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Philadelphia School Types

Philadelphia School Types

There are many different types of schools in Philadelphia. Below is a brief overview, divided by school type. For a full list of school of each type, visit Philadelphia Elementary/Middle Schools by Type and Philadelphia High Schools by Type.


Public schools

District catchment schools are operated by the School District of Philadelphia and serve students who live within specific neighborhood “catchment” boundaries. They cost nothing to attend and have to accept all students living inside a designated neighborhood. Parents can also apply for a voluntary transfer to any of the schools operated by the School District. Read more about how to find your neighborhood school and how to transfer schools.

District citywide schools are also free to attend and open to students from any part of Philadelphia. Most citywide schools are high schools. Students apply to these schools through the School District of Philadelphia or a counselor at a district elementary school, and students are usually admitted by lottery. Learn more about choosing a public high school.

District criteria-based schools are middle and high schools that require an application process. Students from any part of Philadelphia can apply to these schools, but they have requirements based on grades and attendance.

Special admission schools look at:

  • Grades
  • Attendance
  • Behavior

To learn about this admission process, read more about choosing a public high school.

Public charter schools are independently operated public schools that have been created to foster innovation and provide students with a wider set of opportunities for academic success. There are about 85 public charter schools in Philadelphia. They are free to attend. Most charter schools are open to students living in any part of the city. Students apply to these schools through a lottery that is meant to give every student an equal chance at admission.

Public charter neighborhood schools serve students living within a specific neighborhood or “catchment” boundary. Like district schools, they are open to all students living within designated boundaries.

Learn more about public charter schools.


Private Schools

Private Catholic schools are mostly operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and a few are independent Catholic schools. There are 60 Catholic schools in Philadelphia. Like all private schools, they charge tuition. The fees vary from school to school, and some schools offer tuition assistance. Scholarships are also available through nonprofit organizations. Some schools set aside some or all of their spots for students lacking financial resources. Families do not have to be Catholic or members of any church for their children to attend a Catholic school, but there is a religious aspect to the education. Non-Catholic students may apply to any Catholic school; members of a church are expected to apply to their parish school if there is one. Learn more about Catholic schools.

Private independent schools come in many forms. They are independently operated and funded, so they require an application process, might charge tuition, and may offer scholarships. Students can also apply for scholarships from other nonprofit organizations. Some private schools are religiously affiliated, and some are affiliated with other types of organizations. Learn more about independent private schools.


Grade levels

Elementary and Middle Schools

In all types of schools, the number of grade levels can vary from school to school. Some elementary schools are combined with middle schools, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade, while in others the oldest level might be fifth or sixth grade. There are also traditional middle schools, just serving grades five or six through eight. Click below for more information that will help you understand your elementary and middle school options:

High Schools

Most high schools start in ninth grade, but some are combined with a middle school and begin at earlier ages. You can read more about your high school options here:

More information

Looking for more information on finding a great school? See all articles here.

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