How to apply to high school in Philadelphia

    When my son went through the application for high school admission last year, we both found it daunting.

    We had to figure out what each school was looking for. All of the schools needed transcripts, so that was easy. But some wanted an essay, while others wanted a visit. Some had interviews, while others had a shadow day, and still others simply wanted the forms. The essays differed in different places, as did the interview processes. My son had to rank the schools he applied to in order of preference. We found the process pretty complicated.

    But this year will likely pose even more challenges for students and their families. With counselors suffering a major blow in the budget cuts, school district eighth graders have less support on both ends of the process than they had last year. The process is also shifting towards a single application, but charters aren’t on board yet, and this is a transitional year between the two systems.

    The district isn’t printing the high school directory this year, and it has cancelled the High School Expo. These seem like pretty big wrenches in the process, but there are ways to mitigate some of the challenges.

    Process primer: There are several different types of public high schools in the city: neighborhood schools, citywide admission, special admission, and charter schools. By default, an eighth grader would go to his or her neighborhood school. Even if attending their neighborhood school, all eighth graders are required to fill out the high school selection form

    Beyond the neighborhood school, an eighth grader may also choose to apply to a special admission high school (schools like Masterman and Central High), a charter school (such as Mastery or KIPP), or a citywide admission school (think Dobbins or Constitution).

    Special admissions applicants are highly screened and selected for admission, while citywide and charter applicants are put into a lottery for admission after meeting minimal or competitive admission requirements.

    How does a student apply to a charter school?

    Each charter schools has its own application, deadlines, and admissions process. To apply to a charter school other than the Renaissance/Promise Academy Charter Schools, visit the charter school’s website and closely follow the application steps.

    How does a student apply to a neighborhood, special admission or citywide school?

    Comb through the online directory: This is a listing of all public high schools in the city. Read through the descriptions, click through to the websites, and start jotting down which schools feel like a fit for your child.

    Attend the high school fair: Though attendance is not mandatory, on Nov.16, organizations across the city will host the Philly High School Fair at Drexel University. There will be representatives from high schools to hand out materials and answer questions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition the fair, high schools are encouraged to host open houses. If an open house is offered by a school your child hoping to attend, go!

    Narrow down your selection: Figure out which schools are a fit, which schools are genuine possibilities for your child, and which schools you’d like to apply to. Talk with counselors (if available), teachers, friends, parents and students who attend those schools. Check out school online school information and reviews.

    Make a Checklist: This step was so important for us last year. Once you have your schools narrowed down, make a checklist of what’s required and when for each school. Some schools even have their own printable checklist for parents.

    Fill out the central application: No matter what type of school a student applies to, all eighth graders applying to public high schools must fill out the central application stating their preferences for high school. Students may apply to and rank their preference for up to five schools. If already attending school in the district, return the application to your child’s current school.

    Fulfill additional admission requirements: This one is a BIG, important step. The central application only satisfies the district office requirement. The special admission and citywide schools have additional requirements and steps a student must complete in order to apply. Your student might need to write an essay, go in for an interview, have an audition, take additional tests, or spend time visiting. Since those things take time and many require appointments, it’s essential to plan ahead.

    Send transcripts: Special admission and citywide schools typically have grades and testing requirements. As a result, they request that an official transcript be sent to each of them before the application is considered complete. Make sure your child’s current school has time to send transcripts to each of the schools requesting one.

    Meet the deadline: Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. is the deadline by which all aspects of the application process must be completed for citywide and special admissions schools.

    The process requires organizational skills and planning, but creates a wide range of choices for a very diverse student body. Good luck!

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