Every fall, Breakthrough New York 8th graders complete a high school options curriculum. This curriculum is designed to introduce students to the various types of high schools and create a plan for applying to their schools of choice.
Daman and Jeremy are 8th graders who individually applied to over a dozen schools. They share the research and preparation that went into their applications, and how Breakthrough guided them through this complicated process.
Before this school year, what did you know about applying to high schools?
Daman: I didn’t really know much. I just knew that we had to take a lot of tests to get into particular high schools, but also just to sound very confident in your interviews, and to have some good grades for high school.
Jeremy: I had a pretty vague idea of applying to high schools. I knew that I [had] to input my report cards, maybe do an interview, an essay, but with specifically the exams like the SHSAT, the SSAT, the HSPT, and the TACHS, I didn’t know about those until Breakthrough. I’m thankful because if I didn’t join this program, I would not have [that] knowledge and I wouldn’t be able to prepare myself well enough to take those exams and to be coached through the entire process.
What did you do in your high school options class?
Daman: I started to learn how it works and how they’re going to pick you from other students – like what makes you a good candidate for the school. They also taught us how to maneuver the websites, [and] wanted to make sure that we were ready to apply to high schools and be done on time.
Jeremy: We first start with the preliminary application questions. Whatever you have to complete for your application, that’s what you would do. We have a to-do list. Maybe we had to catch up on essay questions or send a recommendation letter. We would basically have it mapped out on the board and our high school application officer will just help us through. We have a to-do list on our Google Drive, and we just check it off, so our placement assistant knows.
What kind of schools did you research?
Daman: You don’t want to apply to a few schools and get into none of them. If you apply to a lot of schools, then you have a higher chance of getting into a school that you like. I know some friends from my school, not Breakthrough, [who] only applied to a few schools but then that lowers the [chance] of getting into the school they want. I just like to have options with Breakthrough.
Jeremy: We applied to a very big variety of schools. I applied to independent schools. I applied to one Catholic school. I also apply to specialized high schools and selective high schools. We didn’t want to be really one-dimensional, and we wanted our interests to be very diverse.
It helps you because you see how many options you have, because when your intelligence and knowledge are limited, you think your opportunities are limited. But since I knew I had so many schools to apply to, I wasn’t so boxed in.
What did you look for in a high school?
Daman: The qualities of my school are obviously clubs or sports. Maybe wrestling, football, or anything that piques my interests, but also their community. Their AP classes and what topics they offer, like language courses. I [got] a sense of community just from going on the tours and getting interviewed. They had a website [with] a little bit about themselves…their mission statement or what they’re all about in the school.
Jeremy: I was really looking for competitiveness in a school because I wanted it to challenge me and to really help me hone my abilities and strengthen them. I wanted more college preparation because I’m a person that [likes] to be prepared for things.
[For extracurriculars] maybe a wide range of sports. My school currently, we have clubs, but we don’t have sports because it’s a public school, so I was looking for schools that have sports teams, so I could really test the waters. If the school has something that I’ve never done before, I will take interest in that and research it because it’s always good to step out of your comfort zone.
What was easy about the application process? What was difficult?
Jeremy: Maybe the easiest thing will have to be interviews, because during the summer program, we were also taken through mock interviews. So once again, I was prepared for that, and I didn’t really find it uncomfortable to go through because I’m an extroverted person, so it fit my personality well.
I would say the most difficult will have to be the essay prompts because it’s things that you really have to think about. It’s not a topic that you could really research because it’s something that’s personalized. You have to have a sense of vulnerability to relay that information.
What advice do you have for 7th graders who will apply to high school next year?
Daman: I would say, try not to worry about this. Get it done. Utilize the time that you have, and make sure you do the stuff that’s due [sooner].
Jeremy: Get as much information as they can in 7th grade, and to really tap into any opportunities that they have, and seize them because for people that are maybe coming from impoverished backgrounds or people of color, the opportunities are really few and far between. So, whenever you see an opportunity like Breakthrough, you always have to seize it. Research. Even though they can’t apply to high schools at that moment, research about what it takes – if it’s a test that you have to take, start taking practice tests, maybe join a program to help you prepare. Just do anything that gives you an advantage.