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What to Expect When Studying in a Science High School

Too many parents want their kids to gain entry into a Science High School because of the name and the prestige without really knowing what it entails. Many Science High School alums will tell you that their first few weeks were a rude awakening to the realities of the environment and the culture. Before you set a Science High School as your goal, you’d better know what you’re signing up for.

A Demanding Curriculum

Most people know that the Science High School curriculum is faster and harder than that of the usual secondary institution. Few, however, know by just how much. Though the lessons are in sync for most of freshman year, Science High School students are taking up much higher levels of math and the sciences by sophomore year. By graduation, students will have taken collegiate level math, chemistry, biology and physics.

It goes without saying that a Science High School is for neither the faint of heart or the weak of study schedule. Compared to the typical high school timetable, Science High Schools cover new lessons at breakneck speed, and students have no choice but to keep up. Teachers and administrators are likelier to expel students who don’t perform than to change the lesson plans for being too fast.

High-Stress High Schools

Stress is an unfortunate fact of life at any Science High School. In addition to the faster pace of the lessons, pressure from parents, peers and the students themselves is a very real factor. Common student complaints include not enough time to sleep and having to drop extracurricular activities because of the time requirement of academics.

The workload in most Science High Schools are seasonal. The school year is divided into quarters, and schedules are least demanding at the beginning of each quarter. It then gets increasingly busier as exams approach, with the busiest time being the week immediately before quarterly exams. During this time, aptly labeled ‘Hell Week,’ requirements and tests tend to pile up on students.

Science, Science and More Science

It probably goes without saying that Science High Schools give greater focus to math and the sciences than the typical secondary institution. This is very apparent in the curriculum and annual calendar of any Science High School.

Science High Schools usually require one form of scientific research or another. For some campuses, the requirement is just to teach students how to conduct researches properly. In other campuses like the main one in Diliman, a full scientific research paper is a major requirement for graduation. These same research projects are submitted to competitions both local and international.

Every year, Science High School campuses celebrate various science-related events like National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) and Youth, Math, Science and Technology (YMSAT) Week. Science fairs are also considered major events in the school calendar, and class schedules are usually built around those events.

Few other institutions offer the same kind of environment and training that Science High Schools do, so you’re not likely to see these same conditions elsewhere. It’s far from easy, and many students fall by the wayside every year. Administrators, teachers and alums alike all advise that new students should make the decision to enroll themselves. It’s a choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly

Philippine High School Scholarships

Getting a quality education isn’t easy, especially with the economy and the country what they are today. More and more parents have had to make compromises with regard to education by foregoing family expenses to fund tuition, or transfer their kids to a cheaper school. There is, however, another route out of the quandary – a high school scholarship.

Although the spotlight is usually on scholarships for tertiary education, there’s also quite a number for high school students. But because there are so few scholarships and many applicants, you can expect the competition to be particularly tough.

Science High Schools

Few are as reportedly tough as the science high schools. A program of the Department of Science and Technology, the science high schools are meant to develop the scientists and engineers of tomorrow. Since the program’s establishment in the 1970’s, that has meant a science and math program that’s much tougher than that of the average public school.

Over 20,000 applicants every year take the test for the science high school system but less than a couple of thousand are chosen for slots at campuses all over the Philippines. It’s not just the test, either. Before you can apply, your elementary school has to certify you as a student in the top 10% of your batch. And even after passing the entrance test, a panel will interview you as part of the screening process.

The benefits, however, are great. For starters, tuition fees are waved for all science high school students, regardless of location or economic background. Other costs like lab fees are also shouldered by the school, and it’s only extra expenses like field trips that need to be paid for by the students. On top of that is a need-based monthly stipend and an offer to avail of each campus’ affordable on-campus housing.

Before finally enrolling at any science high school, all scholars are required to sign a contract that includes clauses for:

  • return service, which can be fulfilled after you’ve earned your college degree
  • tuition refund, which means you’d have to pay back what the program spent on tuition and other costs should you decide to leave before graduating
  • a grade requirement, which states that you cannot continue with the program unless you earn a minimum grade in each subject at the end of every year
  • degree requirements, which stipulates that you’re required to enroll in a math-, science-, technology- or engineering-related course upon graduation from the science high school program

The science high school program is not one to be taken lightly. Biology, Chemistry and Physics are all taken up individually there, and each year focuses on one of the sciences. Math courses are also major subjects for all four years, and students in the program are usually well into the collegiate math curriculum by the time they graduate. A scientific research publication is also a major requirement for graduation for some campuses.

