Okay, I definitely stressed myself out as I went through the high school admissions process. Just like thousands of other eighth-graders in New York City public and private schools, I was channeling my arts passions into the already stressful high school choice process. In addition to keeping up my grades (including two Regents classes I took that year), I had to develop and rehearse my audition repertoire and then schedule a dozen auditions. But it paid off when I received offers from my first choice schools and programs.
It’s Never Too Early to Start
Thankfully, I had a vocal teacher who helped me prepare my vocal program repertoire far in advance of the singing auditions. She also told me to start looking for acting monologues over the summer before eighth grade and to make a list of all the requirements for the different programs at each school. I might not have been so proactive about my material had I not had this guidance!
My search for two contrasting monologues was extensive. I looked online and in drama bookshops, getting help from actual LaGuardia High School acting majors who happened to be hanging out in one bookshop! Ultimately, I found two options with a good character arc, close to self-emotional range, and a good length. I prepared my monologues solo practicing around an hour a day a few days a week for two months. However, to be honest, I winged my approach to each character for each audition. I cannot recommend this, but looking back, it was the best way for me to handle the auditions. My acting training was minimal. It consisted of a bootcamp where I learned basic skills for approaching a monologue.
My songs for the vocal programs, two classical and two musical theater, were ones I had worked on for a year with a teacher who knew the New York City high school process well. It is important to note that performing arts high schools want to see students with potential, not necessarily lots of experience. I had the benefit of having taken voice lessons, but skill is one of a few ways to gain a spot at a program.
The Moment Arrives: Audition Time
The best thing I did for myself during auditions was keeping a level head, regardless of how many applicants brought actual resumes of professional work (you can imagine how intimidated I was). For my LaGuardia acting and singing auditions, I was in the building from 9 AM to 8 PM, waiting on lines, moving from location to location, and writing essays on why I wanted to go to the school. The actual auditions were only 10 minutes! My other auditions were similar. While waiting for auditions, I went over my material (but not too much that I became stressed) and read. It’s a good idea to bring a book to school auditions; you won’t have wifi and reading looks better than being on your phone. The whole process ended for me in early December, which is when I had my last audition.
My high school list had excellent schools (though I didn’t take the SHSAT) that were not performing arts, but my first six choices were performing arts programs. That meant I had prioritized arts schools over the others, although they were still an option. That worked for me, but it is crucial to find your own balance of interests and options. In the end, I got into both programs at LaGuardia (which is on the specialized high school list) and my first choice school on the main list. After careful thought, I took an offer from LaGuardia High School to be a drama major. Looking back, it was all worth it.
Halina de Jong-Lambert is a sophomore drama major at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City. She enjoys Stephen King Novels and is a fan of Oscar Wilde.
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Volunteering and extracurriculars are activities that can benefit both the community and yourself. For middle school students, volunteering and doing extracurriculars provide opportunities to develop new skills and interests and demonstrate to high schools that you are well-rounded and hardworking. High Schools are always looking for capable students willing to do more than what is required. So if you’re not doing extracurriculars and/or volunteering, getting the headstart and being a part of a club or helping out your community is the best way to demonstrate to schools that you are a hardworking and all-around person.
Public high school admissions decisions came out on March 9th, and families have until April 5th to accept an offer. Many high schools are now offering information sessions, open houses, and virtual events for accepted students. These events are the perfect opportunity to ask students and teachers detailed questions about the schools, so you can decide which one is the best fit for you. If you have trouble getting started thinking of questions to ask, asking these sample questions (divided by topic) can help you to consider a broad range of factors to decide on a school to attend!
The highschool admission process is very stressful. With all of its different required parts, the essay section of the application can be really overlooked. The essays are a chance for the admission officer’s to get an insight into who the applicant really is. Numerous people can have very similar transcripts, but a creative and charismatic essay will make an application stand out.
Recommendation letters are a key aspect of high school applications and are a great way to demonstrate your character and abilities from another perspective. While not mandatory in some schools, it’s highly encouraged and should be seen as a requirement. But, who do you ask for a recommendation letter? Choosing who to ask is very important and should be someone that has seen your growth as a student. Most schools usually require at least one recommendation letter from a core teacher (Math, Science, Social Studies, etc) and one letter from either another teacher, mentor, coach, or counselor. So after making a list of potential candidates take some time to consider a very important question. “Who knows you the most?”. If you choose a candidate that barely knows you, their letter may sound disingenuous and phony. So when selecting a recommender, you should consider someone who has had a significant impact on your life and should be someone who knows you both academically and personally and can attest to your abilities, interests, achievements, and growth.
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