In May, The New York Times blamed school choice for why the NYC high school application process is so complicated and traps the neediest kids in the weakest performing schools.
I countered that the problem wasn’t the concept of school choice, but that a weak K-8 educational system left many teens with few choices by the time they applied.
But there’s another problem. Last week, I talked about how — whether deliberately or due to incompetence – the Department of Education (DOE) wasn’t telling parents everything they needed to know about elementary school Gifted & Talented programs and admissions. This lack of information also applies to high school admissions.
So, this week, I break down your high school options – and how to raise your odds of admission.
School Type: Public Specialized
Admissions Process: The only thing that matters is your score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Students rank the 8 available schools in order of preference and are assigned to their first available choice based solely on that test score. SHSAT registration closes in October, a few weeks before the test is administered.
Application Tip: You must prep for the test, and you must do it well in advance. Last minute test prep, as the DOE found out, won’t cut it. Thirty thousand 8th graders compete for a total of 4,000+ spots, and the material is very different from what’s on the state tests.
School Type: Public Screened
Admissions Process: May require a test, interview, portfolio or some combination of all three on top of state test scores, grades, and attendance. Students can list up to 12 choices on a public school form, SEPARATE from the SHSAT.
Application Tip: While the ranking form is due in early December, supplementary materials may have an earlier deadline, especially if test scores or a writing sample are a prerequisite for earning an interview slot.
School Type: Public Arts/Audition
Admissions Process: Students display their talents in fields such as Fine Arts, Vocal Music, Instrumental, Dance, Drama, Theater Tech and more, but grades and test scores are also taken into consideration.
Application Tip: While LaGuardia is a Specialized high school, you do not rank it on either your SHSAT or your public school form. Other performing arts schools, like Frank Sinatra in Queens, go on your public school ranking forms. Specialized Arts programs within a larger school also go on your public ranking form, but require a different code than the general school, overall.
School Type: Public Educational Option
Admissions Process: Ed Opt schools want one-fourth of their students to have high state test scores, one-fourth to have low state test-scores, and the remaining half from the middle.
Application Tip: If your child scored in the top 2% on their English Language Arts (ELA) exam and you rank an Ed Opt school first, you are guaranteed admission. In this arbitrary process, it is your ONLY guaranteed result.
School Type: Public Unscreened
Admissions Process: Simply ranking the school on your form is enough to be considered.
Application Tip: Because it is possible to receive no matches during the First Round of admissions, then move onto Second Round, rank another cohort of schools and still receive no match – in which case the DOE will simply assign you to any school with room – it’s important that families use all 12 spaces on their form. Your 12th choice school, a few blocks away, still beats a school you didn’t pick that is 40 blocks away.
School Type: Public Charter
Admissions Process: While some charter schools share a Common App, others require that you apply directly and get admitted through a lottery.
Application Tip: It is possible to get an offer from an SHSAT school, LaGuardia, a traditional public school, and more than one public charter school.
School Type: Hunter College
Admissions Process: Students are invited to sit for the Hunter admissions test based on their state math and ELA scores. The test consists of English, math, and an essay.
Application Tip: Unlike every other school on this list, Hunter’s high school entry point is in 7th grade, not 9th grade. That means kids take the test in 6th grade, based on their 5th grade test scores. The process starts much earlier than many parents realize!
School Type: Private Catholic
Admissions Process: Catholic High-Schools have their own entrance exam, the TACHS.
Application Tip: Like the SHSAT, registration closes in October.
School Type: Private Independant
Admissions Process: Standardized test scores, grades, essays, teacher recommendations, parent and child interviews are all part of the process.
Application Tip: Applications open after Labor Day and schools sometimes run out of interview spots before their posted deadline. Get your materials in as soon as possible or risk getting shut out.
The wonderful thing is that, because of school choice, NYC teens might get offers from a public Specialized high school, LaGuardia, a general public high school (which includes Arts, Ed Opt and more), more than one public charter school, more than one private Catholic school, and more than one private independent school. One offer doesn’t nullify the others until you formally accept.
The less wonderful thing is that a majority of NYC students are already so far behind after attending underperforming elementary and middle schools, that, when it comes to competitive schools, they’re left with almost no choices at all.
I discuss all your options in much greater detail than a blog post allows, here.