How to Enroll or Apply: High Schools

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How to Enroll or Apply: High Schools

First-Time Registration

You have to register to attend a Philadelphia public school if your student is a new resident of the city or transferring from a private, Catholic or other 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 the process a full year earlier.

Visit the district's website for the list of documentation needed to register a new student.

Transferring Between Neighborhood Schools

High school students in Philadelphia transfer for two basic reasons: They are having problems at their current school, or they hope for better educational opportunities elsewhere.

Through the school district's Voluntary Transfer Program, students are eligible to attend any of the district's 57 high schools no matter what part of the city they live in. Students can transfer between schools even as late as 12th grade. It's usually easier to find an opening in ninth grade, so students are encouraged to carefully consider high school options in eighth grade and try to land in the one they want then. If a student wants to transfer once high school is under way, school officials recommend starting as early as possible, particularly if a student is considering a career program with a three-year track.

Except in emergencies, students who want to change high schools typically have an eight-week window in which to complete the transfer process. The application deadline for the 2014-15 school year will be in the fall of 2013.

While students can apply to attend any neighborhood school, space for those not living in the school's assigned zone is often limited, and selection is made by lottery. (All students attending schools 1.5 miles or more from their home receive a SEPTA TransPass free of charge, but in some cases students have found that the travel time to and from their neighborhood places a burden on them or their family.) 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. Students are notified in the spring if their transfer request has been accepted.

Emergency transfers are available in rare cases, usually when a student feels unsafe or threatened and can provide documentation, such as a police report. There must also be a record of past efforts by the school and the parents to remedy the situation. These transfers are initiated through the school and can usually be arranged in a matter of weeks.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), students in schools designated as "persistently dangerous" by the state can transfer to schools not on the list as long as they meet the admission criteria. Schools are required to notify parents when their child's school is on the list and supply a list of receiving schools to which the student may transfer. These transfers can also be effective in a matter of weeks. Parents should ask what steps the school is taking to reduce the number of serious incidents and get off the persistently dangerous list.

Students/parents can apply to transfer between neighborhood schools by filling out the district's High School Voluntary Transfer Program Application.

Citywide-or Special-Admission Schools

To transfer between neighborhood schools or to apply to a citywide- or special-admission school, complete the district's High School Voluntary Transfer Program Application, available on the district's website. 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.

Public Charter Schools

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. In most cases, 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

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 three Renaissance high schools in Philadelphia; you can see a complete list here.

Catholic Schools

Students must apply to attend a Catholic school. The details of the admissions process can vary, but generally includes an application, entrance test and interview. The entrance exam is offered on multiple dates from October through December. Admissions decisions are made by early spring. 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.

Independent Private Schools

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:

  • September-December. Attend an open house.
  • October-January. Submit an application. Application deadlines vary, and many schools accept applications throughout the spring. In general, the earlier you submit an application, the better your child's chances of admission. January. Submit a financial aid application (if necessary).

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.


The School District of Philadelphia’s Voluntary Transfer Process

For more information, contact the School District of Philadelphia’s Student Placement Office: 440 N. Broad Street, Suite 114
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Phone: 215-400-4290