NYC High School Admissions: Conquering the Labyrinth

Last weekend, thousands of eighth graders lined up outside of Brooklyn Technical High School to attend the New York City High School Fair. Students and parents had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the high school admissions process and meet with representatives from high schools all over the city in hopes of finding the right ones to apply to.

It is no secret that the NYC high school admissions process is a maze! The application process has many obstacles to get through, some of which include: taking a test, writing an essay, submitting a portfolio, attending an open house and more - just to be considered! Without navigating through these obstacles, the chances of getting in to a great-fit high school are real hard. For BEAM students, a great-ft school is one that offers advanced coursework such as AP Physics and AP Calculus, the opportunity to take college courses, a supportive and nurturing environment and the opportunity for college guidance and readiness. 

Here are some common "big-picture" errors students make on their high school application (Round 1 form):

  • Not doing enough research. It's important that students do their research on each school they are interested in. Many high ranking schools require tests (like the specialized high schools), essays (like Manhattan/Hunter Science HS), portfolios (like Columbia Secondary HS), or a mixture of these (Bard High School/Early College, BHSEC). Do your research early so that you can be ahead of the game and have a plan to get all these things done on time. Go on school's websites, visit, or call the school directly. 
  • Be sure to know which schools are "limited unscreen." Limited unscreen schools are schools that only look at your attendance at an open house. They are a good opportunity to get a fresh start if your transcript is rocky. Open house dates are available online, usually on a school's website. Sometimes you might have to call a school directly and get information that way. Also, attending open houses allow you the opportunity to see if you can actually envision yourself in the school for four years. 
  • Look at the requirements of "screened" schools. A screened school is one that looks at your transcript - this includes: 7th grade grades, state test scores and attendance and punctuality. You want to make sure that you are applying to schools that you have a good chance of getting in to. When looking at schools that you are interested in, make sure grade ranges and state test scores match your transcript. If you have too many absences but have a legitimate reason (ie: medical, or family issues) don't hesitate to write the school a letter. Schools understand that life happens, and being honest and up front is the right thing to do. 
  • Rank schools in the order YOU want to go to them. Schools cannot see how you rank them. Some schools may tell you that you have to rank them #1 in order to be accepted - that is false information! Seriously, rank the schools in the order you want. Ultimately, you will be spending four years there. 
  • Know what a good schools has to offer YOU. Make sure the schools you are looking for have what you need in order to be successful. For most BEAM students this means: AP Calculus and AP sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics). For others it might be a great Lacrosse or Basketball team or the opportunity to join a Robotics or Debate club. Remember that you will spend almost half of your day in this school - make sure the school has things that you will benefit from and enjoy. 

Here are some small logistical things to watch out for:

  • Double and triple check your Round 1 form! Make sure codes and school names match. If they don't, your guidance counselor might not catch it and you may end up being accepted in to the wrong school. 
  • Use all 12 spaces. Make sure you completely fill out your Round 1 form. It is better to get in to a Round 1 school (even LOW on your list) than to have no school and be stuck in Round 2. 
  • Remember that some schools may count twice. For example, the Manhattan and Queens campuses of BHSEC or the multiple programs at Midwood. If you really want to go to these schools, use two spaces on your Round 1 form to put both programs down. Not only do you take up two spaces on your form, but you increase your chances of being admitted. Some of our alumni have even had luck transferring from programs in their first or second year in the school. 

Hear what our experts have to say about their high school admissions process!

“BEAM showed me my options. They provided me with personalized school directories which led me to search for best-fit schools, on my own.”
— Iroha, 10th grader, Manhattan Center for Science and Math
I went to the Citywide High School Fair with BEAM. They taught me how to shake hands and introduce myself. While there, I talked with the Assistant Principal of the Academy for Software Engineering (AFSE). I really liked her and the school, so I went to an Open House to learn more. I ended up ranking it first and got in.
— Mona, 12th grader, Academy for Software Engineering

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