Selective entry high schools
Samantha Van Derlinde was convinced she'd never pass the entrance exam for the all-girls high school Mac.Robertson.
In Year 8, Samantha was studying at Beacon Hills High School in Beaconsfield in Melbourne's south-east when her mother told her about Mac.Robertson.
Not like other schools
One of Victoria's three selective entry high schools, Mac.Robertson Girls' High School (new window), isn't like other schools.
Together with Melbourne High School (new window), an all-boys school, and Nossal High School (new window), a co-ed school in Berwick in Melbourne's south-east, Mac.Roberston teaches only the best and brightest Year 9 to Year 12 students.
"I thought I was a good student but I didn't think I was smart enough for Mac.Rob," Samantha, now 20, says. "My mum was the one who pushed me to apply."
"She got me a tutor for the entrance exam and when she told him I wanted to go to Mac.Rob he thought I had no chance. It sounded mean at the time, but he had a point."
More than 3000 Year 8 students sit the Selective Entry High School Entrance Exam each year. Only 961 students are offered a place at one of the three schools.
Samantha was one of those students in 2005.
"My parents didn't put any pressure on me to get into Mac.Rob, but I when I did they were really happy," Samantha says. "I was shocked."
What's the difference between selective entry high schools and normal high schools?
The biggest difference, Samantha says, was the amount of homework.
"When I was at Beacon Hills we got homework, but nothing like what I got at Mac.Rob. The workload was massive," she says. "Plus you're surrounded by only smart kids, so the pressure to do well is heaps stronger, which can be stressful."
Selective entry high schools aren't just about the academics, however.
"Mac.Rob had a team for every sport. I played basketball and we were pretty good," Samantha says. "We also studied drama, music and art. We spent $30,000 on our last musical with Melbourne High. And those studying French got to go to France for six weeks."
Roger Page, Principal of Nossal High School, says selective entry schools try to cater to students who are gifted in a range of different things.
"Sure we aim to provide a supportive environment for academically gifted students, but that's not all we do," Mr Page says. "We also provide them with a huge range of sports, arts, cultural and leadership roles."
Selective entry schools also different from other high schools in the way they teach their students.
"Our students are allowed more freedom. They can decide whether want to work independently or in a learning team with others," Mr Page says. "We also work to always challenge our students with new and harder work so they never get bored."
Like all Victorian state schools, selective entry high schools are free to attend. All you need to pay for is equipment, uniforms, extracurricular subjects and excursions. Each school may also charge a voluntary annual levy per student.
How do I know if a selective entry high school is for me?
Nossal High Principal Roger Page says the best thing for interested students to do is look at what selective entry high schools offer.
"Every school differs," he says."They're not just for academically gifted students, but for students gifted in other areas as well."
Things that Mr. Page says you should do before applying:
- Go to the school's open night and information sessions
- Look at the school's website and read about its purpose, vision and values
- Read up on the entrance exam and application process
- Talk to graduates of that school, or people you know who go to selective entry high schools
How do I apply for a selective entry high school?
Applications for selective entry high schools open in March 2010 for all Victorian Year 8 students. The application form can be downloaded from the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website (new window).
Once you've applied, you'll need to sit the entrance exam, which takes about three hours and covers:
- Other general knowledge topics
But don't stress. Samantha says it's the worst thing you can do. "The entrance exam is hard but you have to keep calm," she says. "I wasn't sure about Mac.Rob in the beginning but I don't regret going there now."
"I learnt so many things I wouldn't have learnt otherwise and I got the high ENTER score I wanted, something I might not have achieved if I didn't go to Mac.Rob."
So if you think selective entry schools might be for you, hop on the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website, download the practice exam (new window) and give it a shot. You've got nothing to lose!
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