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FAQ on how to apply to high school

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Where do I start?

Talk to the adults in your life, including teachers, counselors, and parents or guardians. Get a copy of the District’s middle school guide, which gives advice about making the most of the middle years and sorting out your interests. Then consult the District’s high school directory, read this guide, and meet with your counselor. Also, attend the High School Expo that is scheduled in October for 7th and 8th graders.

When should I start thinking about high school choices?

No later than the beginning of 7th grade. High schools look at attendance, grades, and test scores from that year in determining who is qualified to attend.

What is the difference between a special admission and a citywide admission school?

Special admission schools generally have test score cutoffs and very specific requirements regarding grades and attendance. Citywide admission schools give less weight to test scores, but still set standards regarding grades, attendance, and discipline records.

What high schools use a lottery to decide who will get in?

Citywide admission schools put the names of all students who meet the basic qualifications into a pool and then offer admission via lottery. Charter schools also conduct lotteries.

So I might not get into the school I want even if I qualify?


Is the same true of special admission schools?

Special admission schools do not use a lottery, but generally set a higher bar and admit students who meet those standards.

What if I want to go to a charter school?

Many charters have detailed applications and deadlines prior to their lotteries. If you are interested in a charter school, contact that school directly as early as you can.

How can I find out the admissions requirements of a school?

Your counselor should be familiar with the admission requirements for each school. This guide and District’s directory of high schools also include this information.

Some schools are hard to get into. Should I write them off if I don’t meet the exact requirements?

No. They often admit students who do not meet every criterion. Principals at selective schools may seek recommendations from counselors and principals from the schools that applicants attend. Interviews can also make a big difference.

Certain schools have lots of applicants – how can I improve my chances?

There are schools in the city that are not as well known but may have similar programs. Check them out.

Should I visit the school as part of the admission process?

A visit is the best to get the “feel” of a school. Some schools allow applicants to shadow students for all or part of a day. Some require interviews or auditions. Check with your counselor.

I want to go to my neighborhood high school. Do any have special programs?

Many neighborhood high schools house special programs in such areas as health occupations, culinary arts, criminal justice, communications, graphics, and automotive technology. The District’s high school directory includes a summary by area of interest and where these programs are located.

Can I apply to a neighborhood high school in another area?

Yes. Keep in mind that students outside the feeder area are selected by lottery and only after all neighborhood students are accommodated.

Should students with IEPs apply to selective high schools?

All students are encouraged to apply to any high school that interests them and for which they meet the basic qualifications. A court decision called LeGare requires the District to maintain a minimum percentage of students with individualized education programs (IEPs) in selective schools. There are separate lotteries for special ed students and English language learners at the schools that have lotteries.

What about English language learners?

English language learners are also encouraged to apply to selective schools. A court decision called Y.S. requires the District to maintain a minimum percentage of English language learners in selective schools and bars schools from denying qualified ELLs admission by claiming a lack of services.

Where can I get more information?

At the website of the School District’s Office of Student Placement.

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