Public Schools

New York City Public Schools

New York City, consisting of the 5 boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, is home to the largest public school system in the country.  The NYC Department of Education divided into 32 community school districts, serves over 1 million students in roughly 1500 schools. Any New York City resident is entitled to receive a free K-12 education, and a wide variety of options exist for consideration.  Only official New York City residents may apply for or enroll in public schools, so if you are planning on moving to New York City, it is important to note that public schools do not hold spots and registration cannot take place until residency has been established.   

Helpful Resources:

Recommended Books:
  • New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools: A Parents' Guide. 3rd ed. Clara Hemphill. New York: Teachers College Press, 2005. This is available in paperback and is worth your investment if you are interested in elementary schools in the public sector.
  • New York City's Best Public Middle Schools: A Parents' Guide. 3rd ed. Clara Hemphill. New York: Teachers College Press, 2008. This is available in paperback and is worth your investment if you are interested in middle schools in the public sector.
  • New York City's Best Public High Schools: A Parents' Guide. 3rd ed. Clara Hemphill. New York: Teachers College Press, 2007. This is available in paperback and is worth your investment if you are interested in high schools in the public sector.

 

New York City Pre-K

New York City public school education generally begins in Kindergarten. However, free or subsidized half-day and full-day Pre-Kindergarten programs exist in some public schools, early childhood centers, and community-based agencies for children living in New York City who turn four by December 31 of the enrollment year. Spots are limited and there is no guarantee of admission. The full day for the Pre-K public school classes ends between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., and children are generally not eligible to participate in the in-house afterschool programs until Kindergarten, so it is important to note the difference in operating hours from many private nursery schools with extended day options.

Some of the schools in the Columbia main campus area offering Pre-K include PS 9, 84, 87, 145, 163, 165, and 166 in District 3; and PS 36 in District 5. As Pre-K classes are often the first programs to be cut when there are space and budget constraints, it is important to double check whether a school for which you are interested in applying will be offering Pre-K again for the following fall. Also, please note that Pre-K admissions has no bearing on Kindergarten admissions and there is no guarantee of Kindergarten placement in the same school where your child attends Pre-K. Therefore, in most cases, even if your child is admitted to a school for Pre-K that you are interested in continuing through elementary, the standard Kindergarten admissions procedures will still apply.

Application Process

Parents are allowed to rank up to twelve public Pre-K programs in order of preference on the application. Every Pre-K program housed in a public school will accept students according to the following order of priority:

  1. Students applying to a program at their zoned elementary school (highest priority).
  2. Students with no zoned school or whose zoned school has no Pre-K program, applying to a Pre-K program within their district.
  3. Students who are zoned for a school with a Pre-K program, but are applying to another school within their district.
  4. Students applying to a program outside their district but in their borough.
  5. Students applying to a program outside their borough (lowest priority).

Please see the Department of Education's website for more information on Pre-K enrollment.

New York City Kindergarten and Public Elementary Schools

Beginning in Kindergarten, all children are eligible for a spot in a public school. However, exploring and applying for multiple possible choices will maximize quality placement options. These choices include the:

  • Neighborhood general education catchment school, known as the zoned school.
  • Unzoned, districtwide, or charter schools with separate admissions procedures, such as a lottery drawing.
  • Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs within schools or those that occupy whole schools where admission is based on testing and score rankings.
  • Schools with specialized offerings such as language or music with admission requirements based on interest, aptitude, or skill.

Catchment Schools and Unzoned, districtwide, magnet, or charter schools 

A catchment zone refers to the area within your district where your automatically assigned local elementary school is located. The general rule is that by virtue of living within the catchment zone, you have the right to enroll your child in the assigned school. Though admission into the general education program of the catchment area school is highly likely, it is not guaranteed, and it is still necessary to fill out an application for your child at the zoned school.  To determine your zoned school, enter your address in the school search tool.  

Columbia's Morningside campus housing is located within Districts 3 and 5 with 116th Street as the dividing line; most residents are assigned to catchment schools PS 165 in District 3, and PS 36 and 125 in District 5.  Other general education options in District 3 include Kindergarten-only lottery admissions for out-of-catchment spots in zoned district schools, as well as a separate school-based K-5 lottery for the Manhattan School for Children (PS 333). Residents of Districts 3 and 5 are eligible for application to such unzoned schools as Central Park East I and II, and Ella Baker, as well as all Charter Schools via school-based lottery.

