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Two inquiries came in this week from parents wanting to know how the type of high school their children attend will affect their college admissions. The scenarios are different but the answer is pretty much the same, so I'm answering them together.

1. How important is the choice of high school on college options? We have been happy that our children are doing well in middle school and even happier that they are enjoying it so much. This school will transition into a grade 6–12 next year. But we have heard that, coming out of a new school without an established reputation, they will be seen as less appealing to colleges. Many, if not most, parents around us are in a frenzy preparing for the specialized high schools exam, saying that one of these schools is the only pathway to the best college opportunity.

2. My daughter is a happy freshman at one of the specialized high schools. Her grades are in the low 90s in the humanities and in the 80s in math/science. But at her high school, 92 is like the edge of a cliff: 92 and up means you get to do electives, APs, and have a range of college options. Below 92, you do not. It really seems that binary. Ironically, it seems that her chances at a future with choices would be higher elsewhere. Should we seek to transfer out?

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Sixty-six percent of eligible students who applied to G&T (gifted and talented) programs in 2015 received offers today, up from 2014 when 60 percent of applicants received offers. Fewer students applied this year: 7,242 students in grades k–3 applied for a spot, a decrease from 8,010 applications last year.

Incoming kindergartners—the first entry point for gifted programs—had the best chance of gaining a seat: nearly 80 percent of the applicants received an offer, as compared to only 36 percent of 3rd-graders.

As in previous years, admission to one of the five citywide G&T programs eludes most eligible students. While more than 1,500 kindergarten test-takers scored high enough—97th percentile or better—to qualify for a citywide seat, there are only about 325 slots. Most offers go to children who score in the 99th percentile, or to eligible siblings of current citywide G&T students. The DOE has not yet released figures for how many were offered a citywide G&T seat this year, but last year roughly 300 earned a spot. 

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With all of the hoopla that accompanies G&T testing for rising kindergartners every spring, it’s easy to forget that there are opportunities for older elementary school students too. If you have a rising 4th- or 5th-grader who is ready for more of an academic challenge, this Friday, May 22 is the last day to apply for a gifted and talented program for fall 2015.

Unlike applications for the younger grades, the RFP (request for placement) for 4th- and 5th-graders must be made in person at a Family Welcome Center. There is no special test; instead a student’s eligibility is based on three main factors, all weighed equally:

1.         The 2015 NYS English language arts and math exam scores
2.         2015 report card grades
3.         A form, "Descriptors of Exceptional Characteristics,” filled out by the child’s teacher

After you submit an RFP for your child, the Department of Education will collect all the information including test scores, grades and teacher recommendations and will notify families of their child’s eligibility in late summer. Student’s who qualify will receive an application to submit, along with a list of all G&T programs with seats available for 4th- and 5th-graders. 

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Eighth- and 9th-graders who applied to high school last fall but were not matched to any school, or who wanted to apply to a different school in a second round of applications, learned the results of their new application this week, the Department of Education said.

In the first round of admissions, about 8 percent of 8th-graders applying for 9th grade got no match, forcing them into a second round. Other students chose to re-apply to different schools that still had open seats in March.

Students who are unhappy with their high school assignment, or whose circumstances have changed since they applied, now have the option to appeal and try for a different school. Appeal forms are available from school guidance counselors now and are due back on Wednesday, May 20.

Will an appeal be successful? It depends on the reason. See our advice on how to appeal. And, for a look at the number of appeals granted in recent years, and which type of appeals were most commonly approved between 2011–2013, read "Kids win one-quarter of high school appeals."

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Should the city's specialized high schools reserve some spots for top 8th-graders in every city middle school, regardless of the child's score on the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT)? A recent report cited that as the change most likely to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at the schools but panelists at a forum Friday disagreed over whether the city should take that step.

The panelists also differed over whether an exam should continue to be the sole means of selecting students for the schools, but they concurred that New York needs to provide more outreach and preparation for the exam, particularly in black and Latino communities.

The forum, sponsored by the Korean American League for Civic Action and Asian American Bar Association of New York and moderated by Clara Hemphill, founder and senior editor of Insideschools, came after admissions figures for the schools once again show few spots going to black and Latino students. Of the 5,103 students admitted to one of the eight specialized exam schools for next September, 5 percent are black and 7 percent Hispanic, while Asians account for 52 percent of offers and whites 22 percent. Only about 1 percent of students admitted to Stuyvesant are black.

