For parents across New York City, September marks the start of the dreaded season. High school admissions season that is. This process is stressful for the thousands of eighth-grade students who are being compared against each other. However, it is even more daunting for parents of these children who only seek the best for them but do not know where to look. Every year, the high school admissions process becomes more competitive, but by how much is unknown by most parents. As a litmus test for competitiveness, consider the acceptance rates of the nation’s most selective college school group: The Ivy League. Within this group are internationally acclaimed universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Let’s focus on the admissions rate of just one of the schools within this group, New York’s very own Columbia University.
According to the US News and World Report’s most recent data of the 2017 academic school year, Columbia had an acceptance rate of approximately 6%. Using this, let’s compare this to some of the most competitive New York City high schools. In March 2017, Elizabeth A. Harris reported some of the acceptance rates of New York City public schools in her New York Times article “Couldn’t Get Into Yale? 10 New York City High Schools Are More Selective.” Of the ten most selective schools Harris listed acceptance rates of, the highest acceptance rate was 5.6% for Beacon High School, which is lower than Columbia’s hyper-competitive acceptance rate. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Harris cites the acceptance rate of the Manhattan/Hunter Science High School, not to be confused with Hunter College High School, which only accepts 1.7% of its applicants. For context, no university in the United States has an acceptance rate even comparable to this school. US News and World Report’s 2017 data reveals that the closest university with a similar acceptance rate is Stanford with an admissions rate of approximately 5%, which is nearly triple Hunter Science’s admissions rate.
The competitiveness of New York City’s high schools is not the only symptom of the systemic problem of admissions in the city. In fact, there is evidence that the socio-economic status of households plays a significant role in decisions about schools to even consider. In August 2019, Leslie Brody wrote a Wall Street Journal article about this titled “More Than a Quarter of New York City Students Attend Private or Charter Schools.” In her piece, Brody highlights that in more affluent school districts, a higher percentage of students tend to be enrolled in private schools, even when there are still great public school options, and in less affluent districts, more students tend to enroll in charter schools and public schools. What this reveals about households in New York City is that those coming from underserved communities are not aware of opportunities that they could have at private schools. Many financial aid and scholarship opportunities are kept in the dark for most parents in New York City, which is a significant reason why many high-achieving students are limited by where they live.
So, what are we to do to change this narrative? Some may want to have legislation that could make schools across New York City stronger, while others may want to rid some schools of admissions tests or other criteria (as for the latter, take a look at Alina Adam’s March 2019 New York Post opinion piece “The drive to change elite-school admissions is all about killing the messenger”). Whether its legislation or reform, one thing is for sure: information must be shared. If every underserved student with academic ambitions had a high school mentor who has been through the process so that they could be set up for success, and parents of these children could learn more about all their options, we would be one step closer to addressing inequality in high school admissions. This is what we seek to do here at NYCMentors.org.
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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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