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High School Hustle: Why applying to college is really unfair

"By the time we get to college applications, it's going to be so easy,'' friends and colleagues joked over the years, watching -- or participating – in the scramble to find pre-schools, then elementary, middle and high schools for our kids.

Too bad they were wrong.

Starting at age 4, the interviews, tours, tests, essays, letters and lists – it seemed just endless. Yet after years of searching for public schools in a city with more than 1,700 of them, I find myself in the middle of a college search for my oldest child.

And it is anything but easy.

Not that I expected it to be. For the last five years or so, I've drawn on my expertise as an education journalist to guide three nieces, a nephew and at least half a dozen children of friends through essays and applications. Some teenagers hire pricy coaches and consultants, and some go it alone, but it truly helps to have someone other than a parent directly involved.

Throughout, I've witnessed tears, fears, inertia, meltdowns and self-doubt. Deadlines have been met with seconds to spare. Weeks and months of disappointments, dismay at the system and anger at colleges followed, as did laughter -- and ultimately -- triumphs.

I never worried, because all of these seniors had something in common: supportive parents and sufficient high school preparation and opportunities to attend a reputable college, where they would have enormous education opportunities. Not all got into their first choice, but all are thriving.

Not so for thousands of New York City public school kids.

Earlier this week, I was reminded of obstacles far greater than what my oldest child and others I've been working with have experienced. Data came out this week showing that just 29% of public high school students in the city are prepared to do college-level work.

Many end up going anyway, enrolling in community colleges and often getting stuck in remedial classes to make up for what they didn't learn in high school.

These are far more serious obstacles than the minor annoyances complicating the search in our household, including evacuation during Hurricane Sandy and the breakdown of an online application system for conservatory admissions that experienced "unexpected glitches,'' according to the sole human being we were able to reach at midnight on Friday.

The problem of college readiness in New York City is apparent elsewhere, with graduation rates falling in some states as higher standards are introduced. As I've said many times, the supply of excellent high schools in the city with the ability to properly prepare kids for college in the city does not meet the demand.

This is not a minor annoyance. The New York Daily news said in a recent editorial that it borders on criminal, although that is not the word I would use.

It is truly unfair.

Insideschools.org would like to hear more about how city high schools are – or are not – preparing students for college. Are students getting the classes they need, along with help, support and information?

Last modified on Monday, 03 December 2012 11:01

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