Applying to middle school—a process that begins in the fall of 5th grade—can be stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s very important that you stay on task.

My name is Nathaniel Cain and I am a soon-to-be 6th-grader at MS 51, the William Alexander School in Brooklyn’s District 15. I comment on Insideschools frequently and you may know me from my profile, “sixthgrader.”

When I was applying to middle school, I had two challenges: 1. There are no zoned middle schools in District 15; and 2. I was living in one of the most competitive school districts in all of New York City. Your struggles may be different.

Here are some tips as you navigate through the middle school process, whether you’re a parent or a rising 5th-grade student:

ORGANIZE: Parents, you need to have your child’s data. You should make copies of your 4th-grade report card. I made about 10 copies of my report card, but that may have been excessive. Also, parents, make sure you have your child’s 4th-grade test scores and that you know your child's Department of Education ID number. You can retrieve these from your school’s office, or from your online NYC Schools Account

TOUR: Many schools offer tours for prospective families. My advice: Take the tours. A tour schedule may be difficult for parents to make, but it’s totally worth it. It’s very important that your child knows the school and that you know the school as well. Your child also really has to like it. Kids, make sure you’re paying 100 percent full attention on those tours. They’ll teach you a whole lot, such as how the kids behave, or how the kids are being taught. Are the teachers using a more traditional or progressive teaching approach? Is the school organized? These are some of the things you should ask yourself on the tours.

Also be sure to check out the Insideschools video, “Middle School: How to Choose and What to Look For.”

KNOW YOUR CHOICES: Each district has a range of options. You may have a zoned school or you may live in a district with only “choice” schools—or it may be a combination of both. (Zoned schools give priority in admission to kids that live near the school.) You can find out if you have a zoned school here. Even if you have a zoned school, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go there. Explore all your options in your District Middle School Directory. I will write more on how to navigate these booklets in a later post.

Insideschools was one of the primary resources my family and I used as we were applying. You can use Insideschools to find out more about a certain school’s background—and the reviews, videos and slideshows can really help get an inside look at your options. The InsideStats on every profile page gives you information about each school’s environment.

If you have any questions, I’ll be sure to answer every single one of them below in the comments section. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for "Middle School: The Applying Guide!"