Is TJHSST the Right Fit for me? (Virginia)

First off, sorry if this is in the wrong forum, or if College Confidential is the wrong place for this question. I am still very new to the site and trying to learn the ropes!

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology is a competitive public magnet high school in Northern Virginia. It has a focus in STEM fields but claims it excels in all academic pursuits. I have the choice to apply next autumn and am trying to find out whether or not the school would be a good fit for me.

The Pros

  • I have an extremely strong interest in both science & math. The combination of rigorous classes not available at my neighborhood school. In addition, the senior lab would be, while challenging, very engaging and enriching.
  • I am not athletic but am interested in getting into a sport or two to take care of my body. The process of getting into sports at TJ is not as competitive as it would be at my neighborhood school, but I would still be encouraged to push myself to my limits.
  • The eighth period would be greatly beneficial in expanding my knowledge in my two favorite academic pursuits: science and Latin. I could join the Latin Club & Science Olympiad, while my home school would have neither.
  • TJ has an incredibly large body of Latin students. At Virginia Junior Latin Convention, they won countless awards, including the "extra-large group spirit contest," This leads me to believe that not only is the Latin program exceptional, but the students are also driven to educate themselves outside of the classroom.
  • The countless science labs on campus might allow me to engage in science research before senior year, although I have heard that TJ has had a hard time starting students with research before senior year.

The Cons

  • The commute. I don't know exactly how long it would be, but I am sure it wouldn't be as long as most of the student body. Still longer than my neighborhood school, though.
  • The choral & theatre programs. Both seem close to non-existent. These are the extracurriculars I'm most invested in, but it seems as if TJ has no chorus at all, and a very small theatre program.
  • The stress. While I got all A's in 6th grade and my lowest quarter grade was a 94.8 this year, at TJ, this would probably go down drastically. My mental health might take a hit, despite usually being manageable. However, I feel as if I could jump through almost any hurdle life throws at me.
  • The technology and computer science classes. I love math and science, but engineering and tech don't inspire me. There are requirements for courses in these fields at TJ. To be fair, I haven't taken a single course, but my father (a computer scientist) has tried to teach me to code multiple times, and every single time, I've been left bored out of my mind. We don't mesh as well as I do with my mom, though, and this could attribute to it. While my dad is great at math, he can't help me with my math homework when I'm struggling. My mom looks up some Khan Academy videos and she can make it second nature.
  • Not so much a con, but my neighborhood high school is still very good compared to the nation, and I would receive an excellent education there, as well.

It definitely helped to write everything down, and there are probably more items I haven’t yet considered. Any thoughts?

If you are concerned about the effect the stress of TJHSST would have on your mental health, then stay at your current school.

If you have needed parental help with your math homework at your current school, then TJHSST is not for you.

I have never struggled with mental health before, but surveys have shown that a majority of TJ students feel stressed. I also like stress because it motivates me to have a better work ethic, but there is the dilemma of too much stress which might be overbearing.

On the second point, I rarely need help with my math homework. When the teacher barely skims over material, I often go to my parents for help. I also use Khan Academy. If I need a bit of assistance to help myself understand a concept, I don’t think this is a measure of how good of a fit TJ would be for me.

Granted, I might not be the most knowledgeable on this front, but this has been my impression.

My 2 cents (as a parent of a former TJ student), don’t sweat it until you are offered acceptance. Or at least wait until you pass the first round. The application process is pretty rigorous and many don’t even get past the test.

Remember you can always go back to your base school. TJ is a very unusual place and it’s hard to say if it’s a good fit for you. Staying at TJ is a very personal choice and not always related to grades. Some folks say that it’s better to stay in your base school and be a superstar than go to TJ. There’s some truth to that statement. But there’s also the other side. TJ is known nationally. It’s surprising how many people know about TJ around the country. This does not mean that you will get into any college you want, but IME it does help you get merit scholarships and other opportunities.

If you are going for the right reasons (true interest in STEM, opportunities at TJ that are not available in other schools, national name recognition, academic rigor) and not the wrong reasons (think you are automatically getting into Ivy League, want to impress your friends), it may be for you. As with anything in life, go in with your eyes open and a plan B in your back pocket.

And yes, it’s easier to get into Sports and the Latin program is really good (the teachers are excellent!).

@dmvmomx2 : But there is a recent thread detailing the lack of success of a well qualified TJHSST student’s attempts to get an offer of admission from the two top Virginia public universities (Va Tech & UVA) that suggests otherwise with respect to college admissions for TJHSST students.


Yes, that’s exactly why I stated that going to TJ will not get you into any college you want.

Since you brought it up, it is true that many well-qualified TJ students have not gotten into UVA or VT. But if you’re discussing raw numbers, there many that do. When practically the whole senior class applies to these 2 colleges (exaggeration, but still very high %), you are going to see some rejections. If you take a look at some stats just based on where the TJ kids are going, you can see that many do get in:

I wanted to give some guidance because I am a current TJ student and I get your stress about if TJ will be the right school for you. I definitely felt that before and during the admissions process so hopefully this will help!

One of the first concerns you mentioned was the commute. I personally have a relatively long commute, but I actually don’t find it that bad; it’s a good time to sleep and catch up on homework/talk with friends.

About stress and classes (especially technology & engineering), there’s a lot of disparity, in my opinion, based on what classes you take and your teachers. In 8th grade, I had pretty good grades, but I found math to be very challenging (to be fair, I did take Alg 2 Hn). It was a manageable amount of homework and self-studying, and during freshman year, I had the same relative amount of work as in 8th grade. Obviously, this depends on your middle school (mine was more intense) and your IBET (core classes) teachers. My teachers were all pretty understanding and didn’t give obscene amounts of homework. Additionally, Design & Tech (freshman required engineering class) was not bad–the robot project is known to be hard, but as long as you manage your time you will be fine! Overall, at least for freshman year, my stress level was a little bit higher than in middle school, but I was able to do a competitive sport outside of school, multiple clubs, and other extracurricular activities. Time management is key!

As for tech/engineering classes, I get how you feel, I never had a great interest in computer science until I came to TJ. It is a required class (one CompSci credit), but everyone’s going to be taking it so it’ll be a relatively fun class. It can be boring at times but after the year (or summer), you don’t ever have to take it anymore and instead, can focus on something you like (math & science). TJ does a good job of having class in a variety of STEM different fields!

Overall though, it really is up to how you feel about TJ and if you see yourself there. I have to admit, I wasn’t planning on going to TJ, but now that I am at TJ, I’ve met the most amazing people (the TJ community is so nice) and have had a lot of fun. Base schools are also a great choice, if you find that TJ doesn’t suit you, base schools have a lot of amazing opportunities as well. The decision is different for everyone, and there’s really no right or wrong answer, and as someone else said, don’t sweat it! No matter where you end up you’ll do great!:slight_smile:

As a junior at TJ, I study for at least 8 hours a day and I’m barely going through. I would suggest that you need to practice having the discipline to study for long hours before you consider attending.