In Philadelphia, children must enroll in school by age 6. For fall enrollment, a child must be age 5 by September 1 to begin kindergarten at a public school. New students should register at their designated neighborhood school during the two weeks prior to the start of school, usually during the last week of August and the first week of September. If you are interested in enrolling at a neighborhood school other than your designated school, you should start that process a full year before your student will begin kindergarten.
You have to register to attend a Philadelphia public school if your student is:
Visit the district's website for the list of documentation needed to register a new student.
Students can apply to attend any neighborhood school, but space for those not living in the assigned zone is often limited, and selection is made by lottery. Parents and guardians should be aware that few students are admitted to high-performing neighborhood schools through the transfer process, so it is best to have multiple options. According to the district, preference is given to students with a sibling currently attending the school.
Transferring Between Neighborhood Schools
You can apply to transfer a child out of your designated neighborhood school into another public school through the school district's Voluntary Transfer Program. You should submit an application in the fall almost a full year before you want to enroll your student in a new school. The application deadline for the 2014-15 school year will likely be in the fall of 2013. Students in grades K through 7 can request to move to another neighborhood school, a citywide school or a special-admissions middle school.
Citywide- and Special-Admission Schools
Some district public elementary and middle schools do not have an assigned neighborhood zone; they are open to any student living in Philadelphia. This is also the case with many public charter schools. Students are selected by lottery to attend such schools.
Special-admission middle schools, sometimes called magnet schools, have entrance requirements. Students are selected based on attendance, behavior, grades and standardized test scores. Some schools require an interview or audition (for arts-focused schools). Keep in mind that these schools are competitive and some receive thousands of applications every year, so it is important to do your research on each school and to have backup choices.
The Application Process
To transfer between neighborhood schools or to apply to a citywide- or special-admission school, complete the district's Elementary/Middle School Admissions Application, available on the district's website at philasd.org. First, you should select the school(s) you want your student to attend. You can list up to five schools in preference order on the application. Then submit the application to your student's current school counselor or visit the district's Office of Student Enrollment and Placement. Also, make sure to have a copy of your student's most recent transcript, which you can get from your current school.
New students or any student not currently enrolled at a district school should send the completed Elementary/Middle School Admissions Application to:
440 North Broad Street, Suite 111
Philadelphia, PA 19130
For more information, call the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement at 215-400-4290.
How to Apply to a Public Charter School
There are two basic types of charter schools in Philadelphia. Traditional charter schools can enroll students from any part of the city, but they must use a blind lottery to fill open spots. Renaissance charter schools must enroll all students living in a designated neighborhood.
Traditional Charter Schools
After you decide which charter schools you want to apply to, the next step is to fill out a short application. Charter schools must give all students an equal chance at admission. They are not allowed to deny application or admission to students because of their grades, race, income or special needs. They are not allowed to make applicants take tests or go through interviews before admitting them.
Applications can be obtained either in person at each charter school or on most charter schools' websites. Once you fill out an application, your child will be entered into a lottery. Students selected in the lottery are offered enrollment. Students not selected are placed on a wait list.
The exact enrollment process varies from one charter school to another. In general, most charter schools require applications to be submitted by early February and conduct their lotteries by early March. For specific deadlines and admissions information, it is important that you contact each charter school directly.
Renaissance Schools are formerly low-performing district public schools that were selected as "turnaround" schools by the School District of Philadelphia and converted into charters. Renaissance Schools operate like any other charter school, with increased freedom. However, like traditional public schools, Renaissance Schools are required to enroll all students living within designated neighborhood boundaries. This is unlike lottery charter schools, which do not give preference to families living nearby. The enrollment process for Renaissance Schools is the same as that for district schools. As of the 2012-13 school year there were 17 Renaissance Schools in Philadelphia; you can see a complete list at philasd.org/renschools.
How to Apply to a Catholic School
Students must apply to attend a Catholic school. The details of the admissions process vary. In general, the process for elementary schools begins with an interview and may include an entrance test. Registration periods usually begin in January during Catholic Schools Week, but families are welcome to arrange school visits at any time of year. Depending on enrollment, a school may accept late applications until the start of a new school year.
Families should contact the Catholic school their children are interested in attending for information on that school's specific application deadlines and requirements.
Learn more about Catholic schools here.
How to Apply to an Private Independent School
The admissions process is different at each independent school. Many schools require that families attend an open house before applying. Applications often require a recommendation from a teacher and a copy of your child's grades from his or her current school.
The application timeline varies from school to school but typically looks like this:
Admissions decisions are usually mailed by early February. If your child is accepted, most schools will offer the opportunity for your student to visit again before deciding whether to attend.
Learn more about private independent schools and scholarships here.