Each year, hundreds more students apply than will be accepted to a handful of New Jersey’s top, highly competitive high schools. These eager eighth-graders ready their middle school transcripts. They take tests. They write essays.
Yet the high schools to which they apply aren’t high-tuition private schools — they are New Jersey’s premier public high schools. These top-tier high schools are tucked into county vocational schools, once known for auto mechanic classes and HVAC shops.
But that has changed. Vocational schools have expanded to attract some of New Jersey’s top young talent. Specialized, hyper-focused career academies now are eclipsing the once idealized well-rounded high school education for students with college aspirations.
The programs pay off for those who are accepted. Graduates say these rigorous academies help land them at competitive colleges, sometimes Ivy League universities, and prestigious careers.
“All these experiences that give students a chance to specialize and focus on career preparation while they’re in high school are a tremendous benefit,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.
“It enables you, at a minimum, to plan the kinds of courses you take in high school to support what you want to do in college,” Savage said.
Career academies have been gaining in popularity across the nation for about 20 years.
Nearly 13,000 eighth-graders attend public schools in Ocean and Monmouth counties, yet less than 600 will be accepted into these competitive programs. Their path is no easy one.