Last Fall, 8th graders in New York City were thrown into the high school application process that is a real predecessor to the nightmare that is college applications. For those of you who have never been down this road, let me tell you, it's something like an acid trip into school hell.
In Manhattan there are no zoned schools. In the boroughs there are local schools, but I think each of those have a variety of programs, so you apply for the program you want to go to.
So what happens to the kids who do care about where they go to school? Here is how it works. First, you pay nearly $1000 for them to take a Kaplan course to study for the "test." This test, if you pass, gets you into a choice of 6 (maybe now it's 8?) high schools around the city that have some kind of specialty-mostly math/science. The test is scored based on what school you pick as your first/second/third etc choice, and then your grade. These are considered the premier public schools in NY. Are they? Maybe. They have historically produced an awful lot of Nobel prize winners.
Stuyvesant is the "hardest" to get into because most everyone puts it as their first choice and so of the 22,000 or so kids who take the test, it's the one that gets the 800 kids who score highest. Next is Bronx Science and traditionally third is Brooklyn Tech, but with the addition of the other schools, this order may have changed. I don't really know.
My son's second (maybe third? I wish I had my facts straight) choice was a math/science school based in City College. But if distance wasn't an issue, he seemed to like Bronx Science (where I went) the best. The other schools are in the outer boroughs. One has a mission of teaching journalists/lawyer types with a focus on American History. One specializes in people who want to do medical research, and a very new one is based on the Boston Latin prep school model. Etcetera.
So what if you take the test and don't get into any of these specialized schools? Well the next thing you have to do in he Fall is to visit ALL the "regular" schools you can cram in within a 6 week period and rank them on a form with your top 12. Some of these schools require a certain grade point average, statewide score test, limited number of absences and possibly a preference for students who live in a certain district (which seemed ONLY to ever be schools in District 2 the richest district in NY that is so gerrymandered it's a nightmare). Others also require an essay, an interview and/or an audition if it's a performing arts school (remember Fame?)
Then you wait for 4 months until a computer form arrives to tell you which school you have got into. If you don't get into any school, you do into Round 2 where schools with empty spots all come to a fair and they match you up with an open slot. That might be Round 3, but it goes something like that. In other words, if you don't make it into something good in Round 1 you are screwed.
But here is the HAPPY NEWS. Max, my very amazing son, was one of 3 (that we know of) kids in his school to get into Stuyvesant and he also got into his 1st choice of the "regular" schools that he chose. So now he has the luxury of turning down Stuyvesant (which in NY is like turning down a full scholarship to Harvard). I think he will choose the "regular" school which has a more relaxed attitude and a bigger variety of liberal arts courses, and of course, not nearly has much homework. Think back to being 13 and the choice is obvious.