_Hi Judy,

My daughter is going to 8th grade and she has to pick schools to go to in 9th grade. How can I find the perfect school for her? I'm looking for a safe-clean environment and high performance educationally. I am looking forward to have her in a specialized school like Bronx Science._

PAP, Planning ahead parent

Dear PAP,

You are starting the process at the right time.  The Department of Education has announced July workshops for parents about the high school admissions process. Read our post on this issue and plan to attend those workshops.

Even before the sessions, you have homework to do! Your daughter's middle school should have given her a copy of the 2013-2014 Directory of New York City Public High Schools with information about every public high school in the city. If she didn't get one, go to the nearest enrollment office to pick it up, along with the Specialized High Schools Student Handbook, that has  information about the eight exam schools that require a special test for admission. Bronx Science is one them.  You can also find the directories online. The handbook includes a sample of the qualifying test: the Specialized High School Admission Test, (SHSAT),which will be administered on Oct. 26-27 this year. After taking the sample test, you and your daughter can figure out how much studying she needs to do to qualify for an exam school. Many students arrange tutoring, either individually or in a group, others study with friends or on their own and then take more sample tests. You can find these online or in prep books at a bookstore. See more tips on how to prepare for the SHSAT in a previous Ask Judy column.

You should also study the main directory so you have choices that do not depend on the SHSAT. Keep in mind there are thousands more applicants than seats available in the specialized schools. This year 28,000 students sat for the test and only 5,229 were offered a seat. One of the specialized schools, LaGuardia, does not use the SHSAT, but does require a rigorous audition.Application to these schools is separate from the specialized schools and kids who get an offer to a SHSAT school may also get an offer to a non-exam school. Some kids and parents like the non specialized schools better! Keep in mind that schools with "screened" admissions may administer their own tests, interviews or auditions.

Check out Insideschools' high school page for more information about applying to high school and for links to our videos.

Your choices will be guided by many factors: location, your daughter’s interests, quality of academics, size of student body, size of classes, ease of travel, a well-kept building in a safe neighborhood, and most important to me, a respectful and caring tone between students and staff. You can learn about these qualities by reading the description of the schools and looking at slideshows posted on Insideschools. Also, read comments from students, parents and teachers.

In the fall be prepared to use your free time to attend open houses and tours at the schools that caught your daughter's interest. At the very least, attend the citywide fair on Sept. 28 or 29 or a borough high school fair on Oct. 19-20. There you’ll be able to ask questions of the school staff and students, as well as enrollment staff from the Department of Education. The 8th grade guidance counselor is also key, so look out for parent meetings on the subject and for announcements of the admissions calendar. Deadlines are firm!  

A final (for now) tip: There are 12 choices on your general application. Do not list any school that you would refuse to let your daughter attend, just to fill up the 12 spaces. If a school is listed on the application, she may end up there!

Good luck. Exercising your choice of high school is hard work!