Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this month for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Wednesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2015-2016 are onlineand hard copies are available at elementary schools.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites or call the school to find out when they are being held. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. Don't despair. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. In parts of Brooklyn, tours haven't even been set up yet at schools, but they should be by the end of September.

When you visit the schools, be sure to ask about admissions requirements. The directory listings are not always specific.

In addition to fairs, some districts hold informational nights where principals talk about their schools. Check with your district's family support coordinator (formerly called the district family advocate. You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.) So far we've heard about a forum in District 3 on Oct. 8. Insideschools will be participating in a District 21 middle school admissions workshop on Oct. 21.

Key dates and application deadlines are outlined on the DOE's website. There is also a PowerPoint presentation with many details about the application process and a helpful list of frequently asked questions about admissions. For selective schools, and programs with screened admissions policies, schools must consider factors beyond state test scores, such as attendance, grades, teacher recommendations or examples of student work.

Parents applying to Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented in Coney Island, which is open citywide, must sign up for testing by Oct. 13. Other citywide gifted programs—including TAG, Anderson, NEST+M, 30th Avenue School, Special Music School and Ballet Tech—have a separate application and assessment. Three other citywide gifted schools, 30th Avenue SchoolBrooklyn School of Inquiry (BSI) and Professional Performing Arts School use the standard middle school application. Check each school's' website 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. Applications for charter schools, also listed in the directories, are due on April 1, months after the Dec. 1 due date for other middle school applications.

Check out our Insideschools school profiles for reviews, slideshows, the latest InsideStats and comments from parents and students. Use our middle school search, to find "our picks," selective and citywide schools, k–8, 6–12 schools and more.

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

"How to Apply to Middle School"

"What to Look for on a School Tour"