Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs held between Oct. 8-17. Middle school directories for 2013-2014 are online and hard copies are being distributed by elementary schools. Clara Hemphill of Insideschools will be giving a free talk about middle school options on Thursday at New York University.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites, or call the school to find out about them. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added.  

In addition to fairs, some districts hold informational nights where principals talk about their schools. Check with your district's family advocate to see if one is scheduled. (You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.)

Key dates and application deadlines are outlined on the DOE's website. There are some changes in admissions to gifted programs this year: the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) exam, which was used previously to determine admission to selective academic programs in six districts is now only being administered by District 24. Districts 17, 18, 20, 22 and 30 now accept students based on the scores of 4th grade standardized math and reading exams.

"This is an effort to simplify the admissions process," said Rob Sanft, head of the enrollment office at the Department of Education. "Five districts have now agreed that they want to remove the OLSAT for admissions to these programs, and in District 24 they have agreed to remove the OLSAT next year."

The differences between the results of the state tests and the OLSAT were "insignificant" Sanft said. "That's why we went to the CECs [District Community Education Councils] and asked, 'Where do you see this going, and what's your interest level in removing it [the OLSAT]?' and most of the CECs were engaging with us."

Parents applying to school in Queens' District 24 and to the Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented in Coney Island, which is open citywide, must sign up for testing by Oct. 16. Other citywide gifted programs—including Brooklyn School of Inquiry, TAG, Anderson and NEST+M—have a separate application. Check their websites for details and note that preference in admission is given to continuing students, so seats for 6th graders may be scarce.

Middle school admission policies vary from district to district. Some districts have zoned middle schools, others have no zones and some have a combination. But you have options, even if you live in a district where most students go to their neighborhood schools. Look in the back of the directory for schools that accept kids from throughout the borough or city. Some, including charter schools, have a separate application process and timeline.

Check out our reviews on Insideschools for guidelines, and be sure to ask about admissions requirements when you visit schools. The directory listings are not always very specific. 

Read more on Insideschools about the middle school application process, or watch these Insideschools videos:

"How to Apply to Middle School"

"What to Look for on a School Tour"

See our calendar for details about Clara Hemphill's Oct. 10 talk, "Exploring your middle school options."