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Ask the college counselor

There's still one month left of school, but it's already time for 7th-graders to be thinking about applying to high school. This week the Department of Education announced key dates for rising 8th-graders including its annual series of July high school admissions information sessions.

The 2017 high school directory is online, and paper copies will be available for every 7th-grader and at Family Welcome Centers in June. In addition to the 600-page book that lists every city high school, there are now individual directories for each borough. Students may see at a glance the different kinds of programs in each borough and what the particular challenges are for students applying. 

In another change, the directory now makes it easier to understand the odds of acceptance to a school whether you are in the pool of general education (GE) students or are a student with a disability (SWD). For each school there's information on the number of GE and SWD seats available, how many applicants there were for each category in the previous year and whether or not those seats were filled.

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Pre-kindergarten offer letters went out earlier this month to nearly 68,000 city children born in 2012, and 85 percent got an offer to one of their top three choices; 71 percent to their first choice. Those who didn't get a seat at one of the schools they listed on their application were assigned to a different program, according to the Department of Education. Every 4-year-old is guaranteed a slot in a full-day program at a public school, a pre-k center run by the DOE or at an early education center—although not necessarily at the school or program closest to home.

This year 11 percent of applicants—7,386—were matched to a program they didn't apply to. Most of them were offered a program in their district and 17 percent were given one in their borough. 

If you like what you got, make sure you pre-register at the program or school by May 27, 2016 (the deadline was extended one week from May 20.) If you're not happy with your choice or just want to keep looking, here's what you need to know.

Accept a placement

Children will automatically be placed on waitlists for schools listed above the one they were assigned to. Unless you have a fallback plan like private or parochial school (or are moving to New Jersey!), it's best to accept your offer while you pursue other options. Accepting the seat you were offered will not impact your ability to move off the waitlist at another school or to apply again in a second round. May 27 is the deadline to accept an offer and pre-register at the school. May 20 is still the deadline to submit your application for Round 2. 

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Q: Do you recommend that we send colleges our child's first round of ACT scores? Of course, we don't know how he did, but he seemed to feel confident about it. In addition, his practice test scores had him scoring at the 98th percentile.

A: You do not say if your child is a high school junior—I will assume that. I do not think it is healthy to start studying for, or taking, the standardized tests before that (although I know the PSAT is usually given to 10th graders).

My first reaction to your sending the scores to colleges is: Why? And the second question would be: Where? Do you already have a list of possible colleges? It's a little early to have a final list.

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All 31 city school districts will offer gifted and talented (G&T) elementary school programs next fall—although in districts 7, 12, 16 and 23, G&T will begin in 3rd grade, not kindergarten. In response to the clamor around the city for more programs in poor and primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods, the Department of Education (DOE) announced today that it will open the 3rd grade G&T classes in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, areas which have not had G&T programs in recent years because too few students earned qualifying scores on citywide tests.

Current 2nd-graders in these districts who apply will be evaluated for G&T based on "multiple measures" such as academic performance, attendance, curiousity, motivation and being a fast learner. 

All 2nd-graders may apply, said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield, but "specific outreach will be done to families of students who are above grade level to encourage them to apply." 

"It's a fantastic idea," said Robin Aronow, a social worker and schools consultant in Manhattan. "The advantage of it, in particular in those districts, is that you have teacher recommendations rather than being dependent on a kid doing well on a test ... you're able to take into account what kids are demonstrating in school."

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Q: I was waitlisted at my top school (Cornell), as well as two other schools (UPenn and Dartmouth). Realistically, what are my chances of getting into Cornell from their waitlist? My major is biomedical engineering (with a minor in animal science) and I am female. I got into my "targets" and "safeties" but none of them offer biomedical engineering AND animal science, and quite frankly, I just don't like them.

A: Being on a waitlist is a tough situation. You don't have a final answer and yet you still need to enroll somewhere by May 1. Sometimes colleges never take anyone from their waitlists, and at other times, when they do take applicants, it seems random.

It's actually not completely random, and you do have some power here. But, just as with any admissions decision, there are no guarantees.

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There's been a lot of talk on the Upper West Side about "controlled choice" as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in the elementary schools. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.

The benefit is this: everyone, regardless of their address or income, would get a shot at some of the most popular elementary schools in the district that runs from 59th Street to 122nd Street. Controlled choice puts a thumb on the scale for low-income children who want to attend a middle class school (or middle class children who want to attend a high-poverty school).

But there is a crippling drawback: Controlled choice is, in essence, a form of rationing. By itself, it does nothing to improve the quality of schools—or to increase the number of schools to which parents willingly send their children.

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Got a 7th-grader at home? Relax. High school admissions season doesn't kick in until the fall, so you can spend the next few months preparing for, rather than stressing over, the process. Our advice:

Make sure your 7th grader keeps up with her work and gets to school on time every day. Many high schools look at grades and attendance from this year and there are still three months of school left before summer break.

Come to our high school admissions workshop for 7th grade families!


Join the staff of Insideschools for a presentation on Tuesday, April 19 from 6:30-8 pm at the New School in Manhattan. We’ll tell you what you need to know about high school admissions so that you're ready to hit the ground running in September. Topics covered will include:

The nuts and bolts of applying

Describing your options and how to narrow your list

Applying to screened, audition and specialized high schools

What to do when: spring, summer and fall

Registration is required. Learn more and sign up here.

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The Bed-Stuy Parents Committee is a group of about 250 neighborhood parents who are choosing to work together to help improve the district's schools where they hope to enroll their children. Shaila Dewan, one of the parent organizers, shared advice for those looking to do the same in other parts of the city.

Join parent listservs
We connected primarily on the parent Yahoo listservs in our neighborhood. We put up fliers before meetings—we would send out a link so people could print the fliers themselves and post them. We printed little business cards with our web address to hand out at playgrounds. We built a mailing list using MailChimp. We asked DNAinfo to do an article. Eventually, we found a surprising amount of traffic was driven by word of mouth.

Survey members to gather ideas
We came together without a specific agenda and we explored various options. We listened to what people wanted. One of our members conducted a large member survey and we browbeat people into filling it out until we had almost 90 completed—it's still invaluable to us.

Listen & learn from success stories
Our first few meetings were devoted to listening and learning. Speakers talked to us about subjects of interest, like progressive education. We identified PS 11 in Clinton Hill as a successful model for what we wanted to do in a similar gentrifying neighborhood and we had a panel discussion where PS 11 parents and administrators spoke. We invited the District 16 Community Education Council president and the district superintendent do a Q&A. We closely followed debates over rezoning in Dumbo and the Upper West Side.

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Huge neighborhood schools in Queens topped the list of the 20 most sought-after high schools in 2016, according to data released by the Department of Education today. That's not surprising in a borough where most popular high schools are over-crowded and operating with staggered start times.

With 9,468 applications, Francis Lewis received the most applications. Second was Forest Hills High School with 8,375 applicants. Both schools have sizeable zoned programs, giving preference to students who live in the neighborhood, as well as offering themed programs open to anyone.

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High school acceptance letters arrived Friday for the more than 75,000 8th-graders who submitted applications in December. Ninety-three percent of them went home knowing they were accepted by a high school; the remaining 7 percent came up empty-handed and must apply again, choosing from a list of schools that still have room. (See our picks here.)

The number of Black and Hispanic students accepted at the highly competitive specialized exam high schools dropped, prompting Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to once again call for "strategies to foster diversity at these schools."

The city touted gains made by students with disabilities who were accepted in higher numbers than ever before by some of the most selective schools, not including the specialized high schools. 

Here's a rundown of the results.

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