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This is What You Need to Know About the NYC School Application Process

This is What You Need to Know About the NYC School Application Process

A primer for NYC parents enrolling their kids in preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school, or specialized high school in NYC


The New York City Department of Education is made up of more than 1800 public schools, and your child will apply for public school several times in their education. So what all goes into the NYC public school application process—and when do you need to apply for each grade? Read on for a primer on what you need to know about pre-K, kindergarten, middle school, high school, and specialized high school applications in NYC.

Your best starting point is MySchools, which provides the most up-to-date information about New York City’s 1,800 schools in 32 school districts. Once you create an account and log in, you are on track to begin the journey—and you can use the same account for all of your child’s NYC public school applications through high school.

In addition to submitting your child's NYC public school applications via MySchools, you can submit by phone or in person at a Family Welcome Center.

How are students assigned to public schools in NYC?

Students are placed based on:

  • The schools’ admissions priorities. These include siblings of current students, current students, students who live within the school’s zone, students in temporary housing, English language learners, and students who qualify for free or reduced lunch

  • The number of seats available in a program/school.

  • The applicant’s preferences. Regardless of what grade or school you’re applying to, you can choose up to 12 programs, listed in order of preference.

  • The applicant’s assigned number. For most programs, the applicant’s number is assigned by a random lottery, though some programs assign numbers based on the student’s academic records or other measures.

How to Choose a School in NYC

MySchools has information about schools in all 32 districts, categorized by neighborhood, accessibility for children with disabilities, and admission methods. School Quality Snapshots provide background information and performance metrics for each public school in NYC, and school counselors and Family Welcome Centers can provide useful information. Plus, visiting schools, attending information sessions, and talking to current parents and students can help you make an informed decision. You can also browse the schools near you at schoolsearch.schools.nyc.

RELATED: The differences between charter, home, independent, international, magnet, and parochial schools

NYC Magnet Schools are public schools that are part of the NYC DOE system, but their curriculum is based around a specific theme (STEAM, civic leadership, media, or innovation, for example) and historically have accommodated students from outside their zone or district. There is one special music school in the city which requires an audition, and several Dual Language (DL) programs, in which students are taught in two languages.

In addition to the NYC Department of Education public schools, you could choose to send your child to a charter school in New York City. Charter schools are free public schools, serving Universal Pre-K through 12th grades, that operate independently from the DOE. They have a separate application process, but anyone can apply.

If you move to New York City in the middle of the school year, contact a Family Welcome Center, email ESEnrollment@schools.nyc.gov, or see the DOE’s New Student page.

NYC Pre-K and Kindergarten Application Process

If you’re ready to enroll your kids in pre-K or kindergarten in New York City, there are a few things you should know about the process. Kids are eligible to apply to pre-K in the calendar year in which they turn 4 and kindergarten in the year in which they turn 5.

Pre-K applications in NYC are generally due by mid-March. The NYC Department of Education is hosting a series of Virtual Admissions Events for pre-K families on Dec. 15, Dec. 17, Jan. 6, Jan. 7, and Jan. 12. NYC kindergarten applications are now open and are due by Jan. 19, 2021 for the 2021-2022 academic year.

There is also a diversity initiative at some schools where priority is given to kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch, are in temporary housing (STH), or are Emergent Multilingual Learners (EMLLs).

Types of Pre-K Programs

Although there are some half-day options and a few places, like Head Start, that offer qualifying lower income families care all year round for up to 10 hours a day, most DOE-sponsored programs run five days a week, September-June, on a full-day schedule.

The three types of pre-K programs are:

  • NYC Early Education Centers (NYCEECs): community-based associations that partner with the DOE to provide pre-K programs

  • District schools: public elementary schools with Pre-K programs, which are the best option if your child currently attends preschool at the school, has an older sibling already in the school, or if you want your child to have a more academic curriculum in an elementary school setting

  • Pre-K centers: administered by DOE staff and great for children who currently attend preschool, or if you prefer your kid to participate in a program with only young children

Types of Kindergarten Programs

For kindergarten, there are two types of schools: zoned schools (if you live in the zone, your kids have priority) and non-zoned schools (which anyone in the district or borough can attend).