Graduates of the program typically go on to enroll in the country’s premier universities to earn their degrees. If you’re up to the challenge, the scholarships offered by the science high school program is worth pursuing any way you look at it.

City Science High Schools

Autonomous from the science high school system are the city science high schools that are managed by their respective local government units. Manila, Makati and Quezon City host some of the more notable City science high schools in Metropolitan Manila.

Like with the science high school system, City science high schools offer students free education and heavily subsidized miscellaneous fees. The requirements, conditions and curricula of the two systems are very similar. In fact, one of the few key differences is the fact that each City science high school conducts its own entrance examinations while science high schools hold a single one for all their campuses.

Philippine High School for the Arts

The PHSA is for budding artistic talent as the science high schools are to future scientists and inventors. The program, however, is much smaller; PHSA usually gets around just 30 students every year for their single campus on Mt. Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna.

Entrance into PHSA is no easier than that for the science high schools. In place of an exam, hopefuls have to do a performance or bring a portfolio as an audition to a panel of judges. A successful audition means an all-expenses paid education – stipends included – that focuses heavily on all aspects of the arts.

Coursework at PHSA is especially rigorous, as students are required to dabble in almost all known media and forms of art. All that is done right alongside the regular high school curriculum, science, math and all. A recital is a requirement to progress from one year to the next, and a major performance is needed as every student’s thesis for graduation. Even with just 30 students, not all successful applicants make it to graduation day.

Financial Aid Offices

Although the fact isn’t as well-known as it is on the collegiate level, many private schools – particularly the sectarian ones – offer scholarships to high-performing students who can demonstrate financial need. Even in supposedly exclusive schools like Ateneo de Manila High School and Miriam College, many students are able to attend the school because of a financial aid package or tuition discounts from the administration.

Take note that this almost always requires a combination of two things: high academic performance and demonstrable financial need. Financial aid officers are often partial to applicants who come from affiliated schools – the Ateneo Grade School to the High School, for example – but will make an offer to any applicant who can make the cut.

Quality high school education is hard to get, yes, but it’s by no means impossible if it’s just cash that’s the problem. There’s more than one way to get into the high school of your choice and thus get started on building up a resume for college.

The Advantages of Studying in a Science High School

While surfing the Internet a couple of days ago, I came across an interesting question that someone had posted on Yahoo Answers.  It went something like this:  “Should I study at [insert name of a primary science high school here] or [insert name of alternative, non-science high school here]?”

The question garnered different responses from a number of different people.  Those who argued in favor of science high schools mentioned a few good points, some of which I’d like to share with you in this article.

Please note that when I speak of science high schools, I am collectively referring to these three types:  the DOST-run science high school like the Philippine Science High School or (Pisay); the DepEd-run science high schools like the regional science high schools and the city science high schools (e.g. Manila Science High School (MaSci), Quezon City Science High School (QueSci) and Makati Science High School).

What Science High Schools Offer:  Advanced Training in the Sciences and Major Subjects

There’s no doubt about it.  If you’re a person of science, a science high school is definitely “the” place to be.  The interesting thing about science high schools is that you will get training in science and mathematics courses that are usually taught only at the tertiary (i.e. college) level.  You will be taught advanced physics, advanced chemistry, advanced biology, genetics, and all those exciting science subjects.  You will be running while your contemporaries in non-science high schools are still learning to crawl, so to speak.

This is not to suggest for a moment that the hard sciences are the only things you will learn in science high schools.  Science-focused training may be the main thrust of these institutions, but they are by no means the only things offered in science high schools.  Science high schools take pride in both their science and mathematics courses.  In science high schools, you are just as likely to learn advanced statistics and advanced calculus as genetics.

Technology education is also a big deal in science high schools.  Do you want to become proficient users of computer and information technologies?  Do you want to learn coding and programming?  Take a number and head on over to a science high school then.

