A Message from InsideSchools: Our team relies on data from City systems and access to public schools, all of which were disrupted during Covid-19. As we emerge from the pandemic, we continue to provide the most up-to-date data available and ask that you share your insights in the Comments section. Got a question? Ask us over on InsideSchools+. Thank you.

Columbia Secondary School

Grades: 6-12
Staff Pick

Our Insights

What’s Special

Free Columbia University classes; courses in engineering and philosophy

The Downside

Far more applicants than seats

Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering (CSS) is an academically challenging and ethnically diverse school founded with the backing of Columbia University. Qualified high school juniors and seniors may take courses at Columbia University for free.

Students in all grades study engineering and philosophy, which offer the opportunity for imaginative projects as well as a solid academic foundation for college, says Principal Miriam Nightengale.

In an engineering project, students built a solar-powered chicken coop in a vacant lot a few blocks from the school. The design problem they solved: how to keep the water used to feed the chickens from freezing in the winter. In philosophy, they read Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes; they ponder ethical questions and learn how to construct a logical argument.

Our graduates tell us these are the most useful classes when they get to college, says Nightengale, who taught math at Brooklyn Tech and was the principal of the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice before arriving at CSS.

Most students start in the 6th grade and stay through 12th. Sixth-graders study Latin; 7th-graders begin Spanish. By the end of middle school, students complete high school-level Regents classes in earth science, U.S. history and algebra, which puts them on track to tackle lots of college-level coursework before graduation.

Instruction in middle school blends traditional and progressive teaching methods. Math drills and grammar instruction help shore up basic skills, but there's also a lot of hands-on learning and inventive projects. 

For example, students incorporated Fibonnaci numbers—a sequence of numbers named after the 13th century Italian mathematician—into art projects depicting spirals in nature. Math becomes not just a tool for problem-solving, but an aesthetically pleasing discipline.


Juniors and seniors may take courses at Columbia University tailored to their skills and interests. Course options, which vary by semester, have included calculus, linear algebra, psychology, sociology, computer science, chemistry, and a history class on the Roman Empire. Students may also take Advanced Placement courses in biology, English, physics and Spanish.

Elective classes and extracurricular activities are varied but low on sports; they include biking, architecture, musical theater, organic gardening, neuroscience, student newspaper and underwater robotics.

The school has an unusually well-staffed college office, with two full-time counselors and one part-time counselor. Graduates have been admitted top-notch private colleges and universities including Columbia, New York University, Yale, MIT, and Rice; large public universities including UCLA, University of Michigan and SUNY schools; and smaller liberal arts colleges such as Middlebury, St. Olafs, Goucher and Clark.

The school occupies the top three floors of a five-story elementary school building, which also houses KIPP STAR Charter Middle School and PS 125. The building is designed for a younger population, so space is a little cramped and the hallways are narrow, although high school students do have lockers. CSS shares the gymnasiums, cafeteria, auditorium, indoor pool and outdoor yard with other schools in the building. Kids wear a uniform of jeans and polo shirts (light blue in middle, dark blue in high school).

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has only a few children with special needs. It has Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) and self-contained classes in select grades, varying from year to year. (Laura Zingmond, February 2014; Clara Hemphill, May 2017)

School Stats


How many students graduate in 4 years?
How many students with disabilities graduate in 4 years?
Average daily attendance
How many students miss 18 or more days of school?
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school offers enough activities and services for their children's needs?
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school works to achive the goals of their students' IEPs?
From the 2020-21 School Quality Guide and 2020-21 NYC School Survey


Number of students
611 Citywide Average


Low-income students
Students with disabilities
Multilingual learners
From the 2020-21 Demographic Snapshot

Safety & Vibe

How many students were suspended?
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
How many students say that some are bullied at their school because of their gender or sexual orientation?
From the 2020-21 NYC School Survey and 2019-20 NY State Report Card

Faculty & Staff

How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
Years of principal experience at this school
8 Citywide Average
Number of students for each guidance counselor or social worker
226 Citywide Average

Teachers’ Race/Ethnicity

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
Are teachers effective?
From the 2020-21 NYC School Survey, 2020-21 School Quality Guide, 2019-20 NY State Report Card, 2021 Guidance Counselor Report and this school's most recent Quality Review Report

Advanced Courses

Which students have access to advanced courses at this school? Learn more



Computer Science



Not offered in 2019-20

Advanced Foreign Language


AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science


AP/IB Math or Science



From unpublished, anonymized data from the 2019-20 school year provided by the New York State Education Department, brought to you by

College Readiness

How many students graduate with test scores high enough to enroll at CUNY without remedial help?
How many students take a college-level course or earn a professional certificate?
From the 2020-21 School Quality Guide
How many students filled out a FAFSA form by the end of their senior year?
From the 2020-21 FAFSA data released by Federal Student Aid, brought you by
How many graduates of this school received Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding to attend a NYS college?
How many of those TAP recipients made it through college? Learn more
From unpublished, anonymized student-level data for the class of 2014 provided by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) in coordination with the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), brought to you by
For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data · More DOE statistics for this school

Programs & Admissions

From the 2021 High School Directory

Columbia Secondary School

Admissions Method: Screened


From the 2021 High School Directory

Language Courses

French, Greek, Korean, Spanish

Advanced Placement (AP) courses

AP English Language and Composition, AP Computer Science Principles, AP Calculus AB, AP Spanish Language and Culture, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Chemistry, AP Biology

Boys PSAL teams

Basketball, Rugby, Soccer

Girls PSAL teams

Basketball, Cross Country, Rugby, Soccer, Volleyball

Read about admissions, academics, and more at this school on NYCDOE’s MySchools

NYC Department of Education: MySchools

Contact & Location


425 West 123rd Street
Manhattan NY 10027

Trains: 1 Line to 116th St-Columbia University; A Line, C Line, B Line, D Line to 125th St

Buses: Bx15, M10, M100, M101, M104, M11, M116, M2, M3, M4, M5, M60-SBS, M7


Principal: Lenice Nelson

Parent Coordinator: Andi Vayda


Other Details

Shared campus? Yes

This school shares its building with PS 125 and KIPP STAR Charter Middle School

Uniforms required? No
Metal detectors? No


  • Is this your school? Please post any news, updates, events, changes, or other information!
  • We welcome questions, open discussions, and disagreements but comments with personal attacks, rude language, or those with seemingly malicious intent will be deleted.
  • Very long comments, those that contain links, or repeat comments may be blocked by our spam filter.
  • Problems? email us at [email protected].
  • Users must comply with our Terms of Use.