Getting into high school: Commonly asked questions

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

How do I get started?

Talk to the adults in your life, including teachers, counselors, and parents or guardians. Get a copy of the District’s middle school guide, which gives advice about making the most of the middle years and sorting out your interests. Then, read this guide and the District’s high school directory, and meet with your counselor. Seventh and 8th graders should attend the High School Expo, scheduled this year in October.

When should I start thinking about high school choices?

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

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

Special admission schools set a high bar, with test score cutoffs and specific requirements regarding grades and attendance. Citywide admission schools give less weight to test scores, but still set minimum standards regarding grades, attendance, and discipline records. The principals at special admission schools decide who gets in, while citywide admission schools put all qualified students into a lottery.

What if I want to go to a charter school?

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 deadlines in order to be entered into the lotteries. If you are interested in a charter school, you should contact that school directly as early as you can.

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

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

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 all the requirements. They often admit students who do not meet every criterion. Principals at selective schools may seek recommendations from counselors and principals from the schools that applicants attend. Interviews can also make a big difference.

Certain schools have lots of applicants – how can I improve my chances?

There are schools in the city that are not as well known but may have similar programs. Check them out (more on the odds of getting admitted).

Should I visit the school as part of the admission process?

Yes, to get the “feel” of a school. Some schools allow applicants to shadow students for all or part of a day. Some require interviews or auditions. Check with your counselor.

If I get rejected from all my choices, what should I do?

If you get on the waiting list of a special admission school, there is a chance that you will be admitted. You should keep in touch with your counselor and with the school you want to attend. For special admission, individual schools manage their own waiting lists.

If you are on the waiting list for one or more citywide admission schools, your name will be entered in a second or even a third lottery to fill the spaces in those schools once students accepted in the first round have made their choices and some have opted out. You should keep informed about these lotteries. 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.

What is “directed admit?”

Once the selection overall process is completed, each school with an 8th grade is asked to submit to the region, or academic division, the names of several students who the school feels would benefit from attending Central or Girls High. Each region then submits two or three names each for Central and Girls to the Office of Student Placement, which makes the final decision. This affects only a very small number of students and only applies to these two schools.

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

Many neighborhood high schools house special programs in such areas as health occupations, culinary arts, criminal justice, communications, graphics, and automotive technology. The District’s high school directory includes a summary by area of interest of where these programs are located.

How do I find out whether a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program leads to state certification?

There are 88 state-approved Career and Technical Education programs in Philadelphia. State-approved programs are those in which students are enrolled in a three-year sequential academic and technical program in their chosen field. The programs are on the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board’s High Priority Occupation (HPO) list, which indicates that the program is meeting the workforce development needs of the region. To see which schools offer these programs, check the school profiles listed in this guide. Those programs that are marked with a dagger are state-approved.

Can I apply to a neighborhood high school in another area?

Yes. Keep in mind that students outside the feeder area are selected by lottery and only after all neighborhood students are accommodated.

Should students with IEPs 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. A court decision called LeGare requires the District to maintain a minimum percentage of students with individualized education programs (IEPs) in selective schools. There are separate lotteries for special ed students (and English language learners) at the schools that have lotteries.

What are the rules for English language learners?

English language learners are encouraged to apply to selective schools. A court decision called Y.S. requires the District to maintain a minimum percentage of English language learners in selective schools and bars schools from denying qualified ELLs admission by claiming a lack of services.

Can I get help with high school placement at the Parent and Family Resource Centers?

Applications, high school directories, and explanations of the policies and procedures for the voluntary selection process are available there. Parents will also be given access to the District’s website where they can obtain school profiles.

Where can I find official information from the District?

At the website of the School District’s Office of Student Placement. The District also publishes its own high school directory.

A version of this article is also available en español.