Navigating the New York City School System
In order to enroll your child in a good school in New York City, you should plan well in advance, at least a year ahead of time. The earlier you get started, the easier the application process will be, and your child’s chance of getting into the school of choice will be better. Some parents in New York get their child on a waiting list for a good pre-kindergarten, for example, even before the child is born.
Pre-kindergarten School, otherwise known as “pre-school,” is usually for children age three to four. Usually a pre-kindergarten school is a part of an elementary school. Elementary school usually goes through the fifth grade; however, many elementary schools in New York City go up until the sixth grade. The first year of elementary school in the United States is called kindergarten. Children usually enter kindergarten when they are five years old. Middle schools are generally comprised of grades six to eight. High schools are comprised of grades nine to twelve.
There are two major types of schools in New York City: public schools and private schools.
New York City Private Schools are open to anyone in the city and have no residence-based restrictions. Application processes vary from school to school, as does tuition. Sometimes tuition can be as much as $30,000/year. However, getting into a good school is very competitive and still requires at least a year of advance planning. Scholarships and financial aid may be available depending on the student’s academic achievements and/or a family’s financial status. All schools require students to take a placement test. Some schools also require an admissions essay and/or interview. The best way to find this out and to schedule the test is to contact the individual school.
Please see our sample list of pre-kindergarten, elementary and middle private schools and the list of the top private high schools.
New York City public schools offer free tuition to any child who qualifies to be enrolled in a school. There are four major types of public schools and they differ based on their admission criteria.
1. Public schools with Residence Requirements
Admission to a public school with a residence requirement for pre-kindergarten, elementary and/or middle schools often depends on where you live. There are 32 main school districts (also called "zones") in all boroughs of New York City, six of which are in Manhattan.
School placement is done by local public school regional offices. In order to enroll, you need to come with your child and all the necessary documents to your specific regional office. There are two regional offices in Manhattan and they cover all six Manhattan districts and the Bronx:
Regional Office #9
Regional Superintendent: Peter Heaney, Jr
Serves School Districts 1, 2, 4 and 7
333 7th Avenue
Regional Office #10
Regional Superintendent: Gale Reeves
Serves School Districts 3, 5, 6 and 7
Documents to be presented include:
Verifiable proof of your home address.
Child’s birth certificate, passport, or baptismal certificate.
Child’s immunization history.
Child’s transcript or latest report card (recommended not required).
Child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), if applicable
To find out to which regional office you should go and which district (zone) you are in, call 311 from New York City or visit the NYC Department of Education’s zone search page. To get more information have a look at the NYC Department of Education’s student enrollment page.
2. Public Schools that are open to children citywide
This usually applies to public high schools. However, some pre-kindergarten, elementary and middle schools have no residence-based restrictions, too. So if you had no luck with your local public schools, consider this option.
3. Charter Schools
An alternative to private and public schools are charter schools, which are a hybrid of both. They are independently run public schools (meaning not run by the State of New York), and they aim to bring new ideas and faculty to public education. If you are interested in exploring the option of charter schools you can reach them at (+1212) 437-8300.
4. Public High Schools
New York public high schools do not have a residence requirement. Most children apply to a high school of their choice during the last year of middle school. Some schools that do have both middle and high school don't have a separate admission process for their middle school students.
5. Specialized Public High Schools
In New York City there are several “specialized” high schools, which also happen to be the city’s top public schools. These schools are considered specialized because each school has a specific focus. For example, if your teenager is interested in the performing arts, you might want to consider looking into the specialized school for the performing arts.
To enroll, all of these schools require students to take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. You can find out when the test dates are and their locations by taking a look at the NYC Department of Education’s page on SHSAT.
A very good resource for any other questions you may have regarding public education is the NYC Department of Education’s Assessment and Accountability, Tel: 212-374-3990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please see our sample list of residence based public schools
Please see our sample list of citywide public schools
Please see our sample list of specialized public high schools
Please see our sample list of public high schools
Please see our sample list of private schools
Please see our sample list of private high schools
Please see our sample list of schools for children with special needs
Please see our sample list of international schools
A good resource about everything and anything concerning NYC schools is the Insideschools Hotline 1-866-427-6033 or their website www.insideschools.org