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TJ Admissions Process: Explained
TJ Admissions Overview
Amid dozens of changes, thousands of media articles, court challenges, etc, many applicants and parents find themselves wondering where they can find a complete guide to the TJ Admissions Process. In keeping with our mission of taking the guesswork out of TJ Prep, here is our summary of how it all works:
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Historically, the TJ Admissions Process was a 2-round process. In the old, merit-based admissions process (2020 and prior), the two rounds consisted of:
  • Round 1: GPA/Transcript Review Standardized Admissions Test (similar to the ACT Aspire)
    Round 2: Teacher recommendations, Student Information Sheet (SIS), and Problem-Solving Essay (PSE).
    This process also had an application fee, a minimum GPA of 3.0, and a minimum completion of Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade.

In 2020, several changes were made by the Fairfax County Public Schools School Board. This new admissions process featured the following:
  • Removed: Standardized Admissions Test (multiple choice math, science, reading)​
  • Removed: Teacher Recommendations
  • Reformatted: "Student Information Sheet" is now called "Student Portrait Sheet (SPS)" It is slightly reformatted, but still extremely similar to the old student information sheet.
  • Reformatted: Problem-Solving Essay (PSE) is now "Math or Science Problem Solving Essay"
  • Removed: Application Fee and increased GPA minimum to 3.5 and requires 3+ honors courses, with honors level Math & Science).
    • Only 2 honors courses are required for students whom Fairfax County has identified as a "Young Scholar."
    • Kept: Minimum of Algebra 1 completed by end of 8th grade
  • Increased class size from 487 students to 550 students
  • Now consider "special experience factors" such as whether or not a student attends an "underrepresented middle school," if they are on free/reduced lunch, if they are in the ESOL English as a Second Language Program, or if they have a learning disability. These factors give students a "boost" in the admissions process
  • Automatic 1.5% admission rule: the top 1.5% of each public middle school's 8th-grade class will automatically be admitted. An example is provided below.

In 2021, yet another change was made to the TJ Admissions Process: 
  • Removal of "middle school attended" as a special factor. Because there are no longer any "underrepresented middle schools," due to the top 1.5% rule, whether or not a student attends an underrepresented middle school will no longer be considered.
Holistic Review:
Based on the student's GPA/Transcript, Student Portrait Sheet, Problem-Solving Essay, and "special experience factors (free/reduced lunch, English as a Second Language, Disability Status), public school students will be ranked by middle school. It's considered a "holistic review." Each element is NOT individually scored. Instead, they will look at the entire package together to determine the ranking. The top 1.5% of the size of the 8th-grade class will automatically be admitted. For example, if a school has 400 8th-grade students, then 1.5% of 400 (or 6 students) would automatically be admitted. They will repeat this process for each public middle school. This will take up approximately 300 of the 550 total seats, and are referred to as "allocated" seats.
That leaves approximately 250 unallocated seats, for which private school students and all remaining public school students will compete on a county-wide level. Some counties (like Fairfax and Loudoun) have far more unallocated seats than districts like Arlington, Falls Church, or Prince William County which might have 0 or very few "unallocated" seats.
Other Notes:
  • There is no lottery system. This was an idea that was only proposed, yet failed on a 4-8 vote by the Fairfax County Public Schools School Board. 
  • Private school students cannot compete for "allocated" seats, placing them at a massive statistical disadvantage under the new admissions process.
Want more information on how to best prepare? We want to make it crystal clear and ensure that you have no outstanding questions. Please feel free to email us at

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What are experience factors?
A: These are characteristics that make the student "more desirable" for admissions. Having an experience factor leads to higher admissions rates. These include: low income (whether or not the student is on fre
e or reduced lunch meals), ESOL (official school English as a Second Language program) status, and the number of 

Q: How is the top 1.5% for each school determined?

A: It is determined through a "holistic" review. The top 1.5% does not only consider a student's grades. It also considers their performance on the Student Portrait Sheet (SPS), Problem-Solving Essay (PSE), etc.

Q: How do the Student portrait Sheet (SPS) and Problem-Solving Essay (PSE) Work?

A: After your "application," which is really just a registration form, you will be invited to take the SPS & PSE at a local testing center (usually a nearby middle school). This is a completely typed or computerized exam. You can learn more about how these 2 components are structured, and how to approach them through our online, self-paced course, small group coaching, or 1:1 coaching.

Q: What is the process for private school students?

A: Private school students can only compete for unallocated seats. They still complete the same application, but are only considered for around 250 of the 550 total seats, making it far more competitive for those individuals.

Q: How important is a high GPA to admissions?
A: Extremely. Check out our "Data and Insights" page here to learn more about average admitted student GPA's.

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