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Superintendent William Hite (center) and Board of Education member Leticia Egea-Hinton (right) have lunch with students at Fels High School on Tuesday.

Choosing a high school: Frequently asked questions (2019)

A school selection FAQ from our high school guide

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 future goals. Seventh and 8th graders can attend the Philly High School Fair on Sept. 20 and 21 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center located at Broad and Race Streets.

When should I get started?

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?

The application process is conducted online. Students and their families can access an application on the District’s website starting Sept. 20. 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 the deadline of 5 p.m. on Nov. 1.

How does the online application system work?

Students and families must fill out the application online and submit it directly. Counselors have online access to the applications of all the students in their school so they can help students with their choices. Students should take the initiative to get this help.

What is the difference between a special admission high school 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?

Every year, each charter school in Philadelphia provides an application for new students and announces a deadline to receive applications for available seats in the next school year. Some schools create their own application. Many others use the Apply Philly Charter standard application, which is developed by Great Philly Schools, an independent entity not affiliated with the District. You can find more information at applyphillycharter.org. You can apply to those charter schools starting on Sept. 20. The application deadline is Jan. 27.

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. You can check individual school websites to find out the date and time of their open house or other opportunities to visit the school. 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.

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.

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. Sometimes, additional recommendations and phone calls can help.

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.

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 and families who seek out and get guidance on their options.

Do any neighborhood schools have special programs?

Many neighborhood high schools have advanced academic programs, including AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses. Many also have Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs such as health occupations, culinary arts, architectural drafting, communications/graphics, video production, 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; it usually cannot accept applications from outside its catchment.

Can students who have IEPs or who are English 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. In fact, it 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?

Families can access more information about schools as well as computers for use in filling out the online application at regional Learning Network offices. Parents will be directed to the District’s website, where they can obtain school profiles. They can also access computers at their local library branches or at any public computer with internet access.

Where do I find official information from the District?

Visit the District’s Office of Student Enrollment and Placement website at philasd.org/studentplacement.