Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

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Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
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Logo of IMSA

Motto A Pioneering Educational Community
Established 1985
School type Publicly funded magnet
President Stephanie Pace Marshall
Location Aurora, Ill., USA
Campus Suburban
Enrollment 640
Faculty 55
Founder Leon Lederman
Mascot Titan

The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, or IMSA, is a three-year, residential, public high school of approximately six hundred thirty students (the school has only sophomores, juniors, and seniors). IMSA is located in Aurora, Illinois, about 45 miles due west of Chicago.



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IMSA, which is modeled on the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, has a primary focus on mathematics, science, and technology, though virtually all other academic subjects are studied. The credit system bears out this emphasis on mathematics and science.

IMSA is a boarding school which accepts students from across the state. It is also a public school, and students are not charged tuition, though a facilities fee ranging from the low hundreds to two thousand dollars is charged on a sliding scale. The bulk of the schools money is provided by the Illinois General Assembly after a budget recommendation is made to the governor by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. (By Illinois law, the governor submits an official budget to the legislature, in which IMSA's funding is included.) The total amount spent per student for tuition and room & board is estimated to be around $26,000, although different reports suggest amounts as low as $15,000. IMSA currently does not accept students from other states or from abroad, but is studying an alteration to this policy. If accepted, these students would pay full tuition and room & board. Matriculating students are currently required to prove their residency. IMSA is a member of the NCSSSMST, and its founding and current president, Dr. Stephanie Pace Marshall, was also the founding president of the NCSSSMST.


Prospective students, who are usually freshmen in high school but in exceptional cases can be students in eighth grade, must fill out an extensive application to gain admission to IMSA.

The applications consists of an official transcript from 7th, 8th, and 9th grades (or 7th and 8th, if the applicant is straight from 8th grade), scores on the SAT I, several long and short essays totaling roughly four to five pages, three teacher recommendations in Science, Mathematics, and English, and a list of awards and extra-curricular activities. Due to these requirements, IMSA has a strong academic reputation. Since it draws the best students from across the state, it is sometimes considered a magnet school. Though IMSA does not disclose the numbers, there are generally over 1,000 applicants for 240 places. The average score on the SAT for incoming sophomores (the test is taken while the students are freshmen) is between 1200 and 1250. This compares to an exiting average score of around 1400.

In order to draw greater numbers of applications and "transform teaching and learning," IMSA has an extensive outreach network run by The Center@IMSA. Some students who are invited to attend IMSA are admitted on the condition that they successfully complete a three-week, intensive preparation course, EXCEL, over the summer. IMSA has a fairly low graduation percentage. Incoming sophomore classes are roughly 240, but graduating classes are only about 205. The reasons for this range from the difficulty of the IMSA curriculum, to home-sickness, to disciplinary issues.


Students at IMSA take a very rigorous college preparatory curriculum. All classes are taught at the honors level, though IMSA philosophically spurns APs, and each student must fulfill a set of specific credits in order to graduate. This set of credits is broken down by academic subject. Each semester-long class counts for 0.5 credits, unless it meets with greater-than-normal frequency.

Core requirements

These are the requirements by subject, those these are only the minimums required for graduation. Most people surpass the requirements in foreign language, and many do so in science and fine arts as well.

Class Credits Description
Mathematics 3.0 credits one class per semester
Science 4.0 credits one class per semester (the sophomore introductory curriculum meets for 95 minutes every day, and therefore counts as 2.0)
Mathematics / Science 1.0 credits two additional semesters of mathematics and/or science
History / Social science 2.5 credits one class per semester (only one semester is required senior year)
English 3.0 credits one class per semester
World language (Foreign language) 2.0 credits two years, and one year has to be at level two or higher
Wellness (Health and Physical education) 1.0 credits one semester during the sophomore year, and another in the other two years
Fine arts 0.5 credits one semester

Class schedule

IMSA students only attend class for four days per week. Wednesday is "I-Day" and is reserved for research in the Mentorship and Inquiry programs (Student Inquiry and Research). There are more details on this program below.

Monday is "A Day" Tuesday is "B Day" Wednesday is "I Day" Thursday is "C Day" Friday is "D Day"

  • Classes are held on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The class-day at IMSA is divided into 20 modules, or mods. The mods are 20 minutes each and run between 7:30 and 4:15. There are five minute passing-periods between mods; therefore a "2 mod" class is 45 minutes, a "3 mod" class is 70 minutes, a "4 mod" class is 95 minutes, and a "5 mod" class is 120 minutes. There are no classes that are shorter than 2 mods or longer than 5.

