There are many things to consider when selecting a school for the student in your life. Here’s our six-step guide to managing and completing the process.
Step 1: Understand Your Timeline
It’s never too soon to start looking for the right school. Some schools require you to apply nearly a full year before the start of the school year. This is the case with all of the School District of Philadelphia’s citywide and criteria-based schools. Some schools also have a more extensive admissions process.
For more information, see our detailed timeline for choosing an elementary or middle school.
Step 2: Understand Your Student’s Needs
The most effective school search starts with an in-depth look at your student. Use the student and parent/caregiver sections of the “Decide what’s important to you” page in the How to Apply to a K-12 School Toolkit to think through and write down his or their strengths, weaknesses, and special interests and needs. You will use this information to help direct your research into schools that might be a good fit.
Step 3: Decide What You Want in a School
Once you have thought about what you and your student want and need in a school, it’s time to identify the kind of school environment that will best meet those needs. In addition to good academics and a safe learning environment, decide the other qualities you want in a school in the “Decide what’s important to you” page in the How to Apply to a K-12 School Toolkit.
Think of these needs in terms of “The school should…” statements. To get you started, here are some examples:
- The school should be easy to get to. How far are you willing to travel or have your student travel?
- The school should emphasize tolerance. What values are important to you? How do you want the school and teachers to interact with your child? How should your school focus on building character in addition to teaching academic subjects? Are there codes for conduct and discipline?
- The school should offer special services and programs. Does your child require special education or assistance? Do you want an emphasis on the arts or sciences? What about extracurricular programs or music?
- The school should have an active parent group. What do you want in the student and parent communities of a school? Is diversity important to you?
Once you have written down all the qualities you are looking for, list them in order of importance on the worksheet and move to Step 4.
Step 4: Research Your Options
Now that you have a firm idea of the kind of school environment you’re looking for, you can begin to research individual schools. There are nearly 350 elementary and middle schools in Philadelphia, but don’t let that overwhelm you. GreatPhillySchools is designed to help you navigate this complex system of public and private options to find the best school for you and your child.
There are two parts to this research process. To get started, you can search GPS for top-rated schools or enter a neighborhood name to see a few schools to read about. As you read through the profiles and identify schools that seem to be a good match for your most important school needs, record their names under “Find and compare schools” page in the How to Apply to a K-12 School Toolkit. (If a school matches more than one of your needs, that’s great! It might end up being one of your top choices.)
You can use those schools’ profiles to find out information on the school type, ratings, and distance. Once you fill the pages out, it will be easier to compare your options and rank the schools you would most like to visit.
Before you begin looking at profiles, you may want to read these brief overviews of the major types of schools to make sure you understand the many options available to you:
- Understanding Public District Schools
- Understanding Public Charter Schools
- Understanding Catholic Schools
- Understanding Independent Private Schools
Step 5: Visit Schools
Once you have used the “Find and compare schools” worksheet to narrow down your possible choices, the next step in the process is visiting. Using the information in our profiles, contact the school(s) to schedule a visit and/or attend an open house.
While work schedules can make it hard to find time for visits, there’s no better way to know if a school is right for your child. It’s important to visit during school hours so you can observe classrooms and speak to the principal. You want to see an atmosphere that is welcoming and adults who clearly care about the students but who also clearly expect students to achieve and behave.
The following list of questions can help you get the most out of your time at a school. You can use the School Visit: Questions to Ask to record your impressions. You can also use the “Visit schools” page in the How to Apply to a K-8 School Toolkit.
Step 6: Apply to Schools
Once you have completed your visits and reviewed your notes, it’s time to decide which school(s) to apply to. There is a handy tool in the “Apply” page in the How to Apply to a K-8 School Toolkit. for keeping track of contact information and deadlines. See the following links for the basic procedures for applying to each type of elementary/middle school:
- Applying to a Public District Elementary or Middle School
- Applying to a Public Charter Elementary or Middle School
- Applying to a Catholic Elementary School
- Applying to an Independent Private Elementary School
If you haven’t heard anything back from a school after two weeks or so, follow up to make sure it has your application and any other required materials or information. Ask when you will receive an answer about whether your child will be accepted or enrolled.
Looking for more information on finding a great school? See all articles here.
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