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Q: This is my senior year. I moved to the US from Vietnam in the second semester of my sophomore year. I attend a large, pretty crowded public high school and my parents knew nothing about schooling in the U.S. So my classes are not the strongest in the school and I haven't done ANY activities yet. That's because I spent time learning English and helping my family. We didn't have clubs in Vietnam, and I didn't get information about them here, because I was working after school.
But now that I have to apply to college, will this hurt me? Can I explain why I wasn't on any teams or in clubs? And I only earned about AP classes when I was researching colleges online, by myself. When I arrived here from Vietnam, the school just looked at my records and assigned me to random classes. Last year I had one honors course, in math; I aced it, so my teacher recommended me for AP Calculus, which I am taking this year.
I am worried that it will look like I have avoided challenging courses and activities. I'm just stuck hopelessly! Should I explain about my special circumstances?
A: Yes, absolutely! First of all, you cannot be blamed for not taking what was not available. It's not your fault that you didn't take the most challenging courses. You arrived not knowing English, coming from a different educational system, and having to spend your extra time helping your family. And what your high school did at the time was probably what they thought best. However, college admissions staff cannot expect your application to look like that of someone who has grown up in the U.S. and has been strategizing for years how to get into U.S. colleges. Don't worry: all applicants are looked at in the context of what was available to them.
One thing I noticed during my ten-month long career as a 5th-grader is that parents often get confused with the definition of a “good school.”
Parents, there is no such thing as a “good school.” There may be a good school for your child, but there is no all-around exemplary school. Even the most elite gifted and talented schools have downsides. When choosing a school for your child, you need to make sure that your child will be getting both the services they need and that they’ll be happy at that school. For example, a school may boast that they have the highest test scores, but they don’t have after-school clubs.
If your child receives special services, such as counseling or speech therapy, you have to make sure the school offers those services. Schools are supposed to do that, but that doesn’t always happen.
Tours really help you get a sense of how a school works. Tours usually run from early October to late November and middle school applications are due Dec. 1. You can usually sign up for a tour by looking on a school’s website or calling the school. District CEC pages sometimes list tours too. You can find contact information for schools through the InsideSchools search tool, and for a list of middle school fairs, visit the DOE Middle School events page.
Tours at popular schools fill up quickly so be proactive! October becomes a very busy month.
In November, you receive your application. Now, the application is one of the most complicated documents you will ever see in your lifetime. I’ll be doing a whole post about how to navigate the application.
By the way, just know, this can be a very stressful time. It's hard to take off time from work to do tours and not really knowing if a school is going to be a good fit for your child. One time, when we were touring the school, it was raining, the school was a bit hard to get to, my mom’s coffee spilled everywhere and her umbrella broke. But, we learned from that tour that it was simply not the right school for me.
Please share information on each school’s profile page. I know the NYC school system very well, so if you need some personalized advice, comment below.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my next installment!
Our 6th-grade blogger Nathaniel Cain checks in with a report after his first full week of middle school in Brooklyn.
On Thursday, the first day of school, I was VERY, VERY nervous. I didn't know anyone—except one friend, who was in a different class. It turned out great—all my teachers are amazing. They're super nice and I can tell that they will be teaching me a lot. I can tell this year is going to be great!
It definitely took some small adjustments, though. In elementary school, they have the learning materials. In middle school, especially a large one like mine, they expect you to have everything in your bag, in the moment. Also, going from class to class took some adjusting, too. The 8th-graders tend to dominate the hallways and it's very, very crowded.
Got an 8th-grader at home? Then you must be gearing up for high school admissions. Our advice: Check out our tips and handy action plan for making the most of your high school search and register for our fall high school admissions workshops!
Insider tips on specialized high schools: September 27, 6 pm
Are you auditioning for LaGuardia? Taking the SHSAT and wondering how to rank the specialized high schools? Got questions about the academics or homework load? Join the InsideSchools staff along with specialized high school students and parents on Sept. 27 for a panel discussion moderated by Clara Hemphill, followed by a Q&A session. RSVP on Eventbrite.
Best Bets for the “B” Student: October 5, 6 pm
Everybody hears about the tip-top schools, the ones that accept only “A” students and ace testers. But what about the average student? What are some good high school options for the "B" student? Join Clara Hemphill and the InsideSchools staff for a panel discussion designed to help you sort out your options. Got other high school admissions questions? We’ll tackle those too. RSVP on Eventbrite.
The call to our home came a few months into my older son's freshman year at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the performing arts public high now under fire for prioritizing academics over talent.
"This is Dr. Barbara Rowes, and I have something to tell you.''
My heart caught in my throat as I waited to hear from this feared but highly respected English teacher, notorious for setting seemingly impossibly high standards at the school made iconic in the 1980 movie “Fame”.
