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Tilden Campus high school students walk out of a PEP meeting, protesting plans to co-locate an elementary school.

Students at the citywide high school fair at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Monica Disare

Applications for middle and high school are due soon. Here’s what you need to know about changes this year.

Families who aren’t from New York City are often shocked when they learn what it takes to get into middle and high school: Campus visits and ranking schools on applications are all part of the time-consuming, and often stressful, process. 

There are several significant changes for this year’s applicants, and families have a little more time to apply for middle and high school, with the deadline extended to Dec. 6. 

The new deadline was announced Wednesday, after parents experienced glitches with MySchools, the online admissions portal, days before applications were originally due. (Roughly 32,800 people used the site on Tuesday causing a temporary slowdown, school officials said, promising they were working “around-the-clock” to address problems and concerns.)

New York City’s fifth- and eighth-grade students apply to and rank their top 12 middle schools and high schools, respectively. Each district has a different process for middle school admissions, while for high school, students are matched through an education department-created algorithm.  About a third of the city’s high schools use different criteria to select students, such as state test scores and attendance, and about a quarter of middle schools set their own competitive entrance criteria.

A word of advice from Elissa Stein, who runs the High School 411 service to help families navigate the process: “Rank thoughtfully. The DOE will place you in a school if you don’t get one you listed on your application, so families should rank 12 schools to increase chances of an offer.”

Mahalia Watson, of Let’s Talk Schools, noted that each of the spots on the application represents a program, so you can apply to multiple programs within the same school: “There are some schools that have more than one program. Each program is like a doorway which can be used as a point of entry to the school.”

Pamela Wheaton, a former editor of Inside Schools, who recently founded School Scout NYC to provide advice to families, also stressed the importance of filling out 12 options.

“I think the DOE has really tried to improve things,” Wheaton said about tweaking the application process. “But every year, it’s a new crop of people applying, and they really can’t believe what they have to go through.”

Any families experiencing any issues with MySchools can call, email, visit a welcome center (located in all five boroughs to help with admissions), or work with their school counselor to complete their application. The education department promised to work with families who do not submit their application by the deadline for any reason. Students are expected to receive offers in March.

Here are some things that have changed for this year’s application season. 

Directories are now online.

Instead of printing out its high school directory, which was 630-long pages last year, the education department moved most of its contents online this year. That means information about college enrollment data, Advanced Placement classes, special programs, and other offerings are online — and finding such data can be tricky even for the digitally savvy. 

There’s only a thin printed guide for rising eighth graders containing general information and pointing students to MySchools for more detailed, school-by-school data. 

The change aims to simplify the complicated admissions process and streamline updates or changes to inaccurate information that has shown up in past guides.

But the overhaul raises questions about whether families without easy Internet access will be disadvantaged — and if the change actually addresses the larger issue of equity around admissions. 

“Every year this process gets more challenging and complicated,” Stein said. “While the DOE strives to create a more level playing field for all families, by moving everything online and no longer printing high school directories, they’re making the process harder for those without a computer or online access, those living in shelters, and families who aren’t tech-savvy.”

Waitlists are in. The second round and appeals are out. 

Instead of having a second round for high school admissions, the city is putting students on waitlists for all of the schools they wanted to attend but didn’t get into. That means, for instance, if students are matched with their third-choice school, they will be put on a waiting list for their first and second choices. (This is how pre-K and kindergarten applications already work.)

Students can also add themselves to additional waitlists, even among schools they didn’t list on their initial application.

These changes might result in thousands of students on waitlists, leaving families to wonder through September whether they’ll get a more desirable assignment. Last year, 44,000 students would have ended up on at least one waitlist. 

Students will be told their place on each waiting list and can track updates in real-time, city officials have said. 

Previously, students who received no school match — because they listed too few schools on their application, didn’t meet the entrance criteria for their choices, or the schools they applied to were simply oversubscribed — would enter a second application round for schools that had open seats. 

This past year, the city began assigning those unmatched students to a school, while still allowing them to enter a second round. Now, the city is eliminating round two altogether.

The city’s education department is no longer accepting appeals for middle and high schools.

“All appeals will be handled through family welcome centers,” Stein noted. 

The Bronx has a new middle school admissions process. 

Bronx Executive Superintendent Meisha Ross-Porter announced in September a shift from a district-based process to a borough-wide process. 

This shift aims to simplify the application experience as every school with available seats will be an option for all Bronx students. It also aligns the pre-K through high school admissions processes, giving students a larger pool of schools to explore, education department officials said. 

Middle schools will continue to give priority to students living in their zone or district, but any remaining seats will be filled by other students in the district or from other parts of the Bronx, officials explained. Bronx families received an alert in their MySchools profiles about the change. 

“We heard from the community and listened,” Ross Porter said in a statement. “Moving to a borough-wide process will increase access for students and has improved the application process for families and schools.”

More schools created admissions policies with diversity in mind.

To help with integration efforts, many schools now set aside seats for certain groups, like students from low-income families or who are learning English for the first time. Brooklyn’s District 15 last year, for example, moved to a lottery-based admissions process for all 11 of its middle schools to bolster diversity.

Four high schools added diversity-based admissions this year: Brooklyn’s Leon M. Goldstein; Manhattan’s tiny performance-focused Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts; and two elite Manhattan schools: Baruch College Campus and Lab High School for Collaborative Studies.


This article tackles a topic raised during our 2019 Listening Tour. Read more about the Listening Tour here, and see more articles inspired by community input here.