Easy step-for-step guide for NYC schools application process

Just like so many people who were the first time mom (like myself), or a parent, or caregiver, who tried to navigate the NYC school system for the first time, I was slightly freaking out in the beginning. Just a little bit. But once I figured it out, I decided to be a good samaritan and share the wisdom to spare others the time and effort I actually had to put in to figure it out in the first place.

What I’m writing about here, more specifically, is the application process for a NYC public school. Last year we applied for a Pre-K, and now also completed the Kindergarten application for my preschooler. Now, the application process might vary by grade, assuming your first time application is either for Pre-K or Kindergarten — unless you just moved here with older children. That being said, the general process as outlined in the steps below, should be the same for any grade.

So here it comes:

Step 1: Find your school district: if you already know, skip to step 2.

The most important thing (for my family) in order to begin the application process, was to know which school district we were zoned into. It means that you can’t choose a “random” school, no matter how close it is to your home, and assume your kids would go there. No, it’s been made much more fun for parents.

The most reliable way to find out would be to simply call 311 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or 718–956–2200 Monday- Friday 8AM-6PM).

My favorite resource has been this interactive map: http://schoolzones.us/nyc/. Yes, you guessed right: I don’t like calling people on the phone. Here is how it works: simply type in your address, and there you go: you can see what school district your address falls under.

As you can see in the demo, P.S.041 Greenwich Village is the main school popping up for this address’ district. To confirm the right district, either call 311, or go to the myschools.nyc/en/schools website.

Here is what you can do with the website:

  1. You can select your child’s grade, and by entering your home address (I used a mock address here), you can see a full list of schools you’re eligible to apply to. BTW you remember that school “P.S.041”? It appears at the top of district school results for your address, and you can see that it’s district 2.
  2. You can also see the contact information and other useful data on the selected school. For example, which grades, whether it’s sharing a building with another school, school website, etc.

Step 2: How to actually choose a school.

  1. Word of mouth / social media: if you’re not part of a parenting group on Facebook, know that it can be very resourceful but also really toxic and people who spend too much time on Facebook are unhappier than people who do not do such a thing. This statement has been backed by actual science. But jokes aside, it can be a great way to find out more information about your school of interest.
  2. Schedule a school tour: find the school as shown in demo above, contact the school. Some schools have tours registration and schedules available on their websites, which I really, really appreciated.

Bonus: in order to make a choice, I created a personal choice list, ranking the schools based on a set of attributes. In the end, you’ll have to rank the schools (see next point) based on most- and least preferred.

Step 3: Apply!

  • Deadlines are listed here, just select your grade first. They are usually announced closer to the end of year, and there is a window of several weeks to apply. I would recommend monitoring these pages. It also said that you can get on a mailing list, but it never worked in our case, so I wouldn’t risk it.
  • How to apply
  • Online with MySchools website (as described above). Create the NYC Schools account on https://www.myschools.nyc/en/schools
  • By phone: 718–935–2009.
  • DOE recommends to select up to 12 schools, ranking them based on your preferences. In my experience, there are many great schools in NYC, and the final choice might depend on personal factors, s.a. (in our case) a slightly shorter commute, i.e. walk 4 blocks instead of 8; whether your child’s friends are in the same school; a specific curriculum appeals to you more; the Parents Association is very good, etc.

Step 4: View results, accept / change your mind

  • If you didn’t make the cut into your favorite school, but ended up on a waiting list, don’t be discouraged. The waiting lists usually move towards the start of the school year. 2 out of 3 schools where we were waitlisted in the beginning, ended up extending an offer!

Final thoughts:

Though I’m not considering myself an expert in understanding the acceptance criteria and priorities issued by DOE, this is what I’ve learned from reading DOE content, as well as from the school tours:

  • Some schools have a percentage of seats reserved for children of families who are underprivileged, living in shelters or qualify for free meals.
  • Some schools have a percentage of seats reserved for students who are English language learners.
  • There are other priority criteria you can find out directly from the school. This was always one of my questions during school tours.

Wishing you best of luck in your journey! Hope this write-up was helpful to you.

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