Thomas Jefferson High School Application Process: Lengthy and Complex

To gain admission to the highly selective magnet school, prospective students have to complete a two-part application process

This is the second article in a three-part series on admissions and student life at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. .


In many ways, the application process to Fairfax County’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is similar to that of colleges.

Principal Evan Glazer said TJHSST also holds open houses for prospective students to tour the school, visit the classrooms and talk with teachers and lab directors of different disciplines. TJ Liaison Counselors at Fairfax County Public Schools middle schools can answer student’s questions about the school. The application itself includes test scores, essays, recommendations and more.

"The process is not unlike that of university admissions: effective enough to ensure a talented student pool but flawed to the extent that, unfortunately, many qualified applicants are overlooked," said junior Kevin Cao.

"I thought that the admissions process, back when I applied in 2009, was fairly easy to students who met the qualities that TJ was looking for. It was based heavily on grades and test scores. I also think that it was lacking in the fact that it did not look into the students' interests and motivation to the depth that it should have. However, I believe that they have been addressing those very issues, and the admissions process is currently subject to additional reform."

Both the TJHSST admissions office and Glazer give presentations to prospective students, many of whom are concerned about being inolved with sports and clubs in addition to their academic pursuits.

Intellectual Curiosity Wanted

According to their website, TJHSST seeks “highly motivated students with diverse backgrounds, talents, and skills.” With more than 3,000 students applying for just 480 slots, competition is stiff.

Many admitted students come from the 11 Fairfax County Public Schools middle schools that have gifted and talented programs. Those schools are: Frost Middle School, Glasgow Middle School, Hughes Middle School, Luther Jackson Middle School, Kilmer Middle School, Lake Braddock Middle School, Longfellow Middle School, Carson Middle School, Rocky Run Middle School, Sandburg Middle School, and Mark Twain Middle Schools. ( of this series for more admissions data and see the PDF at right to see how many students came from these schools and others.)

Students are evaluated, in part, on the following criteria:

  • high ability, aptitude, and interest in math, science, and technology,
  • intellectual curiosity and self-motivation to pursue scientific research,
  • a desire to be challenged with an extensive curriculum focused in math, science, and technology,
  • the highest academic and personal integrity,
  • an aspiration to become a member of a community of learners, explorers, mentors, and leaders, and
  • the capability to become citizens and leaders of the 21st century.

“The mission for TJ is to provide a challenging learning environment focused in math, science and technology to inspire the joy of learning through the process of discovery and to promote a culture of innovation using ethical principals with the shared interest of humanity,” Glazer said.

Part of accomplishing that mission is to recruit students who meet that criterion through a two-part application process.

Has your student gone through the application process? Share your experience in the comments section below!

The application includes several parts: an admissions test, two essays, two teacher recommendations and a Student Information Sheet. There’s also a $90 processing fee. However, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals only pay a $25 processing fee or can ask for the fee to be waived through the admissions office.

All students who apply must live in Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, Arlington County, Falls Church City, Prince William County, Loudoun County and Fauquier County to meet the school’s residency requirement.

There are two rounds of freshman admissions for TJHSST, one in winter and a summer round. Applications are submitted in the fall and the majority of admitted students are admitted during the winter round.

During part one of the application process, students must take the Thomas Jefferson Admissions Test, which is administered in the fall. According to the school’s website, the test is a “standardized reasoning test that measures how well a student can use knowledge gained over his/her previous seven years of formal schooling.”

Part two of the process is the application. According to Tanisha Holland, Admissions Director for TJHSST, the admissions office does not make admissions decisions, but ensures the process process is fair and equitable for all students.

Semifinalists are chosen based on a sliding scale that balances grade point average (GPA). The website further states that "all students who fall within the sliding scale also must earn a math score of at least 30 out of 50 to be pool eligible.”

Semifinalists are evaluated based on consideration of the following parts of the final application packet (weighting for each included in parentheses):

  • Essays (25%)
  • Student Information Sheet (20%)
  • Teacher Recommendation (20%)
  • Math Score from the Admissions Test (20%)
  • Math and Science Grade Point Average (15%)

A team of two trained educators independently reviews essays, student information sheet, and teacher recommendations from students they are randomly assigned to.

Each evaluation is done using a rubrics designed specifically for that evaluation. Each applicant is then given a rating based on the two highest evaluations given to the applicant.

Once the review process is completed, the final evaluations of the components listed above are weighted to identify the 480 strongest applicants. Those 480 students were offered admission to the class of 2015.

The school sets a yearly cap on the number of students who can attend TJHSST and the cap is calculated based on the number of eighth graders eligible to apply from the school divisions and the total number of eighth graders in the Northern Virginia region that participates in TJHSST.

Although 480 students are offered admission, TJHSST places 50 applicants on a waitlist. If a spot opens up after any of the 480 students declines admission, the school offers admission to students on the waitlist based on their final ratings during the application process.

The admissions process is complex and lengthy, and much more information is available for interested students and parents on the school's admissions website at http://information.tjhsst.edu/admissions.

For more details about admissions, read our .

| Part 3: Check Patch tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. for the final part of this series with information about student life at TJHSST and more from Principal Evan Glazer.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated the TJHSST admissions office and TJ liaison counselors select semifinalists. The story has been updated to say semifinalists are chosen based on a sliding scale that balances grade point average (GPA) since the admissions office does not choose the semifinalists.

Emily Wittig June 29, 2011 at 01:59 PM
My son went through the admissions process back in the fall of 2007. Even though the application process was detailed, we thought it worth it to have our son be considered and perhaps attend TJ. We were thrilled when he received his acceptance packet in February of 2008. I would encourage students who are beginning the middle school years and perhaps have some desire of attendig TJ, to make sure that they are on the correct course path as the math requirement has changed since my son's admittance. The TJ curriculum is aggressive and challenging and being that we are in Prince William County, my son's day is long. With all this considered, he loves it there and has done well.....Class of 2012, here we come!!! =)
Sherell Williams June 29, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Thanks for your comment, Emily! Great to hear the perspective about the process from a TJ parent.
Mr. Annandale June 29, 2011 at 03:15 PM
My son went through the process and didn't get in. All-in-all I thought it was fair and a worthwhile endeavor. It really helps point out to your child the things you have to do for a college application. It is highly competitive. My son usually scores in the 99th percentile on standard tests. He scored about 75th percentile out of the 3500+ that took the TJ test (by my math, that's like 800+ kids that are in the 99th percentile). Last year they only took 15 percent of applicants. The test isn't the end of the process, but kind of lets you know where you stand before they take the essay/recommendations into account. We didn't take the prep classes for the test.


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