Round 1 high school admissions results are in, and you can slice and dice the statistics any way you’d like.  Some will spend days and weeks doing just that.  But for the thousands of families who are unhappy with their high school match or received no round 1 match at all, the agony continues and there is little consolation.


I’ve been on my own small little campaign to raise awareness of something I consider to be a serious issue.  That is, the ongoing perception among many that the NYC high school admissions process begins in 8th grade, or even the summer before 8th grade.  This could not be further from the truth, yet many families are still lead to believe this from – well, truth be told, we can all take some of the blame.   But it’s no coincidence the statistics are what they are, and so many families continue to be unhappy with their round 1 result.


If you ask any family who has already been through the high school admissions process, they will probably tell you it was crazy or overwhelming, and that either a) they wish they had started earlier, or b) they wish they had more support as they were navigating the process.  If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is ask an 8th or 9th grade family.  Better yet, check out the independent reports issued by the New School in 2009 and Public Policy Lab just recently.


One of my mentors and pioneers of the process said it best:  “Start the process in 6th grade.”


Of course, 6th and 7th grade families don’t want to hear this, especially after going through an equally agonizing middle school process.  But based on my experience working with hundreds of families and reviewing thousands of applications, families who start the process earlier stand a better chance of a successful result and save themselves even more stress, time and aggravation down the road.  Unfortunately, it’s no different than much of life:  Very few people are driven to act now when they don’t see any benefits (or consequences) until later.


The fact is, not only does starting earlier give families more time to research and plan under less stressful circumstances, it gives them more time to develop a comprehensive strategy because they better understand the process itself.  Not to mention the fact that it is nearly impossible to set 7th grade (what high schools look at) academic goals for yourself based on your dream school after much, if not all, of your 7th grade year has passed.


Of course, you need time to interview, visit schools, go to open houses and events, prepare portfolios, submit writing samples, etc. etc.  But even if you do all those things, you must have a cohesive, effective strategy.  For example, if you fill up your application with 12 Harvards, and know those schools like the back of your hand, your overall strategy may still be flawed.  Unfortunately you may not know it until it’s too late.


What makes this process in many ways just as confusing as college admissions (some parents say it’s worse) is that despite the appearance of one application, you are applying to up to 12 programs – each of which may have an entirely different matching process, requirements, priorities, criteria, and essentially admissions process.  And I’m not even talking about the specialized high schools.


Combine this with over 700 programs to choose from and the perception that it begins in 8th grade, and it starts to become a problem.  (Would you start the college application process in 12th grade, or even the summer before 12th grade?)


Many families with whom I’ve spoken over the years think that it’s a simple matter of researching some schools you’ve heard about from friends and neighbors, filling out a one-page application and you’re done.  I actually think the application should be more complex, if only to encourage families to take it more seriously and treat it like the process itself – overwhelming.


So, 6th and 7th grade families, don’t be fooled.  Watch what’s going on very carefully right now, and look beyond the numbers to the real story.  Prepare, research, educate yourselves, and gather your team now so you can avoid being a statistic later on.


And 8th grade families – if you really want to help your 6th and 7th grade friends and neighbors, instead of telling them that school X and Y are the only schools in town for their child, share your experiences with the process and urge them to start early.