Residents of District 3 are also eligible to apply to a District 3 Magnet School.   A Magnet School is a public school that offers a very special curriculum designed around a specific theme. It offers students the opportunity to study high interest subjects or experience innovative teaching that goes beyond the basic curriculum and instruction. While each Magnet School in the district has a distinct focus, they are all committed to having every child reach his or her fullest potential. They do this by creating theme-based units of study and developing highly qualified teachers. A Magnet teacher is provided with three times more professional development than that of an average teacher. In addition, Magnet Schools have newly developed curriculum that is standards-based and places students at the center of the learning process. This inquiry-based approach to instruction fosters student engagement and growth. Students are guided as they conduct research and dig deep into technology rich units of study. While the students learn mandated reading and writing skills, Magnet Schools take them much further along their educational journey, asking them to evaluate information and demonstrate their knowledge via culminating projects.

Gifted and Talented Programs

Some elementary schools in New York City offer Gifted and Talented (G&T) education to students who qualify through testing, most beginning in Kindergarten. The majority of the G&T programs consist of separate accelerated classrooms within neighborhood schools. In District 3, programs exist at PS 163, 165, and 166.  There are also several entire schools dedicated to the education of gifted children. These include the Anderson School, the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars (TAG), New Explorations into Science, Technology + Math (NEST+M), Hunter College Elementary School, and the Special Music School

All district and citywide G&T programs use two nationally recognized instruments, the Otis-Lennon School Abilty Test (OLSAT®) and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT®) to determine G&T eligibility. Students who score in the 95th percentile or above based on nationwide standards are guaranteed admission to a G&T program in their district. Students who score at or above 97th percentile will be considered for the three citywide-access G&T programs (Anderson, TAG, and NEST+M).  The Special Music School of America is a citywide access G&T program with a rigorous music-centered curriculum. Entry includes a participating in series of assessments to test musical talent. Hunter College Elementary School accepts Manhattan residents who score above the variable cutoff score on the Stanford-Binet test. This is separate from the other G&T options, as Hunter is a public school administered by Hunter College rather than the NYC Department of Education.

Dual Language Programs  

Dual Language programs provide immersion classrooms within a school designed for half of the students enrolled to be native English speakers and half to be native speakers of another language (Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, or French). Classes are taught in each language on alternate days and the expectation is for students to become fluent in both languages. Enrollment is by application, and is not automatic even if your catchment school offers such a program.  

    For more information on the individual schools and eligibility and entry requirements, please visit the Inside Schools website or review the reference book "New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or order online)

If you move to New York City during the school year or summer and need to find an elementary school:

  • Enrollment consideration cannot take place until official NYC residence has been established. If this has been obtained during the school year but your child is still attending school in another area, eligibility cannot be established until the summer (residence cannot be in two places for NYC public school consideration).
  • In most cases, admission options will be limited to your zoned school, for which you will need to register in person.  To explore additional enrollment possibilities, contact your local Family Welcome Center. If you move to New York after the end of the school year, you may have to wait until late August, when enrollment reopens to register students new to the city or new to public school.
  • To plan your residential location based on schooling options, "New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or order online), is a helpful resource for learning more about good schools. To find out the catchment elementary school and school district based on the street address, use the school search tool on the NYC DOE website.  

New York City Public Middle Schools

Middle School typically refers to grades 6-8, though some noteworthy unzoned schools begin in grades 5 (Center School) or 7 (Hunter College High School, Young Women's Leadership School). Typically, the search for a NYC public middle school begins in the fall of the 5th grade year.

Application Process

Most Manhattan districts are not zoned for specific middle schools, and all boroughs have some middle schools for which anyone can apply. This is a process known as middle school choice, and it is important to follow the appropriate application procedures to ensure optimum placement. Again, since most districts do not consist of automatically zoned middle schools within the district area, an application and ranking form must be filled out in order to be placed in a middle school. Even for those districts with zoned middle schools (such as District 6), you are not required to attend the zoned school and will likely wish to explore other options available to you in order to maximize quality placement opportunities.

Choices

Choices can vary widely, though most middle schools in Manhattan are restricted to those students who live within the district. The following District 3 middle schools only accept students who reside in District 3:

The following unzoned schools accept students from all five boroughs and have school-based application procedures: 

The Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering accepts students from Districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 who reside above 96th Street.

To learn more about quality middle school programs in each district and throughout the city, as well as specific admission and eligibility requirements including testing and interviews, visit the individual school websites, New York City Department of Education, Inside Schools, and pick up the reference book "New York City's Best Public Middle Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or order online). 

 

Timeline for Middle School Application Process

 

September-December (year prior to fall entry)

  • Explore middle school options and eligibility.