The social sciences and humanities courses are not left out, of course.  For example, you’ll find that Pisay, MaSci and QueSci offer a substantial amount of humanities courses, particularly in English.  Science high schools are also the place to be if you want excellent English language training.  Science high schools believe in furnishing their students with the smarts (science and math training) and communication skills necessary for imparting their knowledge to others and becoming a success in whatever field they choose later on.  Ironically, one student claimed she had developed and nurtured her musical ability in Philippine Science High School.

Now, you have to ask:  why do you need training in all these things?  Why can’t you just amble along like so many of your contemporaries who are enrolled in non-science high schools?

1. Science high schools provide excellent preparation for college

Well, if you want to perform exemplarily well in your college courses, you have to prepare the groundwork as early as possible; and there’s no better way of preparing for your college years than by learning as much as you can in your high school years.  Someone who has been in college for as little as one year will tell you that great preparation is crucial to college success.

So many people I know crawled through their math series, for instance.  Now, if you have already learned about the things that your math series teachers will teach you, chances are high that you will go through your math series in college just fine.  No, you probably won’t breeze through it but still, you’ll get through it with much more dignity than you will have if you have to crawl through these subjects.

2. Science high schools give you an edge in your college application.

Chances are that you’ve probably got your sights set on studying in one of the top colleges in the land, right?  I’m referring to the University of the Philippines, Ateneo, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, and so on.  If that’s the case, then a science high school background will definitely serve you in good stead.  The emphasis on the hard sciences plus the humanities thrown in for balance will count as a major academic advantage if you’ll be gunning for the Ivy League institutions later on.

This advantage is two-fold.  First, your science high school training will give you a great preparation for these universities’ and colleges’ entrance examinations.  Second, since science high schools’ subjects are so attuned to premiere colleges’ curricula, the admission authorities of these premiere colleges are going to look more kindly at applicants from science high schools.

In fact, in the University of the Philippines, the high school grade point average requirements are lower if you are from a science high school.  The logic behind this is simple:  science high schools are expected to be stricter in their student grading so, more often than not, an honor student from a science high school will have a lower average grade than an honor student from a non science high school student.  Thus, the grades need to be standardized so that the “true excellence’ (how pompous; pardon meJ) of science high school students will shine through.

3. Science high schools provide highly relevant training

The subjects and lessons in a science high school are updated often to reflect present circumstances and current reality.  Not for the students of science highs schools are outdated (and often disproved) tidbits of information that you will learn from old textbooks.  Oh and yeah, science high school teachers usually use supplementary materials to keep their lessons updated.

4. Science high schools provide world class training and provide you with numerous opportunities to gain worldwide acclaim.

I’d like to think that all or most of us, at one time or another, have dreamt of making it big on an international scale.  If you’re a student of any of the premier science high schools in the Philippines, you may just get the chance to turn that dream into reality.

Here’s why:  part of your curriculum includes making proposals for science projects and actually carrying them out.  If they’re really, really good, they may just land you a chance at participating in and even winning an international science fair.

Consider the case of Avril Bries and Henrian Bayona, both students of Quezon City Science High School.  Bries and Bayona discovered how to produce bio-ethanol from pineapple peelings and electrical energy from cow manure, respectively.  For their efforts, both of them received gold medals in the Sixteenth Environmental Project Olympiad held in Istanbul (Pssttt… note to the unaware, Istanbul is in Turkey, he he he.  Just kidding, I know you already know that, duh!).

Who knows?  If you come up with something really cool, maybe you’ll win that highly-coveted Nobel Prize someday.

5. Science high schools prepare you for the in-demand and lucrative careers.

While the bulk of your career preparation and development occurs in college, your high school training also has a lot of bearing in the type of career you’ll end up in.

First of all, the variety of subjects will help you gauge your interests.  Thus, you will be able to choose a relevant course when it’s time to go to college.  Second, your science high school training will give you an edge in in-demand and lucrative careers like engineering, actuary, business management, programming, etc.

There are many other reasons for studying in a science high school, but it will all boil down to what you really want.  If you want great, forward-looking education, get a science high school education.  Even if you’re not “nerd” material, you will still find a lot to learn about science and about life in science high schools.