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A school choice timeline

The high school application process, step by step

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

October – November

Schools distribute high school application forms and materials. This year’s District directory will be online only.

The District is not holding a High School Expo this year due to a lack of funds. But organizations under the auspices of GreatPhillySchools are running one, paid for by the Philadelphia School Partnership, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Armory at Drexel University, 33rd and Market Streets. All District, charter, and Archdiocesan schools in Philadelphia have been invited.

Non-public school students can obtain materials at the Expo or from the District Office of Student Enrollment and Placement.

Families research schools.

Eighth-grade counselors and teachers may hold information sessions for parents and students to help them choose schools and fill out the application form. Due to the absence of full-time counselors in many schools, teachers are being encouraged to use class time to help students fill out applications. Parents should ask their child’s principal to explain how they are helping students fill out applications.

October – March

Some high schools allow prospective applicants to visit and shadow students. Families should contact schools directly. The District is encouraging high schools to hold open houses for prospective students. A schedule will be available in early October.

Charter schools have their own application forms and deadlines for entering their admissions lotteries. This year, there is a change. Students applying to charter schools should seek out a new common application for charters that is being coordinated by the Great Schools Compact and Philadelphia School Partnership. Not all charter schools are participating in this initiative; check with each school.

By Dec. 6

Students select up to 5 schools and return District application form, signed by parent or guardian, to their school counselor, principal, or designated teacher. Applications may be submitted starting Oct. 7.

Dec. 6 is also the application deadline for charter schools that agree to use the new common application.

Application information must be entered into a networked computer system. Usually, this is done by the counselor, but this year it may be done by someone else in schools without full-time counselors. Families should stay in touch with their child’s principal and teachers to make sure application information is received and properly entered.

Non-public school students submit applications to the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement, Suite 111, 440 N. Broad St.

December – January

High schools with admissions criteria begin to evaluate applications, conduct interviews and auditions. Some auditions and interviews are by invitation only, and these schools only send out notifications, not rejections. Other schools interview all applicants but may send letters with date and time to the child’s school, not the student. (If a student has a conflict, she or he must reschedule.) Some schools expect students to take the initiative in scheduling interviews.

Students should regularly consult counselors or teachers to keep on top of their applications.

January – March

Special admission schools make acceptance, rejection, and wait-list decisions.

Citywide schools choose the students who qualify to enter into the admissions lottery.

The District Office of Student Enrollment and Placement runs three separate lotteries (for general education, special education, ELL) to determine which students are accepted to citywide schools and to neighborhood schools with outside applicants.

Charter schools begin holding their lotteries for admission.


District sends notification letters to students who have been accepted to one or more District schools.

March – April

Students with multiple District acceptances are expected to choose within two weeks and submit a form with their choice to the counselor, principal, or designated teacher. They are urged to make timely decisions so the second round of placements can begin. Non-public school students send their choice directly to the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement.


After “multiple acceptance” students pick their schools, District sends final letters to all students that indicate where they’ve been accepted, not accepted, or wait-listed.

April – September

Additional lotteries are conducted to fill remaining slots.

Through phone calls and recommendation letters, parents, counselors, and principals can advocate on behalf of students originally wait-listed or disapproved.

Additional letters are sent to remaining applicants, informing them of subsequent decisions. In this round, students are admitted to only one school.