New York City has the the most extensive system of school choice in the country. Everyone must apply to high school—even if you live in one the few remaining areas in the city that still has a zoned high school. Choose carefully. Once you enroll, it’s really hard to transfer.
The year-long admissions process begins at the end of 7th grade, when children bring home the high school directory. This directory lists more than 400 schools, many containing multiple programs from which you can choose. The Department of Education holds high school information sessions in June or July to walk you through the process. Students and parents typically spend the fall of 8th grade researching options by using our high school guided search tool, attending high school open houses and tours as well as the high school fairs held in each borough during September and October.
Filling out your application
To apply, students complete and submit the citywide high school application online via their MySchools account, where they may list up to to 12 schools, ranked in the order of their preference. The application deadline is in early December. Students find out their high school placement in March.
Some schools, called screened schools, require high grades. Some of these high schools, like the Bard High School Early Colleges in Manhattan and Queens and Townsend Harris in Queens, are just as selective as the specialized schools. Some accept everyone who lives in their attendance zone. Others accept students by lottery. Others accept everyone who applies.
• Be sure you are eligible to attend a school before you put it on your list. If you live in Brooklyn, don’t list a school that only accepts Manhattan students. If your grades aren't high enough, don’t list a school that only accepts kids with grades of 90 or above.
• Don’t list a school you are not willing to attend. If you are placed at a school you originally listed, it’s very hard to appeal for another one.
Applying to specialized high schools
In addition to ranking up to 12 schools on the citywide high school application, students may apply to New York City’s nine specialized high schools. These nine schools admit students through a separate, competitive admissions process. Eight of the specialized high schools require students to take an entrance exam called the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). More than 25,000 students take the SHSAT, with roughly 5,000 seats open for 9th-graders and far fewer available for incoming 10th-graders.
The ninth specialized school is LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Arts. Instead of admitting students based on the SHSAT, LaGuardia selects students based on an audition as well as a review of their middle school academic record.
Students find out if they are offered a seat at a specialized high school in March.
If you are not happy with your placement
Every year high school decision letters are distributed in March. Students who are not matched with a school that they ranked on their applications will be assigned to a school by the DOE. Beginning in 2020, students will automatically be placed on the waitlists for schools they ranked higher than the one they're matched to. Students will also have the opportunity to add themselves to waitlists for schools that they did not apply to in the fall. High schools will offer seats to students on their waitlists as space becomes available. Our advice: Manage your expectations. Schools that are in high demand will likely offer few if any seats to waitlisted students.
• June–August: Attend admissions workshops, explore your options using our guided high school search tool, read our handy guides, put together a plan to get organized for high school admissions, prepare for the specialized high school exam or audition for LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts.
September: Attend a high school fair. Watch our high school videos on our YouTube channel. Attend open houses. Go on school visits. Make appointments at the schools that require onsite tests or interviews (such as Bard High Schools in Manhattan and Queens).
• October-November: Attend at least on more high school fair. Take the specialized high school exam. Continue to attend open houses and school tours.
• December: Submit high school application.
• March: Learn where you have been admitted and your placement on waitlists
If you move to New York City mid-year or over summer
If you move to the city after the high school application process is over, you will face some difficulties finding a school. The Department of Education Family Welcome Centers will find you a seat, but the bureaucracy can be infuriating, especially if you arrive during the summer. Try calling schools directly to determine if your child meets their admissions criteria and if there is space available. You'll still have to go through a Family Welcome Center for admittance, but it’s helpful to go in with a list of schools that you know have space and are a good fit for your child.
Specialized High Schools: If you’re a rising 9th- or 10th-grader who moved to the city after the SHSAT and LaGuardia auditions were held the prior fall, you may still apply. The DOE offers dates in August for qualifying newcomers to take the SHSAT and audition for LaGuardia. You must register for the exam and audition ahead of their designated dates at a Family Welcome Center.
For more information read What to Consider and Your Options and our InsideTools on the SHSAT and Getting Organized for High School Admissions. Watch our indepth video on the high school admissions process. Print out a copy of our High School Admissions Action Plan and keep it handy to help you stay on track throughout the application process.