Beginning in kindergarten, kids can apply to the Gifted and Talented program. The test is administered in the spring and those that score high enough can apply to G&T programs, which will notify families in June of their acceptance. This is a different process than regular kindergarten applications.

Pre-K and Kindergarten Acceptance Letters and Offers

If you apply on time, you will receive a pre-K offer letter in May and a kindergarten letter in June. This letter will tell you where your child is accepted and/or waitlisted. You must accept your offer by pre-registering—this secures your child's seat at that program. Contact the program to schedule a time to pre-register in person and use this checklist to learn what to bring.

Your child will be automatically added to the waitlist for any program you ranked higher on your pre-K application than the program where your child got an offer. Programs will contact you directly if they are able to offer your child a seat from the waitlist.

If you miss the deadline, you can apply in the second round of admissions in May, when you will join the waitlists and/or apply for spots that weren’t taken during the first round. This round is also for all kids who didn’t get into their preferred institution during the first round and were automatically transferred to the waiting list. Depending on the free spots, programs may continue to make waitlist offers through the start of the school year.

RELATED: Five families discuss their school choices

NYC Middle School Application Process

You finally have elementary school figured out, but middle school in NYC is a whole new ballgame. For example, your elementary school district might differ from your middle school district, and if you live in the Bronx, your child is eligible to apply to all Bronx middle schools. Your child can also apply to a charter school for middle school, or one of several alternative programs.

Selecting a Middle School in NYC

The first step is to find your child’s middle school district, which might differ from her elementary school district. If this is the case, your child can apply to the middle schools in both districts. Your child might also have guaranteed or priority admission at her zoned schools.

You can then explore the schools available to your child through the MySchools middle school directory. You can search for schools by name if you know what’s in your district, or explore options based on what they offer. For example, if your child is a science whiz, you can filter schools based on which ones offer science clubs. You can also filter school options based on what your family needs, such as proximity to bus or subway lines, accessible classrooms, and more. Keep in mind that some schools have specific application rules or admissions methods, which you can use the 2020 NYC Middle School Admissions Guide to learn more about.



If you aren’t thrilled with the public schools in your district, consider whether a charter school is right for your child. Charter schools have their own application process, so make sure to do your research before applying.

There are also alternative middle school options might better suit your student. The ReStart Academy, New Directions Secondary School, or other alternative middle schools often have smaller class sizes and might be the best fit for your child’s learning needs.

Once you’ve decided on a handful of middle schools your child might apply to, attend open house events (many are virtual at this time due to the pandemic). It’s often useful to visit the school or attend an information session to get a feel for the school and its curriculum. The Department of Education recommends you contact individual schools to learn about the open house options they currently have available.

Applying to NYC Middle Schools

Middle school applications are not yet open, but you can use your MySchools account to get ready and apply once it does open. You can also join the middle school admissions email list to be notified as soon as the application opens. Your child’s application is personalized and allows you to see every school he’s eligible to attend. You can apply to up to 12 middle schools and must rank the choices in order of preference. The DOE suggests adding your child’s zoned programs to the list (though they don’t have to be your child’s first choice). It’s also a good idea to talk to your child’s current guidance counselor to discuss how your child will rank his prospects. The application is available in several languages, and you can call the DOE and ask for an interpreter.

NYC Middle School Acceptance Letters and Offers

Students typically receive their middle school offer letter in the spring. All applicants will get a middle school offer, and most get offers to one of their ranked programs (though it’s not guaranteed). The offer letter will also list the programs where your child has been waitlisted and offers to those programs are based on availability. If you have questions about the process, talk to your student’s counselor, contact the DOE at 718-935-2009, or contact a Family Welcome Center nearest you. (Most Family Welcome Centers are currently closed due to COVID-19 but their staff members are available remotely.)

NYC High School & Specialized High School Application Process

Can you believe it? Your child is ready for high school! And while you might have already made it through several school admissions by now, it’s time for the big and most complicated one. There are more than 700 high school programs at over 400 schools in New York City and any current eighth grade student or first-time ninth grade student can apply to any of them.