"Now, I know that your son wants to be a rock star,'' she told me. "But I just finished grading his paper. I think he has a future as a scholar."
I knew he'd been struggling. And now, here was one teacher in this sprawling school of the arts who cared enough about his writing progress to let me know—a measure of how seriously the school takes its dual mission of both college and conservatory arts preparation.
Applying to middle school—a process that begins in the fall of 5th grade—can be stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s very important that you stay on task.
My name is Nathaniel Cain and I am a soon-to-be 6th-grader at MS 51, the William Alexander School in Brooklyn’s District 15. I comment on Insideschools frequently and you may know me from my profile, “sixthgrader.”
When I was applying to middle school, I had two challenges: 1. There are no zoned middle schools in District 15; and 2. I was living in one of the most competitive school districts in all of New York City. Your struggles may be different.
Here are some tips as you navigate through the middle school process, whether you’re a parent or a rising 5th-grade student:
The first few months of 8th grade can be a hectic time for kids and parents. It’s easy to lose track of all you have to do for high school admissions. Our advice to rising 8th-graders and families: Don’t wait until September to start your high school search.
Summer is a great time to start researching and compiling a list of schools you want to apply to in the fall. Check out our written and video guides on applying to high school. Use Find a NYC Public School to search among the city’s 400+ high schools for ones that may be a good fit for you.
Didn’t make it to one of the Department of Education's high school admissions workshops held in July? Don’t worry. You can find a recap of the July sessions here, and there will be more opportunities for 8th-graders to learn about high schools in the fall at open houses and at the city- and borough-wide high school fairs.
To help you get started, we compiled some useful information and advice into a handy packet for you to review this summer. Read and print it out here or click on the link below to download. It includes tips on how to get yourself organized, answers to frequently asked questions about the specialized high schools and our action plan, a step-by-step checklist to help you stay on top of everything you need to do between now and the high school application deadline in early December.
by Nicole Mader, Bruce Cory, and Celeste Royo
The most recent Urban Matters ("Tough Test Ahead: Bringing Diversity to New York's Specialized High Schools") reported on patterns of racial and ethnic admission to some of the city's most prestigious secondary schools and how admissions might more closely mirror the overall composition of the city's public schools. As we showed, only about 16 percent of high-performing Black and Hispanic middle school students gain admission to these elite public high schools.
This week we're following up on comments and questions we received from you.
First, we show all 7th graders in 2012-13 by race, ethnicity and performance level at all 536 public middle schools (including charter schools). At the top of this chart, we see the handful of "feeder" middle schools that send high-performing students of all races to the eight high schools that rely on the specialized high school admissions tests (SHSAT). But we also see hundreds of schools that fail to prepare any students for these specialized schools. Click here to see the chart.
By Bruce Cory, editorial advisor and Nicole Mader, data analyst at the Center for New York City Affairs.
There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9 percent of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6 percent the year before. Some say the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) is discriminatory and should be scrapped; others say the test merely reflects the poor preparation most Black and Hispanic students, who make up some 68 percent of public school enrollment, get in the elementary and middle schools.
Now, new research by the Center for New York City Affairs shows that even Black and Hispanic students who do very well in middle school—that is, those who as 7th-graders earn the best possible scores on either math or English language arts (ELA) state standardized tests—are much less likely to attend specialized high schools than their similarly high-performing Asian or White classmates.
This suggests that the City’s Department of Education (DOE) may be able to increase Black and Hispanic specialized high school admissions without scrapping the SHSAT (a politically daunting task) or completely overhauling the elementary and middle schools. It offers hope that plans announced last week to increase the diversity of students taking and passing the SHSAT could produce progress.
Fewer students received offers to gifted and talented programs this year than any year in recent memory—and that's a good thing according to the Department of Education. Fifty-three percent of students who qualified for G&T in grades k–3 and applied received offer letters last week, down from 66 percent in 2015.
The downward trend in offers is part of a broad effort to streamline a G&T process that has long been marred by long waitlists and unfilled seats. Until this year, the Enrollment Office has traditionally "over-offered" G&T seats to account for families who may decide to decline or move, a DOE press release explained, and enrollment was controlled by the central office. Still, inefficiences were glaring in this system with many students remaining on waitlists well into the fall despite open seats—while families and schools were powerless to do anything about it.
"I hope that with schools managing their own wait lists, that they can move through them quickly enough to offer more seats than ultimately they did in the past," schools consultant Robin Aronow told us via email. "It has been disappointing to schools and to qualified applicants who did not get off wait lists by October, only to learn that the programs were under-enrolled because they [DOE enrollment office] did not move through wait lists quickly enough."