Choosing a high school: Commonly asked questions
by Dale Mezzacappa
How do I get started?
Talk to the adults in your life, including teachers, counselors, and parents or guardians. Review the articles and school profiles in this guide. Get a copy of the District’s high school directory published every fall and meet with your counselor. Seventh and 8th graders should attend the High School Expo, scheduled this year on September 28 and 29, where all District and charter schools are represented and you can ask questions. In October, the Philadelphia School Partnership will launch its website, greatphillyschools.org, from which you can get information on academics, extracurricular activities, graduation rates, college enrollment, safety and other factors.
When should I start thinking about high school choices?
It’s an important decision, so it’s good to start early: no later than the beginning of 7th grade. High schools look at attendance, grades, and test scores from that year in determining who is qualified to attend.
What is the difference between a special admission and a citywide admission high school?
Special admission schools set a high bar, with test score cutoffs and specific requirements regarding grades and attendance. Citywide admission schools give less weight to test scores, but still set minimum standards regarding grades, attendance, and discipline records. The principals at special admission schools decide who gets in, while citywide admission schools put all qualified students into a lottery.
What if I want to go to a charter school?
You should contact that school directly as early as you can. Charter schools are required to conduct lotteries if they have more applicants than spaces, but each has its own application process and deadlines. They are not permitted to discriminate or deny admission to students based on test scores, disability, or English language proficiency. They can limit enrollment to certain grades and a particular area of study but must make their admissions standards clear. Many charters have detailed applications and strict deadlines in order to be entered into the lotteries.
How can I find out the admissions requirements of a school?
This guide and the District’s high school directory include the admission requirements for each school. Your counselor can help explain the requirements.
If I don’t meet the exact criteria of a selective school, should I apply anyway?
Yes, but only if your record comes close to meeting all the requirements. They often admit students who do not meet every criterion. Principals at selective schools may seek recommendations from counselors and principals from the schools that applicants attend. Interviews can also make a big difference.
Certain schools have lots of applicants – how can I improve my chances?
Before you apply to Masterman, keep in mind that nearly all the high school slots are filled by students from their middle school – your odds may be one in a hundred. Some of the other most selective schools may admit only one out of every 10 applicants. But there are schools in the city that are not as well known yet have similar programs. Check them out. Applying to charter schools is another way of improving your odds; you’re not limited on how many you can apply to.
Should I visit the school as part of the admission process?
Yes, to get the “feel” of a school. Some schools allow applicants to shadow students for all or part of a day. Some require interviews or auditions. Check with your counselor.
If I get rejected from all my choices, what should I do?
If you get on the waiting list of a special admission school or a charter school, there is a chance that you will be admitted. You should keep in touch with your counselor and with the school you want to attend. These schools manage their own waiting lists.