In Philadelphia, children must enroll in school by the age of 6. For fall enrollment, a child must be age 5 by September 1 to begin Kindergarten at a public school. New students should register at their designated neighborhood school at least two weeks prior to the start of school. If you are interested in enrolling at a school other than your designated neighborhood school, you should start that process a full year before your student will begin Kindergarten or first grade.
You have to register to attend a Philadelphia public school if your student is:
- A new resident of the city
- Transferring from a private, Catholic or other public school
- A Kindergarten student who did not pre register in the spring
Visit the district’s website for the list of documentation needed to register a new student.
Applying to Neighborhood Schools
Through the school district’s Elementary/Middle School Selection process, you can apply to a different District school for the following school year. This process opens in September and closes in November of each school year for admission in September the following school year. You can choose to apply to different neighborhood schools or the criteria based city-wide and special admission schools.
Students can apply to attend any neighborhood school, but space for those not living in the assigned zone is often limited, and selection is by lottery. Parents and guardians should be aware that few students are admitted to high-performing neighborhood schools through the school selection process, so it is best to have multiple options. Preference is given to students with a sibling currently attending the school.
Citywide- and Special-Admission Schools
Some district public elementary and middle schools do not have an assigned neighborhood zone; they are open to any student living in Philadelphia. This is also the case with many public charter schools. Students are selected by lottery to attend such schools.
Special-admission middle schools, sometimes called magnet schools, have entrance requirements. Students are selected based on attendance, behavior, grades and standardized test scores. Some schools require an interview or audition (for arts-focused schools). Keep in mind that these schools are competitive and some receive thousands of applications every year, so it is important to do your research on each school and to have backup choices.
See a complete list of citywide and special admission schools using the GPS School Finder and filter for school type.
The Application Process: District Schools
To apply to district neighborhood schools or to a citywide- or special-admission middle school, complete the district’s Elementary/Middle School Selection process.You will be able to rank up to five schools in order of preference on the application.
The deadline to submit the district Elementary/Middle School Selection Application for the next school year is typically in November.
For more information, call the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement at 215-400-4290.
The Application Process: Charter Schools
For charter school applications through Apply Philly Charter, the 2022-23 application opens on September 24, 2021. The deadline to apply for the 2022-23 school lottery is January 24, 2022.
There are two types of charter schools in Philadelphia: Traditional and Renaissance charter schools. Traditional charter schools can enroll students from any part of the city, and use a random lottery to select students if more students apply than there are seats. Renaissance charter schools guarantee enrollment to any student living in their designated neighborhood or “catchment.”
After you decide which charter schools you want to apply to, fill out a short application. Charter schools must give all students an equal chance at admission. They are not allowed to deny application or admission to students because of their grades, race, income or special needs. They are not allowed to make applicants take tests or go through interviews before admitting them. Some schools offer preferences for certain groups of applicants (for example, siblings). Most charter schools in Philadelphia use Apply Philly Charter, a website that allows you to apply to many schools at once. Using Apply Philly Charter makes the application process easy. You can apply to participating charter schools using your tablet, desktop computer, or even smartphone.
In February, families will be able to log in to their Apply Philly Charter account to view the lottery results. For schools that do not accept Apply Philly Charter, applications can be obtained either in person at each charter school or on most charter schools’ websites. Once you submit the online application or fill out an application, your child will be entered into a lottery. Students selected in the lottery are offered enrollment. Students not selected are placed on a wait list.
The Application Process: Catholic Schools
Students must apply to attend a Catholic school. The details of the admissions process vary. In general, the process for elementary schools begins with an interview and may include an entrance test. Registration periods usually begin in January during Catholic Schools Week, but families are welcome to arrange school visits at any time of year. Depending on enrollment, a school may accept late applications until the start of a new school year.
Families should contact the Catholic school their children are interested in attending for information on that school’s specific application deadlines and requirements.
Learn more about Catholic schools at Understanding Philadelphia’s Catholic Schools.
The Application Process: Private Independent Schools
The admissions process is different at each independent school. Many schools require that families attend an open house before applying. Applications often require a recommendation from a teacher and a copy of your child’s grades from his or her current school.
The application timeline varies from school to school but typically looks like this:
September-December: Attend an open house.
October-January: Submit an application. Application deadlines vary, and many schools accept applications throughout the spring. In general, the earlier you submit an application, the better your child’s chances of admission.
January: Submit a financial aid application (if necessary).
Admissions decisions are usually mailed by early February. If your child is accepted, most schools will offer the opportunity for your student to visit again before deciding whether to attend.
Looking for more information on finding a great school? See all articles here.
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