NYC high schools are separated into 2 groups: main round and specialized. Make sure you check out links just mentioned - you'll find important info about both types of schools. Check the chart below for an explanation of all admissions methods and criteria.
Important to remember: main round is MANDATORY. Specialized schools are OPTIONAL.
HIGH SCHOOL PROCES TIMELINE
June: High school handbooks distributed
July: NYC DOE High admission workshops
August: tour sign ups start
September: citywide high school fair
Sept/Oct/Nov: tours/open houses take place
Oct/Nov: SHSAT, LaGuardia auditions
December: applications due
February/March: main round offer letters
Main round schools use several different admissions methods and can consider GPAs, transcripts, ELA and math scores and absence and latenesses. Most do not want letters of recommendation. Some do have additional testing, interviews, or submission of work.
Admissions for specialized schools are completely different than main round.
LaGuardia, part of the specialized group, is the only one that is audition based (portfolio too for art discipline). They also take into account transcripts, test scores, absences and latenesses.
Admissions for the other specialized schools (Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, HS for Math, Science and Engineering, Lehman, Queens HS for the Sciences, Staten Island Tech and Stuyvesant) is based on one test only. GPAs, recommendations, transcripts, absence and latenesses don't matter. The SHSAT - specialized high school admissions test, which is held in October of 8th grade, is comprised of verbal and math questions. Cut off scores vary every year there is no finite number which guarantees admittance to any particular school. Students can take the test again in their sophomore year and transfer.
Main round and specialized lists are different and are submitted at different times. Rankings for main round schools are submitted to guidance counselors in December. Rankings for specialized schools are done, by students, at the specialized tests. That came as a surprise to many parents. So, kids can possibly get into 3 schools: LaGuardia, a main round, and a specialized. In February students get one nondescript letter listing schools they've been accepted at. After acceptance letters are sent out many school host open houses for kids they've made offers to, to help them in their final selection process.
Touring for all schools happens beginning in the spring and throughout the fall so it's important to remember all schools are not the same. If you love Bard and Bronx Science, great - they go on separate lists. Same for Nest and Tech. But, if you like Beacon and Baruch those are both main round and will be on the same list.
Students can apply to any school in all 5 boroughs. There are over 400. There is also no zoned or safety school in Manhattan. Generally guidance counselors meet with parents in the spring to give an overview of how things work and to also give out copies of high school handbooks. These list every single school in the city along with info about graduation rates, extra curricular activities etc. You can also find the information online:
CLICK HERE for this year's main round high school directory.
and CLICK HERE for this year's specialized high school handbook.
And even though there are over 400 schools in the city, you won't be going on quite that many tours. In fact, it feels like everyone has basically the same list of schools to check out, just ranking them in different orders.
Try to go into this process with as few preconceived ideas as you can. Having now gone through this process twice, I've learned that not only could you have very different reactions than what you thought you would, it can vary widely depending on the child you're with. And, you'll find families also have drastically different reactions to the same places. A word of advice: take advice from parents who don't have a kid at a certain school with a grain of salt. And even when you know someone whose kid is at a school, their experience won't be the same as others.
The principal of Eleanor Roosevelt gave the best advice I'd heard during the touring process. In the end, he said, listen to your kid. They're the one who'll be going to that school for 4 years, doing the commute, sitting in the classrooms, participating in after school programs. No matter how much you may think a school is the right, or wrong place for them, they need feel comfortable with where they're going.