It is very important to note that no students have class for all 20 mods. Students have many breaks during the day as classes do not run one-after-another. Between mods 10 and 11 (at 11:35), there is a 35 minute "Midday Break" that lasts until 12:10. No students have class during this time. Because at any given time there are some students in class and some who are not, there is no bell system at IMSA. (Because of the schedule, some students are still in class when others are passing from one to another, going from a break to a class, or going from a class to a break.) Students are expected to show up to class on their own by keeping track of the time. Also, because there are always some students who are not in class, teachers are free to cancel class due to illness or any time that they feel it is appropriate.

Frequency of classes

Classes meet with varying frequency and for varying lengths. This is somewhat correlated to grade-level and subject, but not entirely. These are some basic guides for how the courses meet.

Almost every class varies the amount of time it meets by day. Monday and Thursday (A and C) are idential, as are Tuesday and Friday (B and D). Students may start and end classes and different classes on different days. However, this variation is between the AC Schedule and the BD schedule. Students really have two different schedules to follow.

See under "class schedule" for a guide to the length of classes in regular time (conversion from mods to minutes).

Class schedules
Configuration A Day (Monday) B Day (Tuesday) C Day (Thursday) D Day (Friday) Frequency
2-3 class 2 mods 3 mods 2 mods 3 mods four times per week
3-2 class 3 mods 2 mods 3 mods 2 mods four times per week
3-0 class 3 mods 0 mods 3 mods 0 mods two times per week
0-3 class 0 mods 3 mods 0 mods 3 mods two times per week
4-0 class 4 mods 0 mods 4 mods 0 mods two times per week
0-4 class 0 mods 4 mods 0 mods 4 mods two times per week
2-2 class 2 mods 2 mods 2 mods 2 mods four times per week
4-4 class 4 mods 4 mods 4 mods 4 mods four times per week
5-0 class 5 mods 0 mods 5 mods 0 mods two times per week
0-5 class 0 mods 5 mods 0 mods 5 mods two times per week

Below are how classes generally meet during each of the years.

  • Sophomore year
    • Math: 2-3 or 3-2 class for two semesters.
    • Science: 4-4 class for two semesters.
    • Foreign language: 2-3 or 3-2 class for two semesters.
    • English: 3-0 or 0-3 class for two semesters.
    • History: 2-3 or 3-2 class for two semesters.
    • Wellness: 2-3 or 3-2 class for one semester.
  • Junior year (specific requirements)
    • English: 3-0 or 0-3 class for two semesters.
    • History: 3-0 or 0-3 class for two semesters.
  • Senior year (specific requirements)
    • English: 3-0 or 0-3 class for two semesters.
    • History: 3-0 or 0-3 class for one semester.
  • Junior / Senior Year (to be completed in either of the years)
    • Math: 2-3 or 3-2 class for four semesters, though a very small number of junior/senior math classes are 3-0 or 0-3.
    • Science - Variable length. Vast majority are 4-0 or 0-4, some are 5-0 or 0-5, some are 2-3 or 3-2. Four semesters required.
    • Foreign language: 2-3 or 3-2 class for two semesters.
    • Wellness: 3-0 or 0-3 class for one semester.
    • Fine arts: 2-2, 4-0, or 0-4 class for one semester. This requirement can be filled at any time, including sophomore year.

There is also a two semester additional requirement that must be filled by math and/or science electives. The lengths of the courses that are used to fill these are courses are the same as those in the math or science offering for junior/senior year. It is up to each student to decide which classes to fill this requirement with.

Student life

Awards and college admissions

IMSA consistently ranks at the top of the nation in standardized test scores (of roughly 200 students in the senior class, about 50 are National Merit Semifinalists), as well as in the prestigious Siemens-Westinghouse and Intel Science competitions. The class of 2005 produced six semifinalists each for Siemens and Intel. There was also one finalist for the Siemens competition, and three finalists in the Intel competition. In addition, two of the finalists in the Intel placed in the top ten; one student stood second overall, while another won sixth place.

Because of the relative youth of the institution when compared to schools such as the Phillips Exeter Academy or Stuyvesant, IMSA does not have a long standing connection with any Ivy League universities. Nevertheless, IMSA students annually gain admission to the nation's best universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. IMSA students have tremendous success in gaining admission to MIT in particular: out of 197 students in the class of 2004, 18 were admitted to MIT.


Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, director emeritus of nearby Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, was among those to first propose the school in 1982 - 1983, and together with Governor Jim Thompson led the effort for its creation. The school was established by the Illinois General Assembly in 1985, and first opened to students in 1986. The Academy is housed in a building originally constructed as the north campus of West Aurora High School, which has been expanded for on-campus student housing. Lederman gave its first commencement address in 1989.

The current and only president of the school is former Batavia Superintendent Stephanie Pace Marshall, who serves on the board of several non-profit and for-profit institutions, such as Tellabs Inc. The current principal, the day-to-day operator of the school, is Eric McLaren, who attended high school in what is today's IMSA main academic building. Although the school received a budget cut in FY 2002, its budget has increased recently, largely due to the support of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R, Oswego).

See also

External links


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