Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Tuesday, Sept. 30. Middle schooldirectories for 2014-2015 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! The Department of Education website lists some open house dates here. If you don't see the school you want to visit listed, check its website or call the school to find out. 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. Be sure to ask about admissions requirements when you visit schools. 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 advocate to see if one is scheduled. (You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.) So far we've heard about forums in District 15 on Oct. 16District 3 on Oct. 16 and District 1 on Oct. 29. District 21 is offering a middle school admissions workshop on Oct. 22

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 (PDF) and a helpful list of frequently asked questions. There is a change in admissions to gifted programs this year: By law, schools must consider factors beyond state test scores, such as attendance, school grades, teacher recommendations or examples of student work. Last year, selective programs in districts 17, 18, 20, 22 and 30 accepted students based only on their 4th-grade standardized math and reading exams. Now they must consider other markers.

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. 9. Other citywide gifted programs—including TAG, Anderson, NEST+M, 30th Avenue School andSpecial Music School—have a separate application and assessment. Two other citywide gifted schools, 30th Avenue School and Brooklyn School of Inquiry (BSI), use the standard middle school application. BSI does its own assessment as well as a review of grades, test scores and attendance and asks for a student writing sample. Check each school's'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. Applications for charter schools, also listed in the directories, are due on April 1, months after other middle school applications are due in December.

Check out our Insideschools school profiles for reviews, slideshows, the latest InsideStats and comments from parents and students. Using our new middle school search, you can find "our picks," selective and citywide schools, k–8 and 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"

Laura Seigle, the Manhattan mom of a 5th-grader on the Upper West Side, is blogging about her search for a middle school—including tips from her guidance counselor—here.

(Updated  Oct. 1 with corrected information about admissions to BSI and 30th Avenue and adding information about District  15 Principals Forum)