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Selecting 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 online high school directory to develop a list of schools that align with your interests and goals. Seventh and 8th graders should attend the high school fair scheduled for Oct. 17-18 in the Armory at Drexel University.

When should I start working on this?

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

How do I apply? What’s the deadline?

This year, the District’s application process will be conducted online only. Students and their families can access an application on the District’s website starting on Oct. 17. All 8th-grade students, even those who intend to go to their neighborhood high school, are being asked to participate in the selection process. Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Dec. 12.

How will the online application system be different from the old system?

Until now, students filled out their applications on paper and gave them to the school counselor for final submission. Now, students and families will be responsible for filling out and submitting the application online. Counselors will have access to the applications of all the students in their school so they can advise students on their choices. Students should take the initiative to get this help.

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

Special admission schools have more stringent 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 do 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 they put all students that meet the entrance criteria into a computerized lottery that randomly selects the students to be offered admission.

How do I get into a charter school?

Students must apply to the school directly. Charter schools must conduct lotteries if they have more applicants than spaces. They are not permitted to pick and choose their students. However, many have detailed applications. Deadlines for entering into their lotteries vary. This year, charter schools have been urged to use a common application and adhere to the District’s Dec. 12 deadline. Some charter high schools are doing this. The common application and the list of charters using it will be available online at

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.

Should I visit the school?

Yes. The School District is compiling a list of dates when high schools will be hosting open houses. The schedule will be posted on the District’s website. Contact schools of interest to request information on opportunities to visit. Some schools permit students to shadow other students for a day to get a feel for what a school is like.

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.

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.

What if I don’t get accepted to my choices?

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 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 or counselor.

If you receive a decision of Waitlisted for one or more citywide admission schools, your name will be entered in any additional lotteries. Although decisions for citywide admission schools are not made at the school level, it doesn’t hurt to let the principal know of your interest.

Students are guaranteed admission at their neighborhood high school.

This year, the District is aiming to speed up the process so that most students are matched with a school of their choice by April. However, some spots will open up in schools beyond that date as family and student circumstances change, so if you are waitlisted, it is advisable to stay in touch with schools that you remain interested in. Sometimes, additional recommendations and phone calls can help.

If I intend to go to my neighborhood school, should I still fill out the online application?

Yes. District officials hope that the online-only system will increase the number of students who seek out guidance on their options.

Do any neighborhood schools have special programs?

Many neighborhood high schools have advanced academic programs, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. Several also have Career and Technical Education programs such as health occupations, culinary arts, video production, and automotive technology. The profiles in this guide show where such programs are located. Budget cuts have taken their toll in schools, so it is wise to double-check how robust an advertised program is.

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.

Can students who have 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, called the LeGare Advocacy Process. It is required to enroll a certain percentage of special education students and English language learners (ELLs) at these schools. Students who have 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?

Families can get more information about schools, as well as access to computers for use in filling out the online application, at regional Learning Network Offices. They can also access computers at their local library branch and at any of 51 Keyspots in recreation centers and community organizations throughout the city.

Where do I find official information from the District?

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

Applying online

Families without home Internet access can use computers in locations around the city to access their child’s records and complete the high school application. The District’s eight regional Learning Networks have a Parent and Family Resource Center:

South Philadelphia High School
2101 South Broad St. – 215-952-6300
McMichael School (ground floor, rear)
3543 Fairmount Ave. – 215-823-5535

School District headquarters (1st floor)
440 N. Broad Street – 215-400-4180
Rivera Building
2603 N. 5th St. – 215-291-5860

Additional North Philadelphia site
To be announced

Leeds School, ground floor
1100 E. Mt. Pleasant Ave. – 215-248-6647

Grover Washington MS, 2nd floor
201 E. Olney Ave. – 215-456-0433
4101 Chalfont Drive

Computer access is also available in Free Library branches and 51 Keyspots located in recreation and community centers.

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