Applying to high school? Here’s what you should know

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 2016 Philly High School fair scheduled for Oct. 14-15 at the Convention Center, Broad and Race Streets, and talk to representatives of schools that interest you.

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?

This year, the application process will be conducted online only. Students and their families can access an application on the District’s website starting Sept. 29. 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. Nov. 14.

How is the online application system different from the old system?

This is the third year for online-only applications. Before that, students filled out paper applications and gave them to the school counselor for final submission. Now, students and families must fill out the application online and submit it electronically. This means students must take the initiative to seek the counselor’s help and advice in making their choices. Counselors have online access to the applications of all the students in their school.

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

Special admission schools have more competitive entrance criteria. To be accepted to a special admission school, a student must meet the school’s test score, grade, behavior and attendance requirements. Citywide admission schools don’t require test scores, but do set minimum standards regarding grades, attendance, and discipline records. At special admission schools, the principals and their selection teams evaluate each applicant’s academic record against the school’s entrance criteria. Citywide admission schools also evaluate each student’s academic record against the school’s entrance criteria. But they put all students who meet the criteria into a computerized lottery that randomly selects the ones who will be offered admission.

How do I get into a charter school?

Students must apply to each charter 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. Last year, many charter schools began to use a common, written application, which is available at, along with the list of participating schools. Completing the common application can simplify the process if the charters on your list use it. The GreatPhillySchools website also has schedules, deadlines, and applications for all charters. Some charters have their own online applications; others still require a paper document.

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 admission requirements for schools you are interested in.

Should I visit the school?

Yes. The School District is compiling a list of dates for high school open houses. The schedule will be made available on the District’s website. You can also contact schools directly to request the date and time of their open house or other opportunities to visit. Some schools permit prospective students to shadow current students for a day to get a feel for what the 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 an application is Declined, a reason for that decision is provided in the notification 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.

Most students are matched with a school of their choice by April. However, spots open up in schools throughout the summer 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 you receive a decision of Waitlisted for one or more citywide admission schools, you still may be offered admission. After students who got into multiple schools make their choices and seats become available, officials pull names off the waitlist in the order created by the lottery. 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 always guaranteed admission at their neighborhood high school.

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

Yes. District officials want the online-only system to help persuade all students and families to get guidance on their options. This new process has resulted in an increase in the number of students exercising their right to choose a school from 12,000 in 2014 to 15,000 in 2015 to 17,000 in 2016.

Do any neighborhood schools have special programs?

Many neighborhood high schools have advanced academic programs, including AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses. Almost all also have Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. See the section on CTE in this guide and the individual school profiles, which show what programs each school offers. The District’s directory summarizes locations by area of interest. But 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 it is filled to capacity, applications will not be accepted. Northeast High School is an example of a school with an enrollment that exceeds capacity; it usually cannot accept applications from outside.

What about transportation?

If a school is more than 1.5 miles from your home, you are entitled to free student SEPTA TransPasses. That is true for students in District, charter and private schools.

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. 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 plans (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 to use in filling out the online application, at the District’s regional Learning Network offices. Parents will be directed to the District’s website, where they can obtain school profiles. They can also use the computers at their local library branches.

Where do I find official information from the District, including the application?

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