Each year more than 25,000 students take the SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test) to vie for roughly 5,000 seats at eight of the nine specialized high schools, including Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, High School for Math Science and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Staten Island Tech, Stuyvesant and Queens High School of Science at York College.
The Department of Education (DOE) began phasing in a new version of the SHSAT in 2017 and changes will be made over several years. If you are planning to take the SHSAT in the fall of 2019 you should prepare using materials designed specifically for the 2019 version of the exam.
To increase integration at the specialized high schools, the DOE is expanding its Discovery Program, which gives some students who just missed the SHSAT cutoff score the opportunity to attend a specialized high school by completing a summer program prior to the start of 9th grade. By the summer of 2020, 20 percent of all seats at the eight specialized high schools that admit students based on the SHSAT will be reserved for students who complete the Discovery Program.
To be eligible for the Discovery Program, a student must meet all of the following criteria:
- Applied to at least one specialized high school by taking the SHSAT;
- Be at least one of the following: from a low-income household, living in temporary housing or an English language learner who moved to the New York City within the past four years;
- Scored below the cutoff score on the SHSAT, but still within a certain range set by the DOE; and
- Attend a high poverty school, which is a school where the Economic Need Index (ENI) is at least 60%.
There is no separate application for the Discovery Program. Those who meet the above criteria will be offered a spot in the Discovery Program in the spring of 8th grade. Those who participate in and complete all of the Discovery Program's requirements will be admitted to a specialized high school.
Frequently asked questions
Q. Do the exam-based specialized high schools look at middle school grades and state ELA and math scores too?
A. No. It's all about the SHSAT. In fact, these eight schools have no say in who is admitted. Instead, students are assigned based on an algorithm that factors in each student's SHSAT score, how each student ranks her preferences for attending the schools and the number of seats available at each school.
Q. Do I need to take the SHSAT to apply to LaGuardia High School?
A. No. There is a separate admissions process for LaGuardia, which selects students based on an audition as well as a review of middle school grades, state test scores and records of attendance.
Q. I can’t afford to pay for an SHSAT prep course, is it still worth it to take the SHSAT in the fall?
A. Yes, but study! Check out some free SHSAT prep options mentioned below. While it is true that many kids take a SHSAT prep course, it’s also true that some students get into specialized high schools by studying on their own from prep books or online resources. Don’t get discouraged if at first you struggle. When studying from a book or online source, it’s important to read the tips and mini lessons and not just answer the practice questions. After taking a practice test, read the explanations in the answer key. If you think you need to learn or re-learn a specific skill tested on the SHSAT, try a free online tutoring program like Khan Academy.
Q. How do I register to take the SHSAT?
A. You will need a ticket in order to take the SHSAT (and a separate ticket to audition for LaGuardia). You can sign up via your MySchools account or contact your school's guidance counselor to request a ticket. If you attend a private or parochial school, the person in charge of high school admissions should be able to help you get your ticket as well, but if you run into problems at your school, you may go to a Family Welcome Center to register.
Q. I moved to New York City after the dates for the SHSAT and LaGuardia audition. Is it too late to get into a specialized high school for the coming fall?
A. No. Incoming 9th- and 10th-graders who moved to the city after the fall exam and audition dates will be able to take the SHSAT and audition for LaGuardia in late August. You must register ahead of time for the summer SHSAT and LaGuardia audition at a Family Welcome Center. Check the Department of Education's website for more information and a list of documentation you'll need to provide at the time of registration. The SHSAT administered over the summer of 2019 will follow the exam format used in the fall of 2018. If you are taking the summer exam, you should prepare with materials designed for the fall 2018 version of the exam.
Here are some free and low-cost options to consider (Note programs may change from year to year):
- The DOE’s Specialized High Schools Student Handbook includes practice exam questions and test-taking tips.
- There are many prep books that you can buy at a local bookstore or online. Most cost between $10 and $20 each. These books provide many of the same kinds of tips and advice that you’d get in a prep class.
- For about $5 per month of use you can take an online prep course from TestPrepSHSAT.com. This organization also offers free content, one-on-one tutoring for a fee, and some scholarships to cover the cost of their fees.
- Taicoon University offers a low cost, comprehensive online SHSAT prep program.
- Tyler Tutor offers free practice tests and SHSAT tutorials. Also check out its YouTube page for more video tutorials.
- Some community organizations, such as the Hudson Guild offer free SHSAT prep to students. Check our Free Programs section for more options and also ask organizations in your neighborhood if they offer SHSAT prep.
- PASSNYC is an organization dedicated to increasing the diversity of students taking the SHSAT. It offers resources for parents and students including a free summer SHSAT prep course for a limited number of rising 8th-graders.
- Helicon Inc, a non-profit, offers a SHSAT prep program for free to Black and Latina girls.
- The DOE’s DREAM Program offers two free SHSAT prep programs open to New York City public school students who meet additional eligibility requirements. There’s a 22-month-long course open to 6th-graders and the Summer/Fall Intensive, a 38-session course open to rising 8th-graders.
- Be on the lookout for free practice tests. Some of the fee-based prep courses offer free practice exams with no obligation to sign up for their program.