This is a personal essay by Katharine Rudzitis, one of our online tutors for the Hunter College High School Exam and a graduate of Hunter College High School.
Homeschooling, Hunter College High School, and Amherst | A New York City Story
I grew up in New York City as the oldest girl in a family of four children, and unlike most NYC kids, I didn't go through the nightmarish high school application process. After a brief stint at The Family School for prekindergarten, my parents decided to homeschool me, so I said goodbye to everyone who had counted beans with tweezers and made turkeys out of their construction paper handprints with me during Thanksgiving. I was homeschooled through the end of sixth grade, when I received my Hunter acceptance letter and decided to attend. I began college in 2011 at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and I will graduate in May with a B.A. in Classics, English, and Mathematics.
Homeschooling in NYC
When people find out that I was homeschooled through sixth grade, I always get a mixture of strange looks and questions like, "Did you have any friends?" or "Your family must be super religious," or something as simple as, "Wow, you don't seem weird to me!" Homeschooling still has a bit of a bad rap, since people hear about the gifted (and "weird") kids who don't fit in at normal schools, or parents who don't want to have their children learn from a secular curriculum, but no one never hears much about people who aren't on the fringes of society. Just to be clear, I did have friends, and yes, I still am "weird"—I actually like math, which seems weird to many people that I meet. My parents chose to homeschool me (and later, all three of my siblings) so we could take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities that New York City has for young people. I’m still thankful that my parents made that choice, because the incredibly personalized educational experience that I had prepared me well for Hunter and Amherst.
I still remember my years being homeschooled fondly, because I had so much freedom and flexibility to learn about what I found interesting. My family was part of the NYC Home Educators' Alliance, which coordinated field trips, classes at museums and zoos, and fun ways to meet other homeschooling families. We participated in a homeschooling co-op on Mondays, so I had Latin, science, and creative writing classes with several of my homeschooled friends. During the rest of the week, I would work through all of the subjects that I was studying. I loved my math books—my mom was a Singapore Math hipster, because she discovered it before the country’s textbooks and problem-solving methods were cool—and I hated my writing lessons. I frequently worked ahead and finished my math books early in the school year, but slogged through my five paragraph essays and alliteration practice until well into the summer months. My mom gave me freedom to work at my own pace, for the most part, which meant that I got to spend the most time on the things I love.
Once my younger siblings were old enough to start school, we would spend the mornings around our large dining room table. By that point I was able to do most of my work on my own, with help from my mom on the challenging word problems I both loved and hated, and my siblings all had varying degrees of autonomy depending on the subjects they were working through. By early afternoon, I'd be free to pursue all of my extracurricular interests. I am still amazed that my mother managed to keep an eye on all four of us, help us with every subject in every grade, make us dinner, take us to all our activities, and still manage to do it all effortlessly.
I barely registered how most kids my age were in school from eight until three every day, and I can't imagine that I would have been happy if I'd spent that much time in school during my early years. My afternoons were for ballet, karate, art, piano, and the French lessons that my parents insisted on but seem to have been wasted on me, since I've never had a good ear for tone and prefer my languages to be thoroughly dead, or as my friends called Latin, "deeply sleeping."
I loved the freedom that homeschooling gave me, and I would never have been able to pursue so many different interests if I'd had to spend so much time in normal school. I advanced through the ranks of my dance classes at Ballet School New York, and by the time I was a teenager, I had the privilege of assisting the weekend dance classes for the pre-ballet classes. I also got to go on tour with New York Theatre Ballet to different states in the USA; there were roles for children in some of the ballets and very few of the ballet school students could miss classes, while I could just work ahead in my books and take days off as needed. I also had the chance to volunteer at the library by my house, so my mom would drop me off on Tuesday afternoons and I would shelve what other people had finished reading. One of my goals had been to read everything in the library, starting with the AAs and moving forward, but as I grew taller and the books grew wider, I decided to be more selective with my book choices.
Hunter College High School | Taking the Hunter College High School Exam and Beyond
I still remember the wintery day when my parents told me that I had to take the Hunter test. The idea of not being with my homeschooling friends scared me, and I'm ashamed to say that I had a complete temper tantrum, as only pre-teens can, and refused to take the test or ever go to normal school. There was a lot of crying in my room that night, but my dad told me that if I took the test, he would take me out to whatever restaurant I wanted for lunch after the exam. That was enough to convince me to sit for the test, so I lined up with my dad, two pencils in a plastic bag, and a few snacks to keep me going throughout the morning. I still remember two of the exam questions: my essay was about my favorite age between eight and twelve (I wrote about being nine, because I went to the Netherlands and London with my mother and one of my brothers, and my essay included a paragraph about the jewels in the Tower of London), and a tricky math question about a farmer and the area of his complicated farm.
During our conversation over the steaming onion tower on our tabletop grill at Benihana's, my dad said that if I got in, I could go for a year and try Hunter out. After plenty of tearful conversations with my fellow homeschoolers, lots of sleepovers, and a fun admitted student picnic where my parents asked all kinds of questions and I made friends with some incoming seventh graders, I decided to give normal school a try.
