How to Apply to a Public District High School

First-Time Registration

A student has to register to attend a Philadelphia district school if he or she is a new resident of the city or is transferring from a private 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. Visit the district’s website for the list of documentation needed to register a new student.

The process is different if you are interested in enrolling at a public school other than your designated school. If that is the case, you should start the process a full year earlier.

Citywide and Special-Admission Schools

If you are not satisfied with your neighborhood school option, which can be located using the school finder feature on our website, you will need to participate in the Philadelphia school selection process. The school selection process is open from late September to early November through the School District of Philadelphia’s student and family portal. This is a system that allows students to apply to up to five district schools, not including your current neighborhood school, which does not require an application. In addition to neighborhood schools, there are other district options, called citywide-admission schools and special-admission schools. These schools do not have an assigned neighborhood zone, which makes them open to any student living in Philadelphia. Citywide-admission schools are somewhat selective schools that accept students who applied and met admissions requirements, generally based on attendance, grades, and behavior, through lottery. Special-admission high schools, sometimes called magnet schools, have more selective 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 receive thousands of applications every year, so it is important to do your research on each school. To improve your odds of getting accepted to a school outside of your neighborhood, it is best to make your list of five schools a combination of select-admission, citywide-admission, and neighborhood schools.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I find out the admissions requirements for a particular school?

School profiles in our GreatPhillySchools guides and in the district’s High School Directory, available at philasd.org, include the admissions requirements for each school. You can also talk with your student’s guidance counselor for additional explanations.

If a student doesn’t meet the exact criteria of a selective school, should he or she apply anyway?

Yes, but only if the student’s record comes close to meeting all the requirements. Schools often admit students who do not meet every criterion. Principals at selective schools may seek recommendations from the student’s current counselor and principal. Interviews can also make a big difference.

Certain schools have lots of applicants. How can a student improve his or her chances?

Some of the other most selective schools may admit only one out of every 10 applicants, but other city schools that are not as well-known may have similar programs. Check them out. Applying to charter schools is another way of improving the odds, as students are not limited in how many they can apply to.

If a student is placed on a waitlist, what should he or she do?

If a student is placed on the waitlist at a special-admission school or a charter school, there is still a chance of admission. Keep in touch with the student’s counselor and the desired school — these schools manage their own lists.

If the student is on the waitlist for one or more citywide-admission schools, his or her name will be entered into a second or even a third citywide lottery to fill the spaces in those schools once students accepted in the first round have made their choices and some have opted out. While decisions for citywide-admission schools are not made at the school level, it doesn’t hurt to let the principal know of a student’s interest.

A student who is not offered a place during the additional lottery rounds will attend his or her neighborhood school. They can apply again for the following school year during the school selection process.

Are there high schools that will help prepare students for a trade or career?

Yes, there are 97 state-approved career and technical education programs in Philadelphia, some of which lead to a certificate or credential along with a diploma that can help graduates in the job market. In state-approved programs, students take academic and technical courses in their chosen field for three years (beginning in 10th grade). The programs are on the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board’s High Priority Occupations list, which indicates that the program is meeting the workforce development needs of the region.

Do any neighborhood high schools have special programs?

Many neighborhood schools house special programs in such areas as health occupations, culinary arts, criminal justice, communications and automotive technology. Learn more about career and technical schools (CTE) here:

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

Yes. Keep in mind that students outside the feeder are not guaranteed admission.

Should a student with an IEP 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 that resulted in the LeGare Consent Decree requires the district to maintain a minimum percentage of students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in selective schools. There are separate lotteries for special education students (and English language learners) at the schools that have lotteries.

What are the rules for English language learners?

All schools are required to serve English language learners, and the district encourages ELL students to apply to selective schools. A court order called the YS Stipulation 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. But some schools provide better ELL education than others. If you are an ELL student, insist that a school show you or your family its state test results in reading and writing for ELL students only. If a majority of ELL students are not proficient in reading or writing by 11th grade, that is an indication of a weak ELL program.

Besides his or her counselor, where else can a student get help with high school placement? Applications, high school directories and explanations of the policies and procedures for the selection process are available at eight Parent and Family Resource Centers around the city; see philasd.org to find the nearest center.

 

More Information

Looking for more information on finding a great school? See all articles here.