NEW YORK—Hunter College High School boasts one of the lowest admission rates in the country, averaging at about 6 to 7 percent. Every January, elementary students from all five boroughs line up at the Upper East Side Hunter campus to take the entrance exam. This year, an estimated 2,500 6th graders took the test, but only 170 of them will be accepted.
The day of the test was cold and wet. Children and parents waited from seven o’clock in the morning on Friday to gain entry into the building.
Entrance to Hunter is a double screening process and the test takers are all top students at their elementary schools. In order to even take the entrance exam, students must have achieved high scores on standardized state tests. Those with unqualified scores are denied the chance to take the entry exam.
“My daughter graduated first in her class as a fifth grader, she was even chosen to present the graduation speech,” said Linda Argaro, a resident from Queens waiting for her daughter outside of the building. “So I think she will be fine, her chances of getting in are pretty good.”
The test is three hours long and is divided into three sections: math multiple choice, English multiple choice, and essay writing. Approximately 500 children with high enough multiple choice scores pass the first round. These 500 tests are then screened for the best essays. Around 170 students will gain admission.
“Basically all the kids who get in are pretty much guaranteed admission to a good college,” Argaro said.
Hunter is a free public high school that is administered by CUNY Hunter College instead of the Department of Education. Though it is labeled as a high school, it actually serves grades 7-12, so only 6th graders can apply. The school prides itself on accepting applicants based solely on merit and test scores.
Needless to say, preparing for the test is an extensive process.
“I make sure my child studies more on a daily basis, I send him to after-school programs, tutoring,” said Christine Chen, a Brooklyn resident. “But more importantly, he likes to read and so he gets a bit more practice.”
Many New York based tutoring companies offer Hunter College High School test preparation materials. Critics have said it gives children from wealthier families an advantage because of the additional costs that comes with test preparation classes and tutoring.
Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.