Expert Tips on NYC High School Admissions for Middle Schoolers

For almost 15 years, nearly 80,000 eighth-grade students have applied annually to hundreds of public high schools — more than 400, to be exact — across New York City.

For many middle-school students starting to think about the high school search, the beginning of the process entails identifying which high schools they will apply to. Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, and the other highly selective specialized high schools usually sit at the top of many students’ lists.

Often, next in line are a select few of the hundreds of other high schools across the city, such as Beacon, Eleanor Roosevelt, NEST+M, and Midwood. While these may be more accessible from an admissions perspective, many remain highly competitive. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the 80,000 students both selects and attends schools other than the specialized high schools in New York.

So what advice do I give my clients, particularly sixth- and seventh-grade families, about becoming strong candidates by the eighth grade (when they formally apply to high school)?

1. Start early, and have a plan.

Don’t buy into the notion that the process begins in eighth grade — it doesn’t. As with the college admissions process, you’ll be the most successful if you start early, get the right support, and have an effective plan. Seventh grade represents a period during which significant progress can be made toward your school search goals. It also serves as the primary academic timeframe during which you’ll be evaluated. That being said, many families begin to investigate selective high schools as early as sixth grade in order to clearly understand what it will take to gain admission to one of these programs.

2. Understand each school’s unique criteria.

When making school choices, you must pay careful attention not only to the location, types, and themes of schools, but also to school-eligibility and priority policies. These rules can make a significant difference in the strength of your candidacy.

Further, when applying to high schools, you must consider the mechanisms by which you’ll be evaluated and matched to those programs. For example, screened and audition programs evaluate a number of criteria, academic and otherwise, and are genuinely considered among the most selective programs in the school portfolio.

3. Cast a wide net, and don’t eliminate choices too quickly.

One oft-overlooked factor is the composition of students’ school lists. Even for the best students, it can be risky to apply only to the most selective screened and audition programs. You have the opportunity to be matched with one program you’ve chosen on your application, from the 12 choices allowed. The number and types of choices must be considered very carefully. By hastily eliminating choices, especially early on, you might compromise the overall quality of your list. At the same time, you should also be willing (glad, even) to attend any of the schools you’ve listed.

4. Understand and fulfill all program requirements.

Most selective programs will evaluate you on the basis of seventh-grade course marks, standardized test scores, and attendance. Many programs will also consider other factors, such as writing samples, interviews, portfolios, and teacher recommendations. It is critical for you to consider the target criteria set by the school to ensure that you fulfill all requirements and make the strongest possible case for yourself.

5. Keep an open mind, and don’t compare yourself to others.

It’s almost become a cliché, but it’s true — admissions are all about fit. While your friends and neighbors will undoubtedly encourage you to apply to schools to which they have some attachment, the choice is ultimately yours. Choose wisely, prepare, and educate yourself — and success can be yours.

Editor's Note: Already in the high school admissions process? Check out Noodle's list of articles about NYC high schools.