Getting into the Blair Magnet: Thinkers Wanted

by Ashley Yuen '13

In early February, acceptance and rejection letters were mailed out to anxious applicants to the Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School. Nervous eighth graders ripped open their envelopes, hoping to see a “Congratulations”. Unfortunately, the Magnet Program can only take one hundred students each year. As a result, most of the applicants are rejected, but the lucky few have reason to celebrate. “I was really excited when I was accepted in to the Magnet,” said one eighth grader who recently received the happy news. “I thought I totally bombed the test.”

This year, eighth graders were encouraged to “shadow”, or follow, Magnet freshmen students during their magnet classes to get a taste of the Blair Magnet life. "Being shadowed by the incoming magnet freshmen gave me a chance to show them the amazing experience I had in the magnet. I'm happy that I was able to show the 8th graders what a wonderful opportunity the magnet really is,” says Rebecca He, a ninth grader who was shadowed by two eighth graders. One of her shadows was physics teacher Mr. Donaldson’s granddaughter, Shelley.

Before the shadow day or the acceptance letter of course, are the tests and the application. There is no simple formula for getting in to the Magnet. The Blair Magnet Screening and Selection Committee looks for several different aspects in Blair’s future Magnet students.

“The Blair Magnet does not just focus on students with good grades. We look for students who show us that they can really think critically and that they are good problem solvers,” says one member of the Selection Committee. Scores from the aptitude, achievement, and critical thinking tests taken in early December, recommendations from teachers, and the written application are key factors in the decision of whether to accept a student in to the Magnet Program. However, there are also several other factors that the Selection Committee considers before accepting or rejecting an applicant.

The first quality that the Selection Committee looks for in a Magnet applicant is a demonstrated interest in mathematics, science, and computer science. The Blair Magnet curriculum is specially tailored for students with these interests. Students must really like what they are doing to enjoy their time in the Magnet Program. For example, the Senior Research Project (SRP) requires students to spend their entire summer on one project and then spend a whole semester writing a paper on it and preparing a presentation. Magnet students must like their project to put in the work necessary to finish it. Magnet senior Julia Huynh demonstrates this Magnet attitude towards science: “I definitely enjoyed my SRP. I loved working in a hands-on lab environment, knowing that the work I was doing mattered and contributed to current research.”

The second quality that the Selection Committee wants to see from a Magnet applicant is a high achievement record in mathematics and science. “Not only do the students have to like math and science, they have to be good at it,” says another member of the Magnet Selection Committee. Magnet classes are not easy, and Blair Magnet students have proven to be among the best math and science students in the nation through competitions such as the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), Science Bowl, Intel Science Talent Search, Siemens, and American Computer Science League (ACSL) during their high school career.

Lastly, the Selection Committee wants to see Magnet applicants with a strong interest in learning and problem-solving. Students must be able to research, think critically, and work hard, even as freshmen. In classes like Research and Experimentation (R&E), students cannot just memorize formulas and concepts. They must use a hands-on approach to figure things out and conduct individual research for projects. R&E teacher Mr. Templin gives one example: “In the Chem R&E project, students test the repeatability of results in their experiment. Students learn whether their researched methods influence their results whereas in Chemistry labs, things are experimented only one time.” The challenges continue throughout the four years of the Magnet Program.

Overall, the Selection Committee looks at many factors together that give a broad view of each applicant. With so many to consider, no one indicator is emphasized too strongly. All types of students can be Magnets if they show an interest in mathematics, science, and computer science, a record of high achievement, and a willingness to think and learn.