MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — The Brooklyn School of Inquiry accepted just 2 percent of the kids applying to its sixth-grade class last year. That makes it the most competitive middle school in the city, according to data obtained by DNAinfo New York.
The gifted and talented K-8 school in Bensonhurst — known for progressive teachers who eschew textbooks in favor of hands-on experiences — received more than 3,100 applications for just 66 spots in its sixth-grade class last fall. Nearly all of those spots went to kids who were already attending the school's fifth grade.
"It's a small school," principal Donna Taylor said of the popularity of BSI's sixth grade. "The students have the attention that, quite frankly, kids at that age need."
The Brooklyn School of Inquiry is not the only public middle school that rejects far more applicants than it accepts.
Across the city, 65 middle school programs accepted less than 10 percent of their applicants last year, making the public schools just as selective as Ivy League universities like Brown and UPenn, according to data DNAinfo obtained from the Department of Education through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The low acceptance rates mean high stress levels for parents who say the middle school application process is just as complicated as applying to college — but for 10-year-olds.
"It was rather traumatic," Harlem resident Robin Miles said of the year spent finding a middle school for her daughter, Olivia DuFord. "The city has not figured out yet how to simplify or even streamline the process."
Even after mother and daughter spent months touring schools and weighing how to rank them on the city's application, Oliva did not get her first choice, the selective Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering.
Columbia Secondary accepts less than 7 percent of kids who apply, making it Manhattan's most competitive middle school.
Olivia was admitted to another selective school instead, Mott Hall II in Morningside Heights, which has a 14 percent acceptance rate and where her mother was impressed by the diversity, high test scores and an essay-writing lesson she saw on a tour.
While some middle schools in the city are less competitive — nearly 60 programs did not have enough applications to fill all their available spots last year — the most popular schools have dozens of kids vying for each available sixth-grade seat.
In addition to the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, the most selective middle schools in Brooklyn include the Law and Science Academy, a gifted program at Dyker Heights' J.H.S. 201 (2.5 percent) and the science program at Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented in Coney Island (3.3 percent). Marine Park's Park Prep Academy Magnet (4.2 percent) and the Shirley Tanyhill School's Federal Magnet Program in Coney Island (4.5 percent) also topped the list.
In Queens, Springfield Gardens' Preparatory Academy for Writers saw an acceptance rate of 2.5 percent and the Beacon gifted program at the Frank Sansivieri Intermediate School in Maspeth accepted 3.3 percent of applicants.
In The Bronx, Norwood's Bronx Dance Academy's visual arts program was tough to get into, with only 2.7 percent of applicants accepted, and Kappa in the South Bronx accepted 3.8 percent of its applicants.
Staten Island's toughest school to get into was the K-12 Michael J. Petrides School, which gave offers to 6.2 percent of its applicants.
In Manhattan, the most selective schools, behind Columbia Secondary, were the selective Manhattan East Schools for Arts & Academics in East Harlem (7.4 percent) and the French dual-language program at the Upper West Side's M.S. 256 (8.2 percent).
Fifth-graders fill out a single application each December ranking all the middle schools they are eligible to attend, and then each district has a different way of choosing which students win spots at which school.
Some districts look closely at the order in which families rank the schools. In Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7, for instance, the schools see a student's actual ranking, while in Districts 13, 14, 15 and 16, they see a student's ranking in ranges: 1 to 2, 3 to 5 and 6 or above.
Of more than 69,000 applicants, 7.5 percent received placements in schools they didn't list on their applications, DOE officials said.
Joyce Szuflita, a Brooklyn schools admissions consultant who runs NYC School Help, advises parents to keep an open mind about the schools they consider.
"There are a lot of good educators out there, but the parents have to believe in them and try for the options that are not the obvious ones," she said.
It's important to find a place where children feel safe, where their self-esteem won't be deflated and where teachers "are really trying to bring it," she said.
"You need to find a school where your child will do well," Szuflita added. "It doesn't have to be your favorite school or the most popular school."
Editor's note: The middle school map initially included a column that was incorrectly labeled and has been removed.