How to get into Thomas Jefferson High School (ranked #1 in VA)?
Well, how did Serena Williams become the #1 ranked female tennis player?
Serena Williams didn’t just decide one day to play tennis with the pros. No, she practiced, and practiced from when she was 4 years old. She took lessons, attended a tennis academy for several years, and played for many hours every day.
By the time Serena was ready to participate in the pros, she didn’t just show up at the tournament – she had 10 years of experience playing tennis, and she was ready to compete with the best of them.
So you see, when you want to be among the best, you have to start early to be ready.
Virginia’s best high school:
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST)
In Fairfax County, we are lucky to have one of the best high schools in the entire US (currently ranked #2 nationally by US News): Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (a.k.a. TJHSST, or “TJ”). But getting in is not easy and students must start preparing early to be ready.
TJ is a school which caters to highly achieving students specifically focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and although it is located in Fairfax County, it is technically not part of the Fairfax County Public Schools district. Instead, TJ is a Virginia state-chartered magnet school, which serves students from across several school districts in Northern Virginia.
So, when studying at TJ, students are being challenged by the best of the best in the entire region.
Getting into TJ is like getting into a pro tournament
Just like in a pro tournament, one doesn’t walk into TJ just expecting to get in. It takes a good dose of preparation to have the best chance.
What’s required to get into TJ?
The first step is to live within the area serviced by TJ, such as the following 6 participating school districts:
Once residency has been established, a student must start getting ready in 7th grade, since the student’s GPA in 7th and the first quarter of 8th grade are key components of the admissions criteria.
Then, there is also the TJ Entrance Exam:
About the Entrance Exam
When it’s time to apply to TJ, an 8th-grade student must take an admissions test. This test consists of three sections :
The Verbal section
The verbal section of the admissions test includes 3 types of questions:
- 5 scrambled paragraph exercises
- 15 logical reasoning questions
- 5 critical reading passages with 5 questions each
Once the verbal portion is completed, there is also a quantitative (i.e. Math) section:
The Quantitative (Math) section
The quantitative section is weighed the most heavily throughout the admissions process.
It consists of 50 multiple-choice math problems up to Algebra I with some basic Geometry included. This section progresses from easy to hard questions.
The third section is the essays:
The Essay section
The essay component of the TJ test consists of two questions:
- Ethics-based: to show critical thinking
- Introspection: asks the student about him or herself to help the admissions committee to get to know the student better. (If possible, students should demonstrate their technical and scientific knowledge in the essay and prepare by reading Wired Magazine or Sci/Tech pages.)
Once the three parts are done, the test is scored.
How the admissions test is scored
The admissions test is scored out of 100 points, with students gaining a point for every correct answer and facing no penalty for incorrect answers.
When the test is done, then the admission selection starts.
TJ’s admissions process
Admissions to TJ are broken into two rounds: to advance past the first round, students must earn at least 30/50 (60%) on the quantitative section.
However, the required overall score to advance past the first round is dependent on the student’s GPA:
- If a student has a GPA of 3.6 or higher, they need an overall score of 65+
- If the GPA is between 3.3-3.6, they need a 70+
- If the GPA is between 3.0-3.3, they must score above 75
Once a student passes the first round of admission process, they move on to round two.
Round two of the admissions process
In round two of the admissions process, the committee reviews the complete application, including:
- The essays written during the test
- The quantitative (math) section of the test
- Teacher recommendations
- Student information sheet
- The student’s GPA in math and science classes from 7th grade and the first quarter of 8th grade.
Once the student’s application has been reviewed in entirely in the second round, the best 450 applicants are granted admission.
And to give you some perspective, out of over 3,000 students who apply each year, only about 450 are admitted (that’s only about 15%).
Even though 15% might seem like a small number, I’d say applying is always worth a shot.
Think of Serena when you are preparing for TJ
Serena’s lifetime practice and hard work has paid off nicely with her winning many Grand Slams and being ranked at #1 for several years. And just like Serena, a good student who has the drive and preparation to succeed, has a good chance of “playing with the pros”.
Important: Applications are due in mid-October
Applications for TJ admissions are due in mid-October. The exact dates and details can be found here:
And, since the first step of the process is to live in one of the participating districts, you can use the Fairfax County Map of School Boundaries to find the perfect home:
Log in to the Fairfax County Map of School Boundaries to see the location of each of these boundaries within Fairfax County and to choose your ideal boundary.
When you log in to the Fairfax County Map of School Boundaries, you will find:
- Photos and videos
- Highlights of the area covered by each boundary
- Statistics about housing
- School rankings for schools in each boundary
See you on the other side!
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Image by y.caradec on flickr