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Q: I am a junior and all I hear about is how impossible it is to get into popular colleges. A lot of my friends who are seniors did not get accepted to their first-choice colleges and are going to have to attend other schools. This has made me very nervous about what's going to happen to me next year. What do you suggest?

A: As I am sure you have heard, part of the problem is the Common Application, which is both a blessing and a curse. The Common App makes it easy to apply to multiple schools, and the blessing is that it enables students to do this while saving them the bother of writing the same information (except for the essay supplements) over and over again. The curse is, the larger volume of applications sent as a result of the Common Application makes being accepted to any school much more difficult.

Another part of the problem is that students persist in applying to the same colleges as their classmates. They have been advised to diversify the geographical scope of their applications, but they don't listen.

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There were few surprises in today's release of the numbers of children who qualified for the city's elementary gifted and talented programs. Hundreds of kids qualified from Manhattan's districts 2 and 3, compared to only a dozen from District 7 in the South Bronx, according to statistics released Monday afternoon by the Department of Education. 

In total, 25 percent of the 36,413 test-takers entering kindergarten through 3rd grade were eligible for a district or citywide gifted program, just slightly below the 26 percent who were eligible last year. 

The number of incoming kindergartners who scored in the 99th percentile—the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T schools—fell from 985 in 2014 to 689 in 2015. Children who score at or above the 90th percentile are eligible for a district G&T program; those who score between the 97 and 99th percentile are eligible for a citywide gifted school. But since there are only about 300 seats in the citywide programs, students who don't score in the top percentile have little chance of getting in.

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Last week marked the start of New York City's pre-kindergarten application process. For about two seconds I fantasized about securing a coveted spot in a district school pre-k for my 3-year-old son. He'd be able to go on to kindergarten there; we'd have the next several years figured out, educationally, at least. But I soon saw the light: Staying at the early education center where my son now attends preschool has benefits too great to pass by.

Sure, there are all the logistical perks people mention when singing the praises of early ed centers: Unlike schools, my son's daycare is open during the summer, and provides 11 hours of care each day, not just the six hours of city-paid universal pre-k. Although we will pay for the extended hours, that means no need for complicated, patched-together after-school or summer child care arrangements.

Also key: My son's younger sister will attend the 2-year-old program there. That makes for just one pick-up and drop-off.

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If your child turns 4 this year, he or she is eligible for free pre-kindergarten, either in a public school or at a early childhood center run by a community organization. But how can you find one? And what is the quality of the programs?

The staff of Insideschools and a panel of experts will tell you how to find a good program for your child and how to navigate the application process at our March 31 event: The Lowdown on pre-k. We'll also introduce our new pre-k search engine. Type in your address and you'll see what your zoned school is and whether it offers pre-kindergarten. With this search, you'll be able to find all the pre-k options closest to your home or work and see reviews of public schools that offer pre-k. 

The de Blasio administration gets an A for effort in its rapid expansion of pre-kindergarten, with more than 30,000 new seats last fall and another 20,000 planned for this coming fall. But what is the quality of these new programs? Even though there are more free all-day pre-k programs than ever,  demand still outstrips supply in many neighborhoods. Get the lowdown at this free workshop for parents. We will:

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Brooklyn mom Jordan Scott has spent months searching for pre-kindergarten for her daughter—touring seven schools, scouring websites, and asking friends' advice. One school filled its seats before the city even published the pre-k directory. Another suggested she pay a $1,000 deposit to secure a seat—although pre-k is supposed to be free.

Public schools, charter schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, private nursery schools, Head Start programs, child care centers, settlement houses and community organizations are all taking part in Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious effort to offer free pre-kindergarten to 70,000 4-year-olds this year. And, while Scott is thrilled by the prospect, navigating the application process has been a production.

"It's very confusing. This has been my part-time job since last fall," said Scott, one of the 22,000 parents who submitted an application for pre-kindergarten on March 16, the first day of the month-long application period. "I had a spreadsheet and online map. I spent so much money on babysitting that I just took my daughter along on some of the tours."

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