Why do you have to apply to public school in NYC?
In New York City, over 60,000 students apply for public school entry into 9th grade every year. One of the most amazing parts about this city is the diversity of our public school offerings: there are over 450 public high schools in NYC and many have special programs for the arts, STEM, technology, etc.. But city administrators have the hard task of trying to represent the city’s diversity within the school system.
When I was growing up in New York City, many of the best schools had district priority, so if you couldn’t afford to live in an affluent neighborhood, some of the best schools were off limits. Today, district priority is gone. Some schools outside of Manhattan still have borough priority, but that creates a fair advantage in boroughs that have fewer school options. Other changes in the system include carve-outs for diversity in the applicant pool, dividing large schools into smaller specialized programs (which creates a ton of choices when it comes to high school!), and giving schools less autonomy in general when selecting applicants. The process is now more centralized.
NB: One thing that hasn’t changed is that there is a parallel Specialized High Schools track that students can take. Read more about that here!
How do you apply to public high school in New York?
To apply to public high school, you need to create a MySchools.nyc account, research schools that you are interested in, and rank those schools 1-12 in true order of priority (1 being your dream school and 12 being a school you still are interested in but less so than schools 1-11). This list is made on MySchools and can be edited until the deadline, typically in December. Some students also take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) and these specialized schools are not listed as part of the list of 12. Same goes for LaGuardia, which is an arts high school with a different application process. Some students also apply to charter schools (individual lottery system at each school) and/or to private, religious, or boarding schools. These are all separate processes.
How students get offers to DOE public schools
Between December and March, the DOE decides who gets a spot at which schools. But how do they decide? This is a very difficult and confusing process. It includes a combination of each student’s “random number” (basically a lottery number assigned to each student just for this process), 7th grade grades (your Tier or Group number), whether students are eligible for free or reduced price school lunch, whether students have an IEP, and any supplemental materials some schools ask for (essays, portfolios, auditions, or interviews). When you look up schools on MySchools, you can see each school’s criteria for admissions.
Some schools, like the popular Beacon School, for example, has a 66% diversity in admissions carve-out (meaning it will accept 66% of its 9th grade class based on whether they are eligible for free or reduced priced school lunch) in an effort to create a more diverse student body. The school also asks for an essay in addition to looking at 7th grade grades (tier / group number). Since each school has its own combination of criteria and most schools also consider the lottery number (something you cannot predict or do anything about), the process becomes hard to control. There is no guarantee a student will get into their top choice schools and that is stressful!
What are all the factors that the DOE looks at for high school admissions?
In the 2022-2023 admissions cycle, there were 6 factors that were considered for public high school admissions. But remember: not all schools look at all 6 factors. You have to research each school to see which factors they consider.
- 7th Grade Grades (group or tier number)
- Random Number (lottery number assigned to each student in MySchools.nyc in Sept. of 8th grade; note that some schools are not screened so the only thing that matters is the lottery number)
- Diversity in admissions carve-out (a percentage of seats, assigned by the school, goes to applicants eligible for free or reduced price lunch)
- Supplementary materials (essay, audition, interview, portfolio)
- Borough priority (only for a small percent of schools)
- SWD (a percentage of seats, assigned by the school, goes to Students With Disabilities; those who receive special education instructional programming for more than 20% of their academic program as indicated on their current IEP)
So what can I do to prepare for NYC high school admissions?
We recommend starting early in your school search, researching first online and then visiting schools. Once you have a list of 20-25 schools that you are very interested in, it’s important to think about some strategy. Your personal strategy should include what’s important to you in a high school, your lottery numbers (you’ll know this in Sept of 8th grade and you will know if it’s a good one or a bad one: check here), and whether you fall into any priority groups for the schools you love: 7th grade grades, free or reduced lunch, SWD, borough priority, and essay/audition/portfolio/interview.
We think that a mark of a great list of 12 schools is not being able to answer YES to any of these questions:
- Do you have more than 3 schools that are 6-12s, 7-12s or K-12s? Usually 80% of the class will stay for high school, so there will be a very limited number of spots.
- Do you have more than 8 schools that have more than 10-15 applicants per seat? You can find this information on the MySchools listing for every school.
- Do the majority of your schools have a very high diversity in admissions (DIA) set-aside (i.e., over 50%)?
- Do the majority of your schools use the same admissions modality to admit students?
- Does your list look like everyone else's that you know?
I know that this process of applying to NYC’s general education public high schools can seem daunting, but it’s really quite exciting to discover all the amazing high schools out there and live in this vibrant city full of possibilities!