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Townsend Harris High School
149-11 Melbourne Avenue
Flushing, NY 11367
Admissions policy: Selective
Grade levels: 9-12
Graduation rate: 99%
Enrollment: 1,050
Class size: 25-34
Ethnicity: 49% W, 10% B, 10% H, 31% A
Average SATs: Verbal, 625; math, 621
Free lunch: 17%
Townsend Harris High School is to Queens what Stuyvesant is to Manhattan and Bronx Science is to the Bronx: a super-high-powered, highly selective school that consistently sends graduates to the Ivy League.

But Townsend Harris differs in several key respects. It focuses on the classics and humanities rather than on science (although advanced science students may compete for the Intel Talent Search prize; five were finalists in 2001). It's a manageable size, with an enrollment that's one-third the size of the so-called science schools. Townsend Harris has managed to reduce class size to 25 students in 40 percent of its courses, while the others have standard class sizes ranging from 30 to 34. Its population is about 65 percent female; Stuyvesant and Science have mostly boys. Classical music, rather than bells, announces class changes. Townsend Harris has events such as Pajama Day — when everyone wears pajamas to school. And the students eat in a "dining room," not a cafeteria.

The curriculum is traditional, and students follow roughly the same course of study as at other public high schools. Students are expected to take three to four years of a modern language — Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish, or French — in addition to Latin or Greek. Students are encouraged to develop their skills in speaking and defending an argument. The school's debate team won a statewide moot-court championship three years in a row.

The school has a strong sense of community — almost a clubbiness — fostered by school traditions. All students recite the "Ephebic oath," in which they promise to be good citizens and to leave their city better than they found it. Alumni have raised a $1.5 million endowment for developing new programs.

How hard is it to get in? Between 3,000 and 4,000 apply for 250 seats. The admissions process is somewhat mysterious, and many highly qualified candidates are turned away. There is no test, and no writing sample. Rather, applicants are judged according to their reading scores, math scores, grades, and attendance records. Only students who list Townsend Harris as their first choice and who meet the cutoff and have an exceptionally high grade-point average are considered. Students living anywhere in New York City may apply.

Downsides: Townsend Harris has more limited Advanced Placement offerings than the specialized high schools. Also, the dress code is strict (no tank tops) and the homework on the heavy side (four hours a night).

Guidance and college counseling: The size of the school, with 250 students in each grade, means students get more help with college admissions than they might at a very large school. "We meet with students in small groups their junior year, and with their parents, and draw up an individual plan," says college counselor Marilyn Blier.

Web Extras

School site

Description from the Board of Education

1999-2000 School Report from Board of Education (pdf format)

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    From the October 22, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.
    Copyright © 2019 , New York Metro, Llc. All rights reserved.
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