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Don't let their names mislead you, specialized high schools offer tremendous opportunities for students in all academic subjects.

It’s well-known that most of New York City’s specialized high schools emphasize STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This is great for STEM-focused students, but what about students with a passion for social sciences or the humanities? How about students seeking a more balanced education; can they also benefit from attending a specialized high school?

The answer is yes. Of course, there is LaGuardia for the performing arts, as well as The Brooklyn Latin School and the High School of American Studies at Lehman College for those predominantly focused on humanities and the social sciences. But even the specialized high schools known for STEM don’t focus on STEM to the detriment of other subjects. In fact, they offer plentiful advanced classes, extracurricular activities, and other opportunities outside of the STEM field.

Furthermore, literacy is woven throughout all classes and the advanced skills you learn in STEM classes might prove more useful than you imagine in your future career in the humanities or social sciences.

Advanced Classes

All of New York City’s specialized high schools have a generous range of AP courses in every subject, including history, English, economics, world languages, and more. At Bronx High school for Science and Technology, for example, students can take AP Literature – Creative Writing.

Some of the specialized high schools are known for offering courses that go beyond Advanced Placement (post-AP). These classes are designed to benefit not only STEM students, but students with other interests as well.

In general, students at the larger specialized high schools — Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, or Bronx High school for Science and Technology — will find amble class offerings in the humanities and social sciences within school. The smaller STEM oriented specialized high schools may not offer a large list of advanced classes within school that focus on the social sciences or humanities; however, their partnerships with sister colleges and universities permit students to take classes from a very generous catalogue of classes at the college or university.

The High School for Mathematics Science and Engineering at City College (HSMSE) has College Now courses taught by professors at the City College of New York, which include subjects like sociology and psychology, Freshman Composition, and The Heritage of the Spanish Antilles.

Queens High School for the Sciences at York College also offers a College Now program, with students learning from York College professors. Available courses include psychology, sociology, and cultural diversity.

Whether your child is or is not interested in STEM, the specialized high schools offer opportunities to take advanced courses and earn college credit.

In addition, with so many students interested in STEM, a student with an alternative focus may find less competition to get into AP or College Now courses of interest. This can help your child rank highly, providing a competitive advantage during the college application process.

Extracurricular Activities

Most of the specialized high schools offer a diverse range of extracurricular activities. With over 100 clubs at both Brooklyn Technical High School and Staten Island Technical High School, plus another 70 at Bronx High School of Sciences, there’s a club or activity for everyone.

Clubs at Brooklyn Tech include salsa dancing, photography, quilting, art, anime, board games, baking, water color, and a writer’s book club.

HSMSE has a dance team, a gardening club, and Eat NYC, a club that spends Friday afternoons traveling NYC to experience different foods and culture.

This is just a brief sample of the many non-STEM extracurricular activities available. Whatever your child is interested in, there’s likely a club or activity that he or she will enjoy. And if not, it’s always possible to start one!


Literacy is a foundational academic skill that is embedded in courses on every topic at every NYC specialized high school. Even when your child is in a STEM-related class, you can be certain that reading, writing, speaking, and inquiry are woven throughout the course.

At Staten Island Tech, for example, writing is emphasized in all subjects. Students engage in challenging and creative writing projects, even in calculus.

At HSMSE, where English and history are strong, students read challenging literature including Kafka, Hemingway, and Thoreau. Challenging texts can be found not only in English and history, but in courses like biology as well.

Despite an emphasis on STEM, the specialized high schools recognize and embrace the importance of writing, literature, and other subjects like history and the arts.

Other Opportunities

While the idea of a STEM focus may imply that opportunities in other subject areas are limited, this is not the case. Students attending specialized high schools have access to eclectic electives, including plentiful courses in languages and the arts. At some schools, they can even declare non-STEM related majors and access university libraries, theaters, and more.
HSMSE students take interesting and diverse electives like poetry, film, science fiction, international relations, and gastronomy. In fact, they are regularly asked to provide input on the courses and programs they would like the school to offer.

Bronx High School of Science students enjoy courses like world literature, Spanish narrative, film, a journalism workshop, and a yearbook graphic design studio workshop. They can also take a Holocaust Leadership elective, becoming administrators in the school’s renowned Holocaust museum.

At Brooklyn Technical High School, students can take courses like cultural anthropology. SI Tech offers television production, and students head to the school’s black box theater for drama classes. They can also participate in one of SI Tech’s nine bands.

The arts have a strong presence at Stuyvesant, with five bands and many theatrical teams. The school offers classes in drama, film production, and music. Students write for the award-winning school newspaper “The Spectator” and take electives such as creative nonfiction, Asian American Literature, New York City History, and an acting workshop.

The specialized high schools also offer courses in many languages. The Bronx High School of Science offers six languages, including Latin. All SI Tech students take Russian, and Stuyvesant has classes in Mandarin and Japanese.

Students at Brooklyn Tech choose majors. Although most are related to STEM, students also have the option to major in social science, media, or law and society. Law majors take classes in a mock courtroom featuring portraits of current Supreme Court justices.

At HSMSE, students have access to York College’s library, theater, and other assorted buildings.

STEM in the Social Sciences and Law

Students who are predominantly interested in the social sciences at a middle and high school level may be surprised to learn that more advanced social science often relies heavily advanced mathematics. Statistical analysis where researchers compile data sets and use regressions and computer software to assess the causal structure of social or political behavior requires a high level of mathematical knowledge and aptitude. Even in the humanities, digital humanities and the use of statistics and network analysis are increasingly dominant methodologies. A strong background in mathematics is a requisite for many fields in sociology, economics, geography, psychology, and political science.

Students interested in focusing on law often focus predominantly on political science and history. However, law schools and law firms highly privilege industry-specific expertise, which often means knowledge of science and technology. This is particularly the case in intellectual property, where knowledge in topics such as chemistry can become critical to assessing pharmaceutical patents or where computer science knowledge may be necessary for interpreting copyright law.


Being a student in the social sciences, humanities, or arts shouldn’t keep you from applying to New York City’s specialized high schools. If you are a parent of such a student, you should encourage your young learner to explore the strengths of these schools.

Some STEM-related courses will be required, but students attending these schools will have diverse and abundant opportunities when it comes to advanced courses, extracurricular activities, electives, and more.

The unique interests if an incoming student may also create an advantage when it comes to getting a spot in advanced courses. Ultimately, this translates to a higher GPA, a better class ranking, and a more competitive college application.

Since they have more classes and clubs, a larger specialized high school may be a better fit for a child with a non-STEM area of interest. However, it can be helpful to look into the unique offerings of each specialized high school and see which opportunities are the most exciting for your child, especially the course offerings at partner colleges and universities.

The bottom line is this: Specialized high schools are not intended only for students who are passionate about STEM. With course offerings rivaling some small colleges, the specialized high schools truly offer something for everyone.

Whether you are a student who is passionate about Science or Socrates, take a free SHSAT practice test and begin your journey to a specialized high school.