8th grade NYC public school students confront high school application challenges

NEW YORK – November can be a stressful month for eighth graders in New York City public schools as they prepare to apply to high schools. 

Some students in the Bronx and Brooklyn are taking steps to make informed decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. 

With his white button down shirt and black bow tie, Wellington Nunez may not dress like a typical eighth grader. Maybe that’s because he seems to have the rest of his life figured out. 


“I want to go to a high school that has to do with science, because when I grow up I want to be a veteranarian,” Nunez said. 

He is taking part in WHEDco’s high school prep course at PS 218 in the Bronx. He said his prep, though, started in seventh grade. 

“Seventh grade, I was thinking about high school,” Nunez said. “I had to have my grades high.” 

“We tell our kids at the beginning of seventh grade, ‘This is your year,'” WHEDco Program Director Nicole Jennings said. 

Seventh grade exams, grades and extracurriculars are what high schools evaluate first because many schools are specialized. At 12 and 13 years old, these students are already making decisions with their futures in mind. 

“Let’s say I take a high school for art. And I end up being something that has nothing to do with art. That’s why I think I need to have a feeling of what I want to be when I’m older in order to choose a high school I want to go to,” eighth grader Jaleen Coronel said. 

Jennings led the class, explaining the differences in requirements from school to school. 

“All of the good schools in the city are doing that, and they all have different processes. So, students are really being asked to navigate a lot,” Jennings said. 

There are things that make this process simpler. It may look overwhelming, but if you live in Brooklyn North, 47 public high schools attend a school fair, to learn a little about you.

“Every student is unique and every school is unique. And this place and this fair allows you to find that perfect match,” Samir Vural, principal of Urban Assembly School of Music and Art, said. 

“There’s a big range, which is nice. So I can find a mixture of what I want and that makes it easier to decide,” one eighth grader said. 

City students can apply to up to 12 schools anywhere in the city. It’s a complex, strategic process, and not every parent has the time or ability to help. 

“it’s stressful for me because of the technology base. Everything is online when I went to school everything was on paper,” parent Rhonda Anderson said. “I have to keep up on everything and there’s no breaks.”  

Local programs like WHEDco aim to lessen that burden on parents and students with the message that students can find the perfect fit. 

“They all really want to succeed. I would say it’s extremely rare if they don’t. So it’s just about finding the right match for students,” Jennings said. 

The deadline for public high school applications is Dec. 1. 

Our education partners at Chalkbeat New York have five tips to help families navigate the high school application process. 

You can also head to Chalkbeat New York to find our combined reporting.