image of public school in New York City

Not happy with the zoned public school? Here’s how to get your child in elsewhere.

One thing every parent should consider when moving to a new neighborhood is the NYC school zone. After all, your child will spend much of their lives at school. It’s where they’ll learn, socialize, and have important experiences. So what do you do if your home’s zoned school is not quite up to par?

Even if your NYC school zone doesn’t have the school of your dreams, your child is not necessarily stuck going there. The growth of the NYC school system means that these days, you have many more options for where to send your child. There are charter schools, specialty public schools, and other ways to broaden your choice of admissions. The zoned school is only the beginning.

When to Begin the Search

School might not start until September, but the admissions process begins nearly a year before that. Kindergarten and elementary school admissions begin in November and December of the prior year. Although some schools keep their admissions open well into the year, most of the time you must have your choices in by January or February. The earlier you begin thinking about your child’s school, the better.

What About High School?

In this guide we focus mainly on kindergarten and elementary school admissions. The high school and middle school selection systems work in a slightly different way. Here are online resources for NYC high school admissions and NYC middle school admissions.

How to Get Your Child Into the Best NYC Elementary School

With that out of the way, here’s our advice for getting your child into the best school possible — even if that isn’t your zoned school:

Know the deadlines. As we mentioned above, the window to apply to schools is fairly small, so be aware of all the dates and deadlines. Mark them on your calendar. Do whatever you have to do so you don’t miss them. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a deadline (you can still apply by calling or visiting an admissions office or the school directly), but it does make things more difficult.

Do your research. You will have better odds of getting into a school if it’s not overcrowded, or if there is an additional step to getting admitted (like an interview or a portfolio submission). How do you know which schools those are? Research! Read about the school online, ask other parents, but most importantly, visit the school in person.

Apply to more than one choice. The application process allows parents to list more than one school on their admissions form. Preference is always given to zoned students (here’s where to find your zoned school), but listing other schools will put you on their waiting list. Be aware that you remain on the waitlist even if you pre-register for the school that accepts you. In other words, there’s no harm in listing as many schools as you want when applying.

Broaden your options. If your zoned school is not your first choice, and the other schools you’re applying for have a tendency to be overcrowded, you might want to broaden your search. Charter schools, magnet schools, selective-admission schools, and new schools are all excellent options to consider, and often have their own admissions programs and applications. Expanding your search gives you access to many more school choices.

Make use of special programs. One of the best ways to get your child into your first-choice school is by making use of special programs. Features like the Gifted and Talented program open up many possibilities that would otherwise have remained closed. Visit the school of your choice and find out if they have a Gifted and Talented program or any other admissions programs you can make use of. And remember, of course, that these programs have their own rules and deadlines.

Be aware of preferences. Schools around NYC admit children based on a series of preferences. First preference is given to zoned kids with siblings in the school. Kids from outside the zone with siblings, as well as kids currently attending Pre-K in the school, are also given preference over other non-zoned children. In other words, having a sibling in a good school or sending your child to a Pre-K program in the school increases your chances of getting admitted there. Even if neither applies to you, it’s something to be aware of when choosing a school to apply to.

Personally appeal to the school’s staff. Were you waitlisted for a school you absolutely love? Schedule an interview or write the principal a letter explaining why your child is a good fit for the school. Many school admissions are automated and lottery-based (after applying preferences), but waitlists are often flexible pools, not strict lists. Sometimes a personal appeal still has the power to sway the decision. At the very least, it can’t hurt!

Apply for an exception (where applicable). There are a few cases where parents may be given permission to officially sidestep the zoned school program. You can apply for a placement exception request if any of the items on this list apply to you, or you can choose not to attend a zoned school which has been listed for at least two years as a school in need of improvement. For more information, visit the city’s official webpage on the topic.

Be available. If your child is waitlisted for a school, things can happen very quickly. If a seat opens up, parents will receive a phone call directly from the school requesting the parent’s presence in the school — sometimes even the very next day. Being unavailable or missing the call might mean that the school moves on to the next name on the waitlist, and you lose your chance. So be available for contact if your child is waitlisted.

Follow through. Remember that even after your child is given a seat in a school you love, you still have to complete the registration process and provide documentation within a certain time frame. Don’t lose your spot because you missed a deadline.

Resources for NYC Parents Applying to Elementary School

Want to learn even more about the NYC elementary and kindergarten admissions process? Visit these websites and resources:

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