, English—align that curriculum to make you competitive.”
Don’t forget to nurture your kid’s extracurriculars, either. Emphasize activities that show leadership and initiative—think editor of school paper, or lacrosse team captain. “It’s about quality rather than quantity,” Firat says. “If you play school basketball and club basketball, you don’t have much time to do much else. Schools know that you can’t create more time than you have.”
Option B: Future Longhorns and Aggies
If your child has dreams of the University of Texas or Texas A&M, private school may not be the most direct route. “As you know, UT by state mandate has to take about 80 percent of their quota from public schools because of the funding. The top 7 percent of each high school class automatically gets into UT, so if you go to public school and you’re competitive enough, and you’re okay with large classes, you make it into the top 7 and you’re in,” Firat says.
Private school students will still be considered, of course—and the state schools have all heard of the most prestigious Houston institutions—but they’ll be competing for a limited number of spots. “You’re working extra hard at a private if you’re wanting to go to UT and A&M,” Firat says. “Given that [total private school] tuition is $100,000 or more … I want to start that conversation early, so you don’t waste your money.”
Option C: The Wild Card
Some kids just don’t fit into the traditional school model. They may be brilliant, but can’t sit still and listen to a teacher all day. Or they might be incredibly gifted in, and passionate about, music or art or athletics. College may be the goal for these kids, or maybe they need a bit more time to develop. Firat says about 20 percent of the new edition of his book focuses on Houston’s nontraditional schools to show parents what’s out there.
“There are Montessori, co-op or experiential learning programs where they send them to different sites around the country or world,” Firat says. There are also programs like Alexander Smith Academy or Xavier Academy, which have tiny teacher-to-student ratios and work with kids who need a flexible schedule—which could mean elite athletes and musicians, or students who are struggling in more traditional environments.
Firat also reminds parents that in a sea of straight-A applications, students with nontraditional resumes often get an edge. “When colleges receive an application from a student who goes to a Montessori or other nontraditional school,” he says, “their personality shines through the application because of what they’ve experienced.”