Editorial: Two essays and a video is too much to ask of eighth grade applicants

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In December 2022, students in the eighth grade rushed to submit their applications to Townsend Harris High School and many other NYC public high schools. However, the application process for THHS looked significantly different from previous years.

This year, THHS introduced a new admissions policy for the incoming class of 2027. In an article published by The Classic in late December, these new requirements were described as “identical to the admission requirements of Bard Early College High School,” where applicants were required to submit two written responses: a humanities-based essay responding to a speech and a STEM-related essay. Along with these two requirements, applicants must submit a 2-minute video introducing themselves and detailing ways “they would contribute to the THHS community,” reflecting the school’s Ephebic Oath.

While this new process may uphold our prestige, it is executed in a poor manner that seems overburdening and restricts a student’s ability to express themselves.

Prior to the seemingly unending COVID-19 pandemic, admissions to THHS were mundane compared to the new changes. Then, prospective students were required to submit their report cards, state test scores, and attendance records and were admitted based on a ranking system.

For both the high school class of 2025 and 2026, a lottery system took the old system’s place, randomizing the acceptance of applicants. The system grouped together applicants with a 91 to 100 cumulative average and then arbitrarily accepted them into THHS. However, this process received heavy criticism, with students, teachers, and parents expressing their disapproval, stating that the new admissions system was unfair and, as the New York Post phrased community criticism of it, “a dilution of one of the most competitive academic processes in the city.”

Though many members of the THHS community responded positively to the rigor and selectiveness of this new admissions essay/video system, others questioned it, acknowledging it as intimidating and excessive. Many eighth graders are not only applying to THHS but to other schools with their own set of requirements, some including standardized exams. Our new policies may add further stress upon applicants to get into a “good” high school. The tougher an admissions process seems, the more applicants may feel overloaded and under immense pressure to gain acceptance into their dream schools. Students should not be subjected to the idea that high school will make or break their future, but the more alienating admissions processes feel, the more students start to doubt their abilities.

Additionally, the video portion of the application can cause students to be discouraged from completing their application. While a video essay can allow students to portray their personalities and articulation abilities, some students, especially those with camera anxiety or physical impediments, may find this portion of the application to be overwhelming. It is unreasonable to assume that all applicants can “perform” through a video when those who have more outgoing personalities will tend to outshine those who don’t. How can we admit students based on whether or not they are comfortable before a camera? There is no correlation between how well a student answers questions on video and their ability to succeed in an academically rigorous environment.

While the writing samples may be able to gauge an understanding of a student’s foundational skills, they don’t necessarily represent a student’s overall academic abilities. In other words, the essay portion of the process singles out those who have the upper hand at writing, leaving those with STEM-inclined brains at a disadvantage. Even though there is a STEM-related essay, it does not necessarily evaluate knowledge of specific subjects or include any STEM topics in particular. Furthermore, it disproportionally affects students who do not have English as a first language, shrinking the diversity within the applicant pool.

In order to combat any unnecessary feelings of stress and discomfort, which may be provided by the current process, THHS should aim to make the process more streamlined. Instead of having students submit a video and two essays, we should require them to submit a single personal statement. This allows applicants to display their personal values and passions, as the video asks, and it allows them to show their writing abilities as the essays require. Not only will this reduce the intensity of the process but will also be more inclusive. Ultimately, students reflect and impact the image of the school they attend, so it is of utmost importance that we do not admit only those comfortable in front of a camera.

If the THHS administration truly wants an admissions process that not only satisfies the school community, but is also selective, then the approach should be manageable, straightforward, and fair. An additional screen might be a good way to add standards to the DOE lottery system, but two essays and a video is asking too much of middle school children who are stressed enough as it is.

Art by Annie Park