Choosing 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 2017 Philly High School Fair scheduled for Sept. 15-16 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, at Broad and Race Streets, Philadelphia.

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 will be conducted online only. Starting Sept. 29, students and their families can access an application on the District’s website. All students entering kindergarten to 12th grade may submit an application for a school in the Philadelphia District that is not their neighborhood school. Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. Nov. 13.

How does the online application system work?

Students and families must fill out the application online and submit it through the online portal. Counselors have online access to the applications of all the students in their school so they can help students choose schools for which they meet the criteria and to which they are suited. Some schools in the Innovation Network (The LINC, The U School and Building 21) have no criteria. Students should also take the initiative to find additional help when needed. This is the fifth year for the online application. Paper applications are no longer accepted.

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

Entrance criteria for special admission schools are more competitive. 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 for 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 applicant’s academic record against the school’s entrance criteria, but they put all students who meet the entrance 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. Some, but not all, charter schools have agreed to use the common application. Families should check this on Using this application can simplify the process if the charters on your list participate.

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 compiling a list of dates for high school open houses. The completed schedule will be made available on the District’s website. You can also contact schools of interest to request the date and time of their open house or other opportunities to visit. Some schools allow prospective students to shadow current 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 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 applicants should be 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, your name will be entered in a second- or even a third-round 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.

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?

It is not necessary, but it is encouraged. District officials hope that the online-only system will increase the number of students and families who find guidance on their options. This 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 to more than 20,000 in 2017.

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 in subject areas such as health occupations, culinary arts, architectural drafting, communications/graphics, video production, and automotive technology. The profiles in this guide show what programs each school offers. The District’s directory summarizes them by area of interest. 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 whose enrollment exceeds capacity; it usually cannot accept applications from outside.

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. It is required to enroll a certain percentage of special education students and English learners (ELs) 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 access more information about schools, as well as computers to use for filling out online applications, at regional Learning Network offices (see box for locations). 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

Hotlines offered in 8 languages

The District maintains eight language hotlines, which take questions on any subject, including high school admissions. Students and parents can leave a message in their language with contact information, and someone who speaks their language will return the call.

Albanian: 215-400-8480
Arabic: 215-400-8481
Chinese: 215-400-8482
French: 215-400-8483
Khmer: 215-400-8484
Russian: 215-400-8485
Spanish: 215-400-8489 (live support)
Vietnamese: 215-400-8486