How to Apply
New York City has 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 Admissions Guide. This guide explains how to use the DOE’s MySchools directory, which 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 typically is in early December. Students typically 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 get placed at 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 typically 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 in their borough 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.
For the 2020 Fall admissions cycle, some of the following recommendations will not apply as schools will not be conducting tours and the DOE will not be offering any in-person high school admissions events. Deadlines may also change this year owing to the delayed start to the school year. We will provide updates via our weekly newsletter and over on our community site, InsideSchools+. To learn how to research high schools when you can't visit them, consider taking our self-paced online course: NYC High Schools: Applying in a Pandemic.
- June–August: Attend admissions workshops, explore your options using our guided high school search tool, read and watch our high school checklists and videos, 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. 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. First, read our New to NYC guide. Then reach out to a Family Welcome Center, which 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.
What To Consider
There are more than 400 public high schools in New York City. Realistically, you will not be able to research them all. Our advice: Since students may rank up to 12 schools on the high school application, use our schools search tool to compile a list of at least 12 schools (in addition to specialized high schools). Try to visit each school on your list; if you can’t, at least attend the citywide and borough high school fairs to meet with school staff and current students. Ask lots of questions.
To help you identify schools that are a good fit, consider the following questions, use our high school guided search tool, take our new online course and read additional high guides on our resources page (tip: filter for high school at the top).
How is the commute?
Take a subway or bus ride to the school to see if the commute is doable. Think about what it will be like in the rain and snow, or coming home late in the evening after a sports event or a school performance. No time to test it out? Check the MTA’s Trip Planner or Google Maps, and our video on Short vs. Long Trips.
Small school or large?
Small schools tend to offer more personal attention and a sense of community; their college offices may also provide better support than a large school because there are fewer students to serve. Large schools tend to have more sports teams, arts, clubs and choice in courses. There are also some midsize schools with enrollments that run roughly 700 to 1400 that may offer the perks of a large school but are not so large as to be overwhelming. Check out our video on Small vs. Large Schools.
Fast-track or laid-back?
Some schools are intense. They pile on the homework beginning in 9th grade. Other schools are less intense. They may have a more manageable work-load and encourage kids to relax a bit, especially in the 9th and 10th grade. Think about what's best for you. Will you thrive in an intense or competitive environment? Or, are you more likely to learn and excel when the pressure's off? Regardless, make sure the school offers a true college prep curriculum. Some schools only offer three years of math and science, for example, which may put you at a disadvantage when applying to college and pursuing your studies once in college. Less intense should not mean less rigor.
"Chalk & talk" or collaborative learning?
Some schools stick to conventional ways of teaching: teacher lectures and standard textbook homework. Others focus more on group work, projects and may offer more opportunities for hands-on learning and field trips. Consider which approach best meets your learning style.
New school or well-established?
It's nice to go to a school with a proven track record. Most new schools take a few years to develop high level coursework and relationships with college admissions officers, so it can be a gamble to be in the first few graduating classes. However, if you're faced with the choice between an overcrowded, failing school or a new, untested small school, you might be better off going with the small one, if you feel comfortable with the theme and the leadership.
Theme school or general curriculum?
Be aware that some of the school "themes" exist in name only, especially when the founding principal leaves and the replacement has a different vision for the school. Ask to see a list of courses currently offered, find out whether there are connections with outside organizations that support the school's theme. The academics should be solid, no matter the theme.
Consortium (portfolio) schools
More than 30 New York City schools belong to the New York Performance Standards Consortium network, which emphasizes project-based learning. Consortium schools adhere to the philosophy of Theodore Sizer, an educator who believed that small schools that concentrate on teaching a few subjects well are more effective than large schools that teach many subjects. Consortium schools have an exemption from New York State from administering most Regents exams. Instead students demonstrate mastery of their coursework through a portfolio of oral and written presentations known as performance based assessment tasks, or PBATs. English is the only Regents exam that students are required to take.
Career and technical education (CTE)
CTE schools combine traditional high school coursework with professional training in a trade. Unlike the old-fashioned vocational schools that often provided bare minimum academics, CTE schools aim to have students graduate college- and job-ready. Students may take a full load of college preparatory courses while earning professional certifications. Some large CTE schools, like Thomas A. Edison High School, offer multiple programs such as pharmaceuticals, automotive and commercial design. Others, like Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, Academy for Software Engineering and Academy for Careers in Television and Film, are small and focus exclusively on one industry. Check out our brief video overview on CTE Schools.
Early College schools
Early College schools combine a high school curriculum with the opportunity to earn up to two years of college credit free of charge at a partner campus of The City University of New York (CUNY). Overseen by the Early College Initiative (ECI) at CUNY, Early College schools may vary in theme and length of commitment. Most, such as the Bard Early Colleges in Manhattan and Queens, serve grades 9-12. Others such as P-Tech and B-Tech run six years (grades 9-14) with students taking most or all of their classes at a CUNY college during the final two years of school.
International Baccalaureate (IB)
A small but growing number of schools offer the International Baccalaureate, a degree accepted at universities in more than 100 countries. The IB curriculum is highly demanding and many upper grade courses are college level and even more rigorous than Advanced Placement courses. Among the IB schools are the Baccalaureate School of Global Education, the first in the city to offer an IB diploma and Brooklyn Latin, a specialized high school.
Specialized high schools
There are nine specialized high schools that do not participate in the regular high school application process. Eight of these schools require students to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). The ninth specialized high school is LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Arts, which admits students based on an audition and middle school record.
The schools that require the SHSAT are:
- High School for Math Science and Engineering at City College
- Bronx Science
- Brooklyn Tech
- Brooklyn Latin
- High School of American Studies at Lehman College
- Queens High School of Science at York College
- Staten Island Technical School
Watch our video on the specialized high schools.
Arts and audition schools
There are many arts-themed schools and programs in the city and some require students to audition in order be considered for admission. Some of the most selective audition arts schools such as LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts (a specialized high school) and Frank Sinatra School of the Arts consider students’ grades and state test scores as well as auditions. Others, such as the performing arts programs at Forest Hills and Susan E. Wagner high schools, require auditions, but don’t consider grades or scores. For all schools, it’s important to prepare for your audition. Here's our video on auditions.
Transfer schools are alternative programs designed to help students who have struggled in traditional schools and may be over-age for their grade and behind in credits. These tend to be smaller and are designed for students who have been unsuccessful at traditional schools. Transfer schools sometimes accept students mid-year. You apply to these schools directly—not through the regular high school admissions office. Some transfer schools are demanding, academically challenging schools that prepare students for college. Others focus on the basics: just getting students to graduate.
You can search for transfer schools on our high school guided search tool and the DOE's website. There are also referral centers to help students who want to transfer to an alternative school or program.
Other ways to graduate
You are entitled to attend school until you graduate from high school or turn 21 years old. Programs are available for older students who need to work during the day or who want to return to school after dropping out. Some high schools offer childcare to enable young parents to attend school. The Department of Education website has an extensive list of these alternative programs such as Young Adult Borough Centers and high school equivalency options.
The DOE also offers GED preparation, English as a second language and career education programs for adults who are 21 years of age or older.
Discharges and involuntary transfers
Your school administration may suggest that you transfer to another school if, for example, you can’t keep up with the academic work. However, the school may not force you to leave. You have the right to tutoring or counseling that will help you be successful.
Know your rights. It is wrong for a school to discharge a student when the student or parent objects. And it’s illegal for a school to discharge a student between the ages of 17 and 21 without parental consent and appropriate exit-interview procedures.
If you would like to enroll in a different high school, read about how to change schools.
And you can learn more about the requirements for graduation here.