I am fortunate to have participated in the High School Law Institute in all three of my semesters at Columbia Law School. On Saturdays, the program brings high school students from all over New York City to Columbia and NYU Law campuses for courses in criminal law, constitutional law, and mock trial, as well as an all-day moot court seminar for students in their second year with HSLI. And while the program’s most intentional beneficiaries are these high school students sitting in class, the experience also brings immense rewards to the law students who serve as the teachers and administrators of the Institute.
An important source of the Institute’s supportive and beneficial character is the commitment demonstrated by each and all of its participants. Both the law school students and high school students who make the trip to Big Warren every Saturday have eagerly chosen to add HSLI onto their already demanding schedules. Their energetic willingness to teach and learn is reflected in the participatory classroom atmosphere as well as the learning outcomes and personal growth of the students and their teachers. For me, witnessing and engaging in this process has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my time at Columbia.
In addition to regularly scheduled class, HSLI hosts one “Special Event” each semester. In the fall, Columbia opens its doors to the NYU program participants as well as its own high schoolers for a “College Day,” while in the spring, NYU graciously hosts the Institute’s graduation and the inter-program mock trial competition.
Falling on November 23rd, this year’s College Day was planned and organized by Columbia special events coordinators Katherine Bai, CLS ’15, and Emily Schultz, CLS ’15, as well as 1L special events representative Kelly Freund, CLS ’16. Students and their families attended panels on selecting the right college, admissions, and student life, and had the opportunity to make their way through a college fair set up in the corridors of Jerome Greene Hall and staffed by NYU and Columbia Law students representing their respective alma maters.
Because the High School Law Institute serves a broad range of students, presenting an informative and valuable College Day program poses several challenges. Specifically, it is hard to be fully inclusive of the high school students’ interests and goals with a population of “tabling” individuals drawn exclusively from college graduates who decided to attend law school and had an academic background that led them to NYU or Columbia.
This was evident when a high school sophomore walked up to the Northwestern University table and announced that he was applying and intended to major in biomedical engineering. Of the five NU alumni at the table (I was one of them), three had majored in Political Science and two in Social Policy. Although we were unable to provide relevant direct experiences with some programs, the five of us all had indirect knowledge of the school’s engineering program either from serving as tour guides, taking classes outside of our majors, or simply second-hand information from friends. In addition, students who volunteered for the “tabling” activity were able to fill gaps with the school-specific informational materials secured from the admissions offices of the colleges represented.
The other challenge addressed by our College Day programming involves students interested in the application and admissions process, but who, for a variety of reasons, are not applying to many, or any of the schools represented by the NYU and Columbia “tablers.” Attendees not applying to the represented colleges and universities were directed to use the tabling period to question law school representatives about the experience of leaving home, the differences between the academic structures of high school and college, and how to navigate applying for and choosing among financial aid packages (a topic for which HSLI has a separate information session during the semester). For those students still considering their application lists, law school representatives were able to discuss the factors they sought when applying and what they wished they had known entering the process. High school students and their parents also had opportunities to raise topics of general application in the three student panels that occurred throughout the day.
Ultimately, we at HSLI were very happy to offer our insight and enthusiasm regarding the college experience to so many students and parents. By carrying over to College Day the inclusive, optimistic spirit of our weekly sessions, we hope to further emphasize the importance of education in each of our students’ lives and encourage them to do their best in pursuing their individual academic and personal goals.
Taylor Hartstein is a 2L who studied Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He is the Curriculum Chair of CLS’s High School Law Institute and is committed to the program’s mission of positively impacting youths’ lives by teaching public speaking skills and basic legal principles.