January-February

  • Register for middle school tours/open houses. To find tour/open house schedules, call the individual schools of interest, visit their websites, ask for information at your child's elementary school, or visit Inside Schools for a listing of schedules.
  • Obtain a middle school application form, directory, and application for testing for selective schools from public elementary schools or district enrollment offices.
  • Middle School application forms are due in early February to elementary school counselors or district enrollment offices.

May

  • Middle school placement notification.

 

If you move to New York City during the school year or summer and need to find a middle school:

  • Applications cannot be accepted for submission until official NYC residence has been established. If this has been obtained during the school year but your child is still attending school in another area, eligibility cannot be established until the summer (residence cannot be in two places for NYC public school consideration).
  • Identify schools that interest you. "New York City's Best Public Middle Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or order online) is a helpful resource for learning more about good schools.
  • Contact the schools to try to find out your chances of acceptances. They might be willing to meet with you outside of the official process, though enrollment is handled only through the central offices.
  • Take a list of the schools you are interested in to your local Family Welcome Center.  That way they will be less likely to place you in just any school -- although there are no guarantees. If you move to New York after the end of the school year, you will probably have to wait until late August, when enrollment reopens to register students new to the city or new to public school.

New York City Public High Schools

There are no zoned high schools, grades 9-12, in Manhattan. Every student must fill out a standardized application listing high school choices for which they wish to apply. Although there are some district and borough restrictions for certain schools in New York City, overall the choices vary widely at the high school level. The high school application process is the same throughout the city, consisting of one application, usually due in early December, for all public high schools. Application due dates, testing dates, admission notification dates, and tour and open house dates can vary from year to year and school to school.

Specialized High Schools

Nine high schools within the five boroughs are designated as "specialized high schools", which are open for application citywide. The following eight of these schools require the specialized high schools exam:

This exam is given in October or November of the 8th grade year. Exam admission tickets are provided to students by their middle school guidance counselors or by visiting any Family Welcome Center

The Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts requires an audition (in dance, voice, instrumental music, drama, technical theater or a portfolio in studio art) in November and December.

Specialized High School Admissions for Newcomers

If you are an incoming 9th or 10th grader new to the city, you are eligible to take the exam for the eight specialized exam high schools or audition for two arts schools:

The exam is traditionally given in late August; the auditions are held on another date.

Selective Schools

Other selective schools include:

"New York City's Best Public High Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or online) is a helpful resource for learning more about good schools.

The Application Process

The high school application process is the same throughout the city, consisting of one application, usually due in early December, for all public high schools. Application due dates, testing dates, admission notification dates, and tour and open house dates can vary from year to year and school to school.

Some schools administer their own admissions exam, and others may not require an entrance exam, but weigh such factors as academic performance, standardized test scores, attendance records, essays, interviews, and portfolio submission.

  • You may apply to a maximum of 12 high schools in addition to the nine specialized exam and audition high schools. Apply only to those schools you are willing to attend.
  • Rank the schools in order of your choice. Schools won't see the order in which you rank them.
  • You will be matched with your highest ranked school that accepts you. You will only receive one offer, unless you are accepted at one of the specialized high schools, in which case you will have a choice.

Timeline

September (year prior to fall entry)

  • Register for high school tours/open houses, which take place from September through November in many schools. To find tour/open house schedules, call the individual schools of interest, visit their websites, or visit Inside Schools for a listing of schedules. Register early, as these fill up quickly. There is also a citywide high school fair held every fall where you can meet representatives from all city high schools, as well as smaller fairs in each borough.
  • Obtain a ticket for the Specialized High Schools exam/LaGuardia audition ticket from your child's middle school guidance counselor or district office.
  • If interested, register to take the Bard High School Entrance Exam.

October/November

  • School tours/open houses continue.
  • Specialized high schools exam takes place.

December

  • High School applications due in early December.

February-May

If you move to New York City during the school year or summer and need to find a high school:

  • Applications cannot be accepted for submission until official NYC residence has been established. If this has been obtained during the school year but your child is still attending school in another area, eligibility cannot be established until the summer (residence cannot be in two places for NYC public school consideration).
  • Identify schools that interest you. "New York City's Best Public High Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or online) is a helpful resource for learning more about good schools.
  • Contact the schools to try to find out your chances of acceptances. They might be willing to meet with you outside of the official process.
  • Go to the enrollment office. That way they will be less likely to place you in just any school -- although there are no guarantees.
  • If you move to New York after the end of the school year, you'll probably have to wait until late August, when special enrollment centers open up in every borough to register students new to the city or new to public school.

New York City Public Charter Schools

Learn more about New York City Charter Schools.

Last Updated: 
01/17/17