But in New York's South Bronx one principal has already given his students a head start as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.
When the kids change periods at the Bronx Center for Science and Math, principal Edward Tom is waiting in the hall. He's on the sidewalk to greet them every morning. And when school's over he's out there again, often asking students to fix their uniforms.
Tom describes his approach as "tough love."
"I'm not always going to make the decisions that are popular," he said. "But it will be the decision that I feel in my heart would be beneficial to the children and their growth and development."
Tom is a hands-on principal working in the South Bronx - an area trying to escape its reputation for street gangs, shootings and drug dealers.
Bronx Science and Math is a magnet school founded four years ago with Tom as its first principal. Many of his students come from low income families and have been told by other schools they'll never succeed.
Tom bought in a regime of instilling confidence. He insists on punctuality, a dress code, and that homework be done on time.
He also introduced the kids to classes which broadened their outlook on the world, like a Japanese language class.
Education is a new world for tom. Twelve years ago, he worked as a men's clothes buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue. He quit to go into teaching, taking a 50 percent pay cut.
Tom says his friends thought he had "totally lost it."
Recently he got a big payback for his efforts when 84 percent the first ever senior class at Bronx Science and math graduated. The graduation rate for the rest of the Bronx: just 52 percent.
"When I first came he saw a different side of me - like, not that street, neighborhood kind of stuff," said senior Mike Muniz. "If I wasn't here? To tell you the truth, I'd probably be on the streets somewhere right now - probably doing something wrong."
"I believe in their abilities to excel," Tom said. "We have the college acceptances rates and letters to prove it."
Seventy-seven percent of the graduates will attend colleges and universities - some to top schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth. The students have also won $3 million in merit scholarships.
"It's the students that make the school," said senior Kierzyn Lloyd "You don't have to come to school and worry about getting stabbed."
Lloyd sees herself eventually owning her own interior design company. And Mike Muniz - he wants to be a businessman.
So what if Saks called Tom tomorrow and asked him back - at double the salary?
"I'd say you can find someone else to order those Armani suits," he said. "I'm good where I'm at."
The Bronx Center for Science and Math has 108 places for the class of 2013. So far they received nearly 2,000 applications for those spots.