Choosing a high school in New York City can be a daunting task, with more than 700 programs to choose from in 400-plus schools. Each year, nearly 80,000 middle school students rank up to 12 high school programs they would like to attend. A complex algorithm then pairs students with schools, taking into account the students’ preferences, available space, and the schools’ own rankings and priorities. Student choices are too often uninformed, particularly among underserved students who may not have enough assistance from parents or guidance counselors.
We developed the NYC High School Application Guide: a free mobile app and website that uses information about students’ interests, current middle school, and willingness to commute to provide a customized list of 20 high school recommendations with an emphasis on higher-performing schools that have a strong track record of graduating students in four years.
Designed with student users in mind, the Guide was developed in collaboration with a software company that specializes in education technology solutions and with guidance from school choice researchers at New York University and a former New York City Director of High School Admissions. It was extensively tested in partnership with select schools, external evaluators, and experts in the field.
An independent team of prominent educators promoted it to all 603 eighth-grade-serving schools in New York City in 2018. The Guide was available in English and Spanish for iOS and Android.
When we developed the Guide, no such tool existed. Since our funding, several new tools have been created and experts in this area have credited our Guide with having been the impetus for the creation of these improved tools. This is precisely what we seek to do with our venture philanthropy approach.
The Guide is a cornerstone of one of the largest randomized control trials of information supports for school choice ever conducted, the NYC High School Admissions Study. Led by researchers from New York University, Princeton University, Columbia University, and Seton Hall University, the ongoing, multi-year study determines if informational tools, such as the NYC High School Application Guide, can help students make more ambitious high school choices and lead to better high school and postsecondary outcomes. At the time that the Guide was first introduced, we showed that students who used it were more likely to receive their first-choice high school and less likely to match to a school with a graduation rate below 70%.