For 8th graders and their families who are logging hours pouring over the high school directory, reading Insideschools profiles and comments, watching our videoson how to apply to high school, and trekking all over the city for open houses and tours, decision time is here. High school applications are due on Dec. 2.

Here’s our advice about how to fill out the application.

  • Be very careful when drawing up your list of (up to) 12 high school choices. You don't have to fill in all the slots. Don't list a school you are not willing to attend.  If you get assigned to a school you hate, but listed it on your application, it will be very hard to get placed elsewhere.

  • Rank your favorite school first. There's no need to play guessing games or set up an elaborate strategy. Schools will not see which students rank them first, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ranking your top choice number one.

  • Don't apply to a school for which you do not qualify. Say you want to apply to a school that accepts only Manhattan residents and you live in Queens — you are wasting a spot on your list if you put it down. Likewise, if a school looks for students with a minimum 85 average or above and your GPA is 70, your chances of getting accepted are slim to none.

  • Keep a copy of your completed application and get a receipt from your guidance counselor when you hand it in. 

What else should you consider when choosing a school?

  • Admissions criteria: Some schools require an interview, an essay, or the submission of school work. Make sure you’ve done what you need to do. If you just realized that a school you like requires an interview or exam, contact the school immediately to make sure it’s not too late to meet those requirements.
  • Small school or large? Small schools offer more personal attention and a sense of community. Teachers get to know students well making it harder for any to slip through the cracks.  Large schools tend to have more sports teams, clubs, and courses; more foreign language options, honors and Advanced Placement classes and a range of class settings. Need help deciding? Watch our video: Weighing your options: Large school vs small school.
  • Fast-track or laid-back? Some schools pile on the homework.  Other schools have a slower pace and encourage kids to relax a bit. There’s no right answer here. Think about what’s best for you. Will you thrive in a rigorous and competitive environment?  Or, are you more likely to learn and excel when the pressure's off?
  • New school or well-established? It’s nice to go to a school with a proven track record.  Most new small schools take a few years to establish guidance offices and to develop relationships with college admissions officers, so it can be a gamble to be in the first few graduating classes. However if you’re faced with the choice between an overcrowded, failing neighborhood school or a new untested small school, in general, you might be better off going with the small one, if you feel comfortable with the theme and the leadership.
  • Theme school or well-rounded curriculum? This may sound obvious, but don’t go to a theme school if you’re not interested in the theme. If you’re not passionate about the arts, don’t go to a performing arts school.  Be aware that some of the school "themes" exist in name only. The academics should be solid, whatever the theme.
  • How long is the commute? Take a subway or bus ride to your preferred schools to see if the commute is doable. Think about what it will be like in the rain and snow, or coming home late in the evening after a sports event or a school play. Far too many students discover after a few days of school that they can’t handle a long commute. Make sure to watch our video: Weighing your options: Long trip vs short trip 
  • Does your child have special needs? Check out the Department of Education’s guide for high school students receiving special education services. Unfortunately the high school directory offers very little help.

More tips for students

Auditioning? Practice first! Many performing arts and visual arts high school hold competitive auditions and expect applicants to be well-prepared. If you haven't had your audition yet, make sure to watch this video: How to apply to an audition school.

Make sure your parent signs off on your application before handing it in. Nobody, including your 8th-grade guidance counselor, should persuade you to add choices without consulting your parent or guardian.

The more choices you rank, the better your chances of being matched to a school. But, don't list 12 schools if there aren't 12 you want to attend.

  • Many large schools offer several programs. If you really want to attend a certain school, apply to more than one program.

  • If you have a zoned school, it will be printed on your application. (Manhattan does not have any zoned schools, Staten Island does, as do parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens). You are not guaranteed acceptance there unless you list it on your application. If you are a "top two-percenter" which counts when applying to educational option schools, this is noted on your application.

  • Don’t let your friends choose for you. No school can accept every qualified student, so it’s likely that friends will attend different high schools.  Trust that you will make new friends in high school.