How To: Apply For High School

Finding the right fit for a student entering high school can be a complex task in Philadelphia. Here’s a guide to applying for public high schools.

Get Acquainted

Philadelphia has several options for high school students, that range in proximity to home and programming offered. See a full list of high schools and their category codes here.

Here’s a breakdown of the different options available in the Philadelphia School District.

Neighborhood schools serve students in their communities, and open admission is allotted within a location boundary set by the district. There is no cost associated with attendance. Guardians can apply for a voluntary transfer to any neighborhood school operated by the district, admission is based on available space.

City-wide access schools offer additional programming inside neighborhood schools, like career and technical education, or academics. City wide access schools are also free to attend, but are not limited to a location boundary. Admission is based on a lottery with competitive application requirements.

Citywide and special admission schools, or magnet schools accommodate middle and high school students. The schools offer advanced curriculum in special programing areas, like mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, humanities; social sciences, or fine and performing arts. Magnet schools require school-specific criteria and application process, as well as transcripts. The competitive application process considers attendance, behavior and grades.

Charter schools are public, non-profit organizations independently operated of the Philadelphia School District. They have more freedom to design curriculum, often have longer school days and require uniforms. Schools are free to attend, and use a lottery system that does not require minimum grades or test scores. Renaissance charter schools are neighborhood schools that have been sold by the district, and must also accept all students living in the location boundary.

There are options available for students outside of the Philadelphia School District as well. You can learn more about homeschooling, Catholic and independent private schools online or at your local library.  

For a more hands on approach, consider visiting the free, annual Philadelphia High School Fair, which brings representatives from district, charter and private high schools together to the Pennsylvania Convention Center to answer questions about their schools and application processes.  Learn about financial aid, attending open houses and scheduling school visits and shadowing experiences. The event will be open to the public on Friday, Sept. 15 from 5-7 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Get started

The school selection process opens on Sept. 29, 2017 for Philadelphia School District and closes on Nov. 13, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.  A helpful note from Great Philly Schools: Start early! Applications may take several days to complete.

All students applying to district schools must fill out a universal application. The form can be completed online once available. The school district outlines the process with photos and instructions on its website. The universal application is the end of the process for students intending to attend their neighborhood school.

Looking for a different program? Charter school applications will also begin to open around this time. Here’s a list of last year’s deadlines for reference. Jen Bradley at Newsworks suggests keeping a checklist of application requirements, as they differ between each charter, city-wide and magnet school.

Between December and April, schools will make their admission decisions and contact students with acceptance, rejection and wait-list information. Students who do not make it into their school of choice will be deferred to their neighborhood schools.

Tools and Resources

Some forms you may need:

For English Language Learners and students with disabilities, the LeGare High School Advocacy Process is in place to create equal opportunities during city-wide and special admission application processes.

Additionally, alternative school is an option for students who have dropped out and want to re-enter education through the Philadelphia School District Back On Track program.

Who to contact?

For general inquiries: by email at, by phone at 215-400-4290

For ESOL students: contact Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs by phone at 215-400-4240.

For students with IEP’s and 504 Plans: contact the Office of Specialized Services by phone at 215-400-4170.

There is an appeal process set in place for selection decisions, which is outlined on the district website. According to FERPA regulations, student information cannot be discussed over the phone.


– Text and photo by Brianna Spause

Brianna Spause
Lew Klein Fellow for // Multimedia Journalist

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