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 throughout the five boroughs. Now, a new app helps students and families simplify their search by focusing the choice process on a personalized list of 20 best-fit schools.
The NYC High School Application Guide is 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 high school recommendations, with an emphasis on higher-performing schools that have a strong track record of graduating students in four years.
To get their personalized list, students answer six questions, entering their home address and interests in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. The search algorithm considers students’ likelihood of admission, given geographic priorities and historic demand for the school, and focuses on schools with high graduation rates.
Designed with student users in the mind, the NYC High School Application Guide was developed by The Heckscher Foundation for Children with guidance from school choice researchers at New York University and a former New York City Director of High School Admissions.
“Tens of thousands of students will now have a simple, interactive tool to identify best-fit high schools with strong graduation rates,” said Peter Sloane, chairman and CEO of The Heckscher Foundation for Children. “By helping all students make informed choices, we’re not only addressing inequities in the high school application process but, ultimately, impacting students’ college readiness and success.”
Each year in New York City, nearly 80,000 middle school students participate in the ritual of choosing and applying to the City’s public high schools, ranking up to 12 high school programs they would like to attend. A centralized system matches each student to one school; this past spring, 72 percent of students were matched with one of their top three choices.
While school choice policies aim to improve achievement by empowering families to select a school that they believe will best serve their student’s needs, research shows that families often find the process overwhelming and difficult to navigate. In addition, disadvantaged students have been found to be more likely to opt for nearby schools and less likely to include high-performing schools on their lists.
There are a variety of tools and resources available to help students navigate the admissions process but the NYC High School Application Guide is the only one designed specifically for student use and the only tool that offers personalized search results with this level of detail.
“The high school admissions process depends heavily on students’ access to information,” said Sean P. Corcoran, associate professor of economics and education policy at New York University’s Steinhardt School. “The NYC High School Application Guide adds another tool to the toolkit of resources that families can use to more easily navigate the system and help students make more ambitious choices.”
The app is also a cornerstone of the NYC High School Admissions Study, one of the largest randomized control trials of information supports for school choice ever conducted. Led by researchers from New York University, Princeton University, Columbia University, and Seton Hall University, the ongoing, multi-year study will determine if informational tools, such as the NYC High School Application Guide, can help students make more ambitious high school choices and, ultimately, have better high school and postsecondary outcomes.
For the 2016-17 academic year, 420 middle schools across New York City were involved in the study. Findings from the study will be available in early 2018.
“The NYC High School Application Guide is part of a larger effort to better understand how we can empower students by providing them with informational interventions,” said Jennifer Jennings, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.
A group of Citizen Schools’ middle school students took part in testing the NYC High School Application Guide. “With high school, your doors open and you can go anywhere, but some families struggle to navigate this process,” said Nadia K. Selby, director of program at Citizen Schools, which partners with public middle schools in low-income communities to provide an expanded learning day.
“They may choose a school that is close to home but may not meet the needs of their child. Does the school have a high graduation rate? Does it have cooking or journalism, because that is what a student is interested in? The app gives families information in a form that is not overwhelming, and a starting point to begin narrowing down their lists.”