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Choosing a high school: Frequently asked questions

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

I am excited about going to high school. How do I get started?

Talk to the adults in your life, including teachers, counselors, and parents or guardians. Read this guide and the District’s high school directory, which this year is available only online. Students can use these directories to develop a list of schools that align with their interests and future goals. Seventh and 8th graders should attend the high school fair scheduled for Nov. 16 in the Armory at Drexel University.

Students can obtain an application on the District’s website or at their current school. This year, the District is asking all 8th-grade students, even those who intend to go to their neighborhood high school, to participate in the high school selection process. Applications will be accepted from Oct. 7 until the deadline of 5 p.m. on Dec. 6.

When should I get started?

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

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

Special admission schools have more competitive entrance criteria. Students accepted to special admission schools must meet the school’s test score, grade, and attendance requirements. Citywide admission schools give less weight to test scores, but still set minimum standards regarding grades, attendance, and discipline records.

The principals and their selection teams at special admission schools make the admission decision based on an evaluation of each student’s academic record against the school’s entrance criteria. Citywide admission schools also conduct an evaluation of each student’s academic record against the school’s entrance criteria but put all students that meet the entrance criteria into a computerized lottery that randomly selects the students who will be offered admission.

How do I get into a charter school?

It is still necessary to apply to the school directly. Charter schools are required to conduct lotteries if they have more applicants than spaces. They are not permitted to pick and choose their students. However, many have detailed applications and the deadlines for being entered into their lotteries vary. This year, the Great Schools Compact is urging charter schools to use a common application and adhere to the same Dec. 6 deadline as the District, but it is unclear how many charter schools will adopt that system this year.

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

This guide and the District’s online directory include the admissions requirements for each high school. Your counselor or teachers can also help explain the admission requirements for each school.

Should I visit the school?

Yes. The School District is currently compiling a list of dates when high schools will be hosting open house events. The schedule will be made available on the District’s website once it is completed. Please contact schools of interest to request the date and time of their open house or other opportunities to visit the school.

If I don’t meet the exact criteria of a selective school, should I apply anyway?

Yes, but only if your record comes close to meeting the requirements. In close cases, principals at selective schools may seek recommendations from adults at the applicant’s school who know the student. Interviews can also make a big difference.

If I am not accepted for admission to any of my choices, what do I do?

Keep in mind that you will increase your chances of admission if you apply to schools that align with your academic record and career interests.

Admissions decisions are either ACCEPTED, DECLINED, or WAITLISTED. If the decision is DECLINED, a reason for the decline is provided in the decision letter.

For special admission schools, if you receive a decision of WAITLISTED, you met the criteria of the school but due to space constraints, a seat is not available. In this instance, there is a chance that you will be admitted, so stay in contact with the school’s principal and/or counselor.

If you receive a decision of WAITLISTED for one or more citywide admission schools, your name will be entered in a second or even a third round lottery. While decisions for citywide admission schools are not made at the school level, it doesn’t hurt to let the principal know of your interest.

In most cases, you are guaranteed admission at your neighborhood high school.

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

Many neighborhood high schools have advanced academic programs, including AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses. Several also have Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs such as health occupations, culinary arts, criminal justice, communications, graphics, and automotive technology. The profiles in this guide show where such programs are located. The District’s directory summarizes them by area of interest.

Can I apply to a neighborhood school in another area?

Yes, but if the neighborhood school is filled to capacity, applications will not be accepted. Northeast High School is an example of a school with a student enrollment that exceeds capacity and cannot accept applications from outside.

Can students with IEPs or who are English language learners 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. In response to lawsuits, the District facilitates an advocacy process for 8th-grade students applying to selective high schools and is required to enroll a certain percentage of special education students and English language learners (ELLs) at these schools. Students with individualized education programs (IEPs) or who are ELLs can learn more from their counselor or principal, and from the Office of Specialized Services at 215-400-4170.

Where else can I get help with high school placement?

Applications and explanations of the high school selection process and procedures are available at the Parent and Family Resource Centers. Parents will be directed to the District’s website, where they can obtain school profiles.

Where do I find official information from the District?

Visit the District’s Office of Student Enrollment and Placement website.