High school admissions anxiety? The Unmuted has you covered. Photo: javier trueba on Unsplash

Let’s start with the basics. How does high school admissions work in New York City?

When applying for public schools in NYC, you have a few options. You can take the Specialized High Schools admission test to apply to one of the city’s Specialized High Schools, and/or you can choose up to 12 schools to apply to on the regular high school application. These schools are lottery based, but some also screen via other criteria- like grades, essays, auditions, videos, or an online admissions activity. 

Each student is given a random lottery number and placed in tiers based on their seventh-grade grades (the lottery numbers do not matter for the specialized high schools). While the lottery number is assigned randomly, it is still more of a place in line- so those with only numbers are closer in line than those who also have letters in their number. See a better breakdown about understanding your lottery number here.

Screened schools only look at your tier, not at your lottery number. Tier 1 is the top 15% of GPAs citywide. There are also schools that you must audition for, including LaGuardia and other specialized schools. Some schools might also ask for essays or other materials.

Additionally, some schools set aside a certain number of seats for students with disabilities, and students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Some are Educational Option (ed-op) with a goal of promoting academic diversity.

So how do we even begin to decide what schools to apply to?

With 400 schools and 700 programs, the options can feel very overwhelming. But Adams says it should boil down to three things:

  1. Location: Ease of commute
  2. Money: Possible tutoring expenses, transportation (some parents pay for private busing), costs to supplement activities that the school may lack, etc
  3. What the school actually offers
There is a strategy to ranking school choices. Photo: John Schnobrich on Unsplash

So how should we decide the order to list the schools on the application?

Adams says to be realistic, especially since we can now see each student’s lottery number. 

Choices 1-3: List your pie-in-the-sky dream schools. 

The bottom 3: List your ‘safety’ schools

Middle choices: Use strategy to choose these schools. Ed-opt schools are good options for those with lower grades and not-so-great lottery numbers.

What are some myths and facts?
Over the years, Adams has heard some strategies from parents that unfortunately, are straight-up myths. Here’s what she’s heard:

The DOE has to give a seat to at least one of the options on our application. So, I’m only listing one school: Sorry! This is false.You are not entitled to be placed in a school on your list.

List a school that isn’t really your first choice as number one to beat the system: Don’t do it! You only receive waitlists for schools that are listed before the school you received an offer for. So you could ruin your chance of being waitlisted for a school you really want. Adams says to list the schools in the actual order in which you prefer them.

As far as waitlist strategies?
If you are waitlisted for a school, you receive a new lottery number. So, this can help with those top three schools on your list.

Any advice for students going from private to public school? 

Admissions are still the same. But private schools tend to be more rigorous, which means those seventh-grade grades might be graded more harshly. So you might want to ask for extra credit or other methods to bring those grades up. As always, teach your students to advocate for themselves and keep an eye on those grades. 

What if my kid doesn’t know what programs they are interested in when asked for an area of interest when applying? 

Remember, all schools still have to follow the basic curriculum requirements, and keep in mind some schools have program names that really don’t have much to do with the curriculum. Every kid is interested in something- it doesn’t have to be one of the four main subjects. Adams says if you love a school, apply to more than one program within that school. 

Overall, Adams suggests choosing one to three factors that matter the most to you and narrowing down your choices from there. Still have questions? Email us at hello@the-unmuted.com.

View the complete webinar here.

Nicole Perrino is the founder of Bronxmama.com, a hyperlocal website for Bronx families where she use her influence to celebrate the beauty that the Bronx has to offer. In addition to her role at Bronxmama,...

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