Finding the Right School · School Choice

Your Cheat Sheet For Figuring Out All Your NYC High-School Choices – And How To Get Them

June 25th, 2019 Addendum: The New York City Department of Education has announced that there will be no comprehensive, paper directory for 2019-2020 High-School admissions.

The directory will only be online from now on. This, despite the multiple glitches the Parent Portal experienced during 20182019 admissions, and reports of low income and minority students falling behind and exacerbating the achievement gap due to not having internet access at home.

On the other hand, the DOE is touting their brand new “easy to use, easy to carry” 2020 High-School Admissions Guide… which is currently not available on-line. You can get one at your middle school or at a Family Welcome Center. All of which are open 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Thursday, and 8 AM to 3 PM on Fridays. Terribly convenient hours for working families.

Summer is the ideal time for middle-schoolers to plan their application strategy so they can hit the ground running in the fall. Some schools require signing up for an Open House, exam, interview or audition immediately after Labor Day, and the most popular choices often run out of slots mere hours after registration opens. It helps to have a list of target schools ready to go. 

The below list can’t replace the paper directory, but it can help families start thinking about their options and preparing their materials while the DOE gets their act together.


In May, The New York Times blamed school choice for why the NYC high school application process is so complicated and traps the neediest kids in the weakest performing schools.

I countered that the problem wasn’t the concept of school choice, but that a weak K-8 educational system left many teens with few choices by the time they applied.

But there’s another problem. Last week, I talked about how — whether deliberately or due to incompetence – the Department of Education (DOE) wasn’t telling parents everything they needed to know about elementary school Gifted & Talented programs and admissions. This lack of information also applies to high school admissions.

So, this week, I break down your high school options – and how to raise your odds of admission.

School Type: Public Specialized

Admissions Process: The only thing that matters is your score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Students rank the 8 available schools in order of preference and are assigned to their first available choice based solely on that test score. SHSAT registration closes in October, a few weeks before the test is administered.

Application Tip: You must prep for the test, and you must do it well in advance. Last minute test prep, as the DOE found out, won’t cut it. Thirty thousand 8th graders compete for a total of 4,000+ spots, and the material is very different from what’s on the state tests.

School Type: Public Screened

Admissions Process: May require a test, interview, portfolio or some combination of all three on top of state test scores, grades, and attendance. Students can list up to 12 choices on a public school form, SEPARATE from the SHSAT.

Application Tip: While the ranking form is due in early December, supplementary materials may have an earlier deadline, especially if test scores or a writing sample are a prerequisite for earning an interview slot.

School Type: Public Arts/Audition

Admissions Process: Students display their talents in fields such as Fine Arts, Vocal Music, Instrumental, Dance, Drama, Theater Tech and more, but grades and test scores are also taken into consideration.

Application Tip: While LaGuardia is a Specialized high school, you do not rank it on either your SHSAT or your public school form. Other performing arts schools, like Frank Sinatra in Queens, go on your public school ranking forms. Specialized Arts programs within a larger school also go on your public ranking form, but require a different code than the general school, overall.

School Type: Public Educational Option

Admissions Process: Ed Opt schools want one-fourth of their students to have high state test scores, one-fourth to have low state test-scores, and the remaining half from the middle.

Application Tip: If your child scored in the top 2% on their English Language Arts (ELA) exam and you rank an Ed Opt school first, you are guaranteed admission. In this arbitrary process, it is your ONLY guaranteed result.

School Type: Public Unscreened

Admissions Process: Simply ranking the school on your form is enough to be considered.

Application Tip: Because it is possible to receive no matches during the First Round of admissions, then move onto Second Round, rank another cohort of schools and still receive no match – in which case the DOE will simply assign you to any school with room – it’s important that families use all 12 spaces on their form. Your 12th choice school, a few blocks away, still beats a school you didn’t pick that is 40 blocks away.

School Type: Public Charter

Admissions Process: While some charter schools share a Common App, others require that you apply directly and get admitted through a lottery.

Application Tip: It is possible to get an offer from an SHSAT school, LaGuardia, a traditional public school, and more than one public charter school.

School Type: Hunter College

Admissions Process: Students are invited to sit for the Hunter admissions test based on their state math and ELA scores. The test consists of English, math, and an essay.

Application Tip: Unlike every other school on this list, Hunter’s high school entry point is in 7th grade, not 9th grade. That means kids take the test in 6th grade, based on their 5th grade test scores. The process starts much earlier than many parents realize!

School Type: Private Catholic

Admissions Process: Catholic High-Schools have their own entrance exam, the TACHS.

Application Tip: Like the SHSAT, registration closes in October.

School Type: Private Independant

Admissions Process: Standardized test scores, grades, essays, teacher recommendations, parent and child interviews are all part of the process.

Application Tip: Applications open after Labor Day and schools sometimes run out of interview spots before their posted deadline. Get your materials in as soon as possible or risk getting shut out.

The wonderful thing is that, because of school choice, NYC teens might get offers from a public Specialized high school, LaGuardia, a general public high school (which includes Arts, Ed Opt and more), more than one public charter school, more than one private Catholic school, and more than one private independent school. One offer doesn’t nullify the others until you formally accept.

The less wonderful thing is that a majority of NYC students are already so far behind after attending underperforming elementary and middle schools, that, when it comes to competitive schools, they’re left with almost no choices at all.

I discuss all your options in much greater detail than a blog post allows, here.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Your Cheat Sheet For Figuring Out All Your NYC High-School Choices – And How To Get Them

  1. Thanks for this info. I knew that op ed schools reserve 16% of half of its seat for students who score “high” in the ELA — but I did not know that if your child scored in the top 2%, he or she is guaranteed a seat. How do you find out if your child is in the top 2%? My child scored a 4.24 but the assessment report just gives a percentile range (74% to 100%) instead of giving the exact percentile.

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