Students face long odds at many popular schools

Knowing the chances of admission to various schools can help guide students in the application process.

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

So, what are your chances of being admitted to a particular high school?

By comparing the number of applicants to the number of students accepted, the Notebook was able to compare the District’s high schools on how selective they are.

This information, while not widely known, is potentially vital to applicants. Competition is stiff to get into the District’s special and citywide admissions schools. But each year thousands of students unknowingly apply to schools where their chances of getting in may be lower than 1 percent. Eighth graders get to list just five schools on their application, and need to be strategic in using those options.

Surprisingly, Central High School, despite its high admission standards, has much better odds for applicants than many of the other selective schools.

The selective school that accepted the smallest percentage of applicants, 7 percent, was Parkway Center City, followed closely by School of the Future at 8 percent, and Science Leadership Academy and Bodine at 9 percent.

Masterman’s odds are similarly slim overall – and become virtually nil for anyone who isn’t already a middle-school student there.

The chances of Masterman 8th graders being able to continue into the much smaller high school program are about 50-50, but these students take nearly all available slots.

Principal Marge Neff said that this year, only seven or eight students out of about 1,200 applicants from outside Masterman were accepted for 9th grade. That’s an acceptance rate of less than 1 percent for outsiders.

Besides having high test scores and grades, outside applicants to Masterman must have already taken Algebra 1 and one year of either French or Spanish, Neff said.

"We look at all the applications, but many don’t meet the criteria," Neff said. "The ones that did qualify were wait-listed and a few were accepted."

The Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) also fills much of its 9th grade of 66 students from the ranks of its middle school. The school received more than 600 applications. Coming from the outside, the odds of getting in are much worse than one in 10.

Central is most popular

Central, which accepts the largest freshman class of all the selective schools, by far has the most applicants — well over 4,000. But since its freshman class has more than 600 students, the odds of being accepted are fairly high – nearly one in four – greater than schools like Dobbins and Saul.

Central President Sheldon Pavel said that he accepted 1,016 students for 9th grade. Of that number 613 enrolled.

Central’s requirements are among the most stringent – standardized test scores above the 88th percentile, all As and Bs, the ability to write a coherent essay, few absences and latenesses, and a good disciplinary record.

"If you meet the requirements, you will be accepted," said Pavel. "This school is a microcosm of democracy. My position is that if kids are qualified, I want them to come. I will find a place."

A large portion of Central’s applicants are from outside the public school system. Pavel said that students from 383 schools – including some from abroad – applied, and 176 schools are represented among the new enrollees.

Girls High also has a higher admission rate than many other schools – 20 percent. Of course, because it is single-sex, the applicant pool is cut nearly in half.

A majority of the selective and citywide schools have acceptance rates of 15 percent or less. Communications Tech is the only District school where more than half the applicants get in. Three others have odds of admission better than 30 percent: the Arts Academy at Rush, Robeson High School for Human Services, and Motivation High School.

After Central, the schools in greatest demand are Franklin Learning Center, Swenson, High School of the Future, Science Leadership Academy, CAPA, Mastbaum, Dobbins, Bok, and Parkway Center City. All these attracted more than 2,000 applicants last year. Bodine’s application count came in at just under that number.

Neighborhood schools

Students also apply to attend neighborhood high schools outside their area.

The most popular is Northeast, where more than 1,500 students applied. Unfortunately, Northeast is overcrowded, and so in 2010 none of those applicants were accepted to the high school. Northeast houses an aerospace magnet program which takes students from all over the city in a separate admissions process. Nearly 1,500 students applied to that, and more than 200 were accepted – a rate of 14 percent.

In all, 18 neighborhood high schools accepted no transfers. Lincoln High School turned away all 634 of its applicants, and Edison turned away all 511.

The most popular neighborhood high school that did accept applicants is Washington High in the far Northeast. It had more than 700 out-of-area applicants, but it took nearly 100, for an acceptance rate of 13 percent.