High School Admissions: 'When I Opened My Envelope, I Was Shaking'

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All over the city, thousands of eighth graders were ripping open envelopes on Wednesday and Thursday to find out where they will be attending high school in September. It has become an annual rite of passage in New York City, where students choose among hundreds of high schools.

Some 77,137 eighth-grade students applied for placement in December, each listing their top 12 choices. The quintessential New York City process of matching students to high schools is often compared to that of medical school.

Over the last two days, some eighth graders have learned they received their dream placements, while others may have been disappointed with their matches. And for 7,391 of them, or 9.6 percent, there was no match at all. Those students will have a chance to apply to other schools during the second round of admissions, and they will hear in April where they got in.

Some students learned the news at school; others had to wait for a letter to be sent to their homes.

At the American Sign Language and English Lower School in Manhattan, Melissa Moncion, 14, said she had applied to eight schools, but only one really mattered.

"When I opened my envelope, I was shaking," she said. But on Wednesday, she learned she got into that first choice, Pace High School.

Melissa, who lives on Roosevelt Island, can hear but has been attending the Sign Language school since pre-kindergarten. Her mother, Anna, who hails from the Dominican Republic, is deaf. When her mother came to the school to pick her up on Wednesday, Melissa signed to tell her she had been accepted to Pace. Her mother's face lit up, and she clasped her hands with a firm shake: "Congratulations," she signed to her daughter.

Melissa's list had included the best high schools in New York City: Stuyvesant (her second choice), LaGuardia and Wadleigh, because she sings and plays piano.

At her school, each eighth grader was called to the guidance counselor's office to open their high school admissions letter.

"I'm still shaking from happiness, you just can't tell," she said. She had wrapped her admission letter in a plastic bag and had tucked it in her backpack. She unwrapped it to have her mother sign it right away.

"I'm worried about having more and harder school work,'' Melissa said. "But mostly hope I'll be making new friends. It's what school's all about. Share notes and talking about homework."

Melissa said she really valued Pace's anti-bullying policy after being bullied in middle school.

And Pace offers badminton, she learned recently. "I just started playing badminton," she said. "I'm looking forward to playing more badminton. I saw a whole bunch of people playing when I visited, and it was amazing."

Some friends were admitted to Pace as well. "Three or four of us will be going to Pace together, so I'm really happy about that," Melissa said.

Most of her friends were happy about their high school matches. Melissa said only a couple were unhappy.

"I had to do the application all by myself,'' she said. "It's a first step of trying to grow up. You have to do it alone, to be independent. It's what it means to be in high school."

As they stepped into the cold rain, mother and daughter pulled their hoods on. They were headed to New York Presbyterian Hospital. The night before, Melissa said, she had spit up blood and had a stomachache.

"I don't think it had anything to do with the stress, but I'm not sure," she said.

But on the way, she was hungry. So they dipped into McDonald's to grab a snack. Melissa ordered chicken and a medium-sized Shamrock Shake topped with whipped cream and a cherry. She said it wasn't quite a celebration meal. For that, she'd want even more.

"For a celebration, I'd want a giant cookie and chocolate sprinkles," she said.