I didn’t leave after a year. I made friends at Hunter that I still stay in touch with, and I strongly believe that my experience at Hunter made me who I am today. Once I got over the shock of having to spend the day in school and then bring more work home—"homework" sounded to me like what I'd done during my time as a homeschooler—I realized that Hunter still allowed me to have plenty of freedom, which had been my favorite part of being homeschooled. We could go anywhere we wanted during lunch and free periods, which meant many sunny days in the courtyard, Central Park, or a nearby deli, and our teachers trusted that we would get back in time for class. We made it back most of the time.
I appreciated how we were treated like young adults and not overgrown kids. There was added responsibility as well: at Hunter, students finish the high school core in their junior year, leaving senior year completely free for electives, internships, and college classes. I chose to take a Latin independent study, an in-school internship with Hunter's counseling department, advanced logic and composition (an English class), and several AP classes: economics, physics, and calculus. I loved the chance to make my own decisions about my classes, and it was fun to take subjects that I genuinely cared about.
The counseling internship was one of my favorite parts of senior year, because I got to organize Hunter's annual college fair, meet college admissions representatives from around the world, and help run workshops for the new seventh graders about adjusting to life at Hunter. For the juniors and seniors, Hunter in the fall is like college boot camp: admissions representatives give info sessions about their schools nearly every day in October and November, and students start meeting with their college counselors to come up with college lists, target test scores, personal essay drafts, and timelines for applications.
Teaching, Tutoring and Test Prep while at Hunter College High School
My personalized senior year schedule left me plenty of time for other extracurricular activities, and I spent a few afternoons each week tutoring other NYC kids in different subjects. I started tutoring in ninth grade, and I had begun by working through middle school math problems with someone I’d met through family friends. I continued tutoring through my senior year at Hunter, and I got involved in different subjects, including test preparation. By the end of senior year, I was tutoring students in creative nonfiction writing and critical reading; fifth to eleventh grade math; eighth and eleventh grade physics; and ISEE/SSAT/SHSAT/Hunter test prep. I enjoy tutoring much more than traditional part-time jobs, because I’ve always had fun working with other people on problems, and I’ve found that I can also learn while tutoring. Sometimes a student can surprise me with a creative way to approach a problem, and I love those moments of discovery. It’s also exciting to see personal essays take shape as students fill out applications, or to get an excited phone call from someone who aced a test, or to weigh in on college decisions. Most importantly, it’s rewarding to have a job that lets me interact with others and help them reach their goals.
During the summers at Hunter, I was also able to take advantage of the job opportunities that New York City offers. I interned at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Geneva School of Manhattan. I also volunteered once a week in a special needs class for young children, which fulfilled Hunter's community service requirement. Once the whirlwind of senior year had blown by, I said goodbye to my teachers and packed up for my new life as an Amherst College student, but I still credit my time at Hunter with challenging me academically and helping me grow personally and professionally.
Life After Hunter College High School | Amherst College
I had applied primarily to small liberal arts schools on the East Coast, because I valued the flexibility that Hunter had given me during my last year and I wanted to continue that same freedom in choosing what I learned when I began college. I was considering majoring in math, physics, and Classics, but it turned out that unlike other AP subject test exam scores, the physics AP scores would not let Amherst students place out of intro level physics courses. Instead of taking physics again, I picked up an English class on one- and two-person plays during my first semester, and my professor for that class became my advisor when I declared my English major. Math was always one of my favorite subjects, so continuing the coursework in college made perfect sense to me. I had received a grant from Hunter which supported continued studies in Greek, Latin, or both, so I tested out an intro-level Greek course and loved it. The Classics major followed soon afterwards.
Thanks to each major's course requirements, I got to take religion and economics classes to round out my math and English studies. Even though I didn't have too much wiggle room in the classes I took every year, I still got to experience several different fields of study outside of the three departments of my majors. My different areas of study complemented each other well, because my textual analysis skills grew as I read in English, and even more so in my Greek and Latin classes, simply because we had to evaluate exactly what each word contributed to its sentence. My math classes helped me learn to think critically and to approach problems in many different ways, and most importantly to keep going, no matter how many times I failed. Proofs classes are a great way to learn humility, patience, and that eating Doritos for every meal during a take-home analysis final will end poorly.
Using Amherst's career center and their internship placement program, I had the chance to work with a nonprofit participatory dance company in Brooklyn and a new charter school in the South Bronx. For part of the summers after freshman and sophomore year, I also had the opportunity to spend time in Seoul, South Korea, because I'd become close to the family of one of the special needs children I had worked with in high school, and the family wanted their daughter to have someone with her in Korean school. Due to that summer travel, I chose not to study abroad, but I don't regret that decision.
This fall marks the beginning of my final year in college, and I'm checking off the last boxes that I need to complete my majors. I chose to do an English thesis in creative fiction writing, using my favorite Greek and Roman myths that I've studied in my Classics courses as inspiration, and I'm enjoying the thesis process so far. The past summer was hectic because I took a different direction in my career search and interned at a bank in NYC, but I loved the experience so much that I'll be returning after graduation. It's hard to me to decide which of my educational experiences affected me the most, because I learned different skills during each school stage, but I do think that my experiences being homeschooled and learning at Hunter prepared me well for Amherst. I'm not done learning yet, and I can't wait to start the next stage of my life after graduation.
HUNTER COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL EXAM | TEST PREP BOOK
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