How to enroll in middle school

  • Zoned schools and middle school choice

  • What to look for on a school tour.

How to apply

Zoned schools and middle school choice

In some of the city’s 32 school districts, children are assigned to a middle school according to their home address. In others, children must apply to middle school (although they are guaranteed a seat somewhere in the district.) To find out whether your child has a zoned neighborhood school, call 311 (or type your address on the homepage of the Department of Education website).

Whether or not you have a zoned neighborhood school, you probably want to explore your options. Most middle schools serve children in grades 6 to 8, but a few start in 5th grade or 7th grade.

Location is probably your first consideration. It’s nice to be able to walk to school. But if the schools in your neighborhood aren’t great, you’ll want to consider other options. Children who live beyond walking distance from school receive a free Metrocard for the subway or bus. The Department of Education publishes middle school directories for each of the city’s 32 school districts. In general, applications must be submitted in December, and parents are notified of the schools’ decisions in late spring.

There are exceptions. Charter schools (many of which begin in 5th grade) admit children by lotteries held in April. Hunter College High School, which serves children in grades 7 to 12, admits children according to the results of a competitive exam given in January. (Children who score above the 90th percentile on 5th-grade standardized tests are eligible to take the Hunter exam.)

If you move to the city after the application process is finished, an enrollment office must find a place for your child. See our section on New to New York City.

What to look for on a school tour.

Most schools offer tours in the fall. Some districts offer middle school choice fairs in the evening or on a weekend where you can meet the principals and students of a number of schools. Here’s what to look for:

Quality of teaching

Try to look beyond the school's physical plant to the quality of teaching. Look at the kids' faces. Are they interested and engaged? Bored? Staring off vacantly into space? Are you interested in what the teacher is saying?

Classroom libraries

Do the kids' books look interesting? Look for rich classroom libraries: novels and biographies, science discovery books, colorful atlases and original source materials such as diaries and historical documents. The more books the better—in the classroom as well as in the school library. Schools that rely too heavily on textbooks are dull.

Quality of students' work

Are the walls bare, or are there lots of bulletin boards with kids' work? Look for examples of children's writing. Is the quality of work good? Are the art projects imaginative?

School atmosphere

What's the noise level in the school? Chaos, of course, is bad news, but so is total silence. Kids should be talking to other kids and to grown-ups. Even more important, grown-ups should be talking to one another. In a good middle school, teachers meet regularly to discuss everything from curriculum to individual students' progress and problems.

Ask questions

The Q&A period after the tour is a good time to get a feel for the philosophy and atmosphere of a school. You'll get a more revealing answer if you ask open-ended questions such as "How do you handle discipline?" rather than "Is your school safe?" Ask whether parents may visit the school and classes during the year. A school that welcomes parents is not afraid of what you might see on an impromptu visit.

Other tips

  • Make sure your child is eligible to apply. Some schools limit admissions to children living in their district. Many gifted programs and selective middle schools will not accept applications from children who do not meet cut-off scores on standardized 4th grade tests.
  • Involve your child. If there's a tour, consider taking your child out of school to accompany you. After all, the child will have to live with the final decision.
  • Brace for the tests and interviews. Some schools require a test or audition. Some interview children. Essay questions and auditions can be nerve-wracking, but some kids view them as a chance to show off.