If you’ve already attended public school in the city, you likely have a MySchools account—which is a great place to start exploring your high school options. The searchable directory contains the most up-to-date information about the city’s many programs. The DOE’s new video series will also take you through the steps you need to take to apply to high schools in New York City.

Your first step is deciding whether you are applying to a public school, a specialized high school, or a charter school (in which case the process doesn’t involve the DOE). You will be able to rank your 12 choices and submit your application online or through a school counselor.

How Different NYC High Schools Admit Students

There are several different types of admission processes:

Educational Option schools use the English Language Arts (ELA) state test scores from seventh grade and identify the top 16 percent of scores, the middle 68 percent, and the lowest 16 percent. Half of the students who gain admission to an Ed. Opt. school will be matched based on their rank of that school, while the other half will be selected randomly.

Screened Programs rank applicants based on their final seventh-grade report card grades and reading and math standardized test scores. There may also be other items that schools require to screen applicants such as an interview, essay, or additional diagnostic test scores.

Unscreened Programs select randomly from the pool of applicants.

Zoned Programs give priority to students who live in the geographic zoned area of the high school.

Specialized High Schools include Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which requires students to audition for up to six programs: dance, drama, fine and visual art, instrumental music, technical theater, and vocal music.

The other eight specialized schools require students to take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test to qualify for admission. (Register for the SHSAT online at MySchools or with a school counselor.) This test, rather than a student’s academic record, determines eligibility in the following prestigious specialty schools:

  • The Bronx High School of Science

  • The Brooklyn Latin School

  • Brooklyn Technical High School

  • High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College

  • High School of American Studies at Lehman College

  • Queens High School for the Sciences at York College

  • Staten Island Technical High School

  • Stuyvesant High School

NYC High School Application Tips

The DOE recommends that you place the programs on your application in your true order of preference. You will be considered for your first-choice program first. If you don’t get an offer to your first choice, then you will be considered for your second-choice program as though it were your first choice, and so on.

If you apply to any high-demand programs (10 or more applicants per seat), you should also apply to some programs that have fewer applicants per seat. Learn which schools are the most popular in MySchools under the “My Chances” tab. Then refer to the “Demand Last Year” section to see how many seats the program had and how many applicants there were per seat.

Each school has its own method for priority (see above). In addition, some schools give preference for diversity, others for continuing at the same school or in the same zone. Once all applications are in, an algorithm assigns as many students as possible into programs that they rank highly, given constraints due to limited seats available in individual programs and the programs’ admission priorities.

Make sure you do your research about all the schools you are interested in. Some schools have multiple programs, each with a different admissions method. That means you can list a school twice or even three times on your list of 12 using different program codes.

NYC High School Application Changes Due to COVID-19

Typically, NYC families will apply to high schools in the fall of their child’s eighth-grade year. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NYC high school and Specialized High School application periods are not open yet, and students can’t start their applications on MySchools until registration opens. However, students will have additional time once registration does open to apply; you can sign up for the NYC DOE’s high school admissions newsletter for all the latest information on deadlines. In the meantime, students can and should start researching and evaluating programs via the directories at MySchools and InsideSchools. Registration for the NYC Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) opens on Monday, Dec. 21 and administration of the exam will begin Jan. 27. 

Also because it will be difficult if not impossible to visit schools this year, applicants will have to do their research online—with videos from schools and crowdsourced comments from other parents and students. InsideSchools is offering a class called NYC High Schools: Applying in a Pandemic, with video tutorials and advice on how to research schools when you can't visit them in person.

NYC High School Acceptance Letters and Offers

You will receive an offer letter in the spring, which will include a high school offer and/or any offer(s) to specialized high schools, as well as a list of high schools where your student is waitlisted. They’ll be automatically added to the waitlist of any program that was listed higher on their application than the program where they received an offer. So if your child gets an offer to their third-choice program, they’ll also be waitlisted at their first choice and second choice program. Schools will contact you if seats open up and they can make your child an offer. Check out the waitlists website for the most up-to-date information.

Students who do not submit a high school application will get an offer to the closest high school program with available seats.

 
 

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