Middle School Guided Search
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How to Apply
All 5th-graders (including those who plan to stay at their K-8 school) must apply to middle school. Applications will be available via your MySchools account in October and are typically due at the very beginning of December. Placements are distributed in the spring.
Some (but not all) of the city’s 32 districts have zoned schools and your child is guaranteed a seat if you apply and live in the zone. To find out if your child has a zoned school, enter your address in the search box above or call 311.
Even if you have a zoned school, you may want to explore other options. Most of the city’s 32 school districts have gifted programs and special arts programs. Some middle schools accept students from the whole borough or the whole city.
Some middle schools select students at random, some use 4th-grade report cards, attendance and behavior records, and others require additional auditions or exams. Be sure to sign up for auditions or tests before submitting the application.
Plan on spending the fall of the 5th-grade year visiting schools. For some very popular schools, open house and tour slots book rapidly, so sign up early.
Most middle schools serve children in grades 6 to 8, but a few start in 5th or 7th grade. Charter schools (many of which begin in 5th grade) admit children by lotteries held in April, and applications are due April 1.
Hunter College High School, which serves children in grades 7 to 12, admits children according to the results of a competitive exam administered to qualifying 6th-graders in January. The Baccalaureate School for Global Education also starts in 7th grade.
If you move to the city after the application process is finished, and you don’t have a zoned school, a Family Welcome Center will place your child somewhere in your district. See our section on New to New York City.
What To Look For
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 space 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?
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?
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.
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 approach behavior?" 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.
- 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 kids. Essays and auditions can be nerve-wracking, but some kids view them as a chance to show off.
Even if you have a zoned neighborhood middle school, you may want to consider gifted or selective programs, unzoned schools including secondary schools that have grades 6-12, dual language programs, charter schools and arts programs that require an audition.
Gifted or selective programs
Academically successful children may apply to accelerated middle school programs. Many of these offer high school–level math or science in the 8th grade. Some gifted programs are open to children from all five boroughs, while others are limited to children living in the district or borough of the school. Many zoned middle schools offer Special Progress (SP) or honors classes. Admissions criteria vary. Your best bet is to look at the middle school directory for specifics, or on each school’s website.
Most middle school seats at the five citywide gifted schools go to continuing 5th-graders but some spots open up for newcomers. Mark Twain in Brooklyn is open citywide. Students must sign up in mid-October for auditions in two talents, choosing among a variety of academic and arts areas. Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS) in Manhattan gauges children’s artistic talent with an audition.
Hunter College High School in Manhattan is an academic powerhouse that is open citywide starting in 7th grade. Children who score above a certain percentage on their 5th grade state math and ELA exams are eligible to take a test for entrance to Hunter. The cut-off scores for eligibility to take the Hunter admissions exam varies from year to year.
Even in districts where most students attend their zoned school, students have other options. These are listed in the middle school directory, and all programs for which you are eligible will be listed on the personalized application you will receive from the school guidance counselor.
A very few schools such as Ballet Tech have their own application and it’s up to you to reach out to the school to apply. The middle school directory will indicate which schools have school-based applications.
Charter schools are tuition-free and operate independently of the city’s Department of Education. Most begin in kindergarten; some serve grades k–8, others grades k–12. Some begin in middle school and a few begin in high school. Many charter schools that begin in kindergarten do not admit new students in middle school, and those that do may have few openings. Admission is by lottery held in April. You apply online, through Common Application on the Charter School Center website, or directly to the school that interests you.
See our rundown of the different kinds of charter schools and networks in New York City here.
Dual language programs
These programs offer instruction in two languages and are designed to make children fluent speakers, readers and writers in both. Typically, classes mix native speakers of both languages; the language of instruction alternates. Some of these programs give preference to children who live in the attendance zone, but some have room for children outside the attendance zone. Dual language programs are most common in elementary schools but if your child is fluent in another language, he may get preference at one of the city’s dual language middle schools.
Magnets are designed to foster racial integration. They receive three years of federal or state funding for special programs (such as art, science, drama, law or even dual language) to make the school attractive to draw—like a magnet—children of different races who might not otherwise attend. Call your district office to find out if there are any magnet programs in your area’s middle school, but visit first to make sure they still receive the extra teacher support that magnet schools are supposed to get and are not “magnet” in name only.
Some middle schools have special arts programs and students must audition. These include citywide schools such as Professional Performing Arts, Mark Twain and Ballet Tech. Some district schools—such as those in District 21—require students to audition in a particular talent.