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  • Grace Lee Sawin

    Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS. Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school and beyond, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.

    How to apply to a CPS school in 5 easy steps

    The 5 steps you need to take to apply to Chicago Public Schools elementary schools and preschools, including magnet schools and selective enrollment schools (SEES).


    It’s the time of year again! Chicago Public Schools (CPS) begins its applications for the 2021-2022 school year on Monday, October 12, and close on Friday, January 8, 2021. Students entering kindergarten through 8th grade may apply for open seats at schools across the city, with a limited number of pre-k options available as well. Learn about Universal Pre-K status.

    [Related: 9 questions parents should be asking schools]

    In CPS, there are two main types of schools to which you can apply:

    1. Magnet schools and lottery admission programs – These include magnet schools, magnet cluster schools and open enrollment schools. A completed Choice Elementary Application is required; seats are determined via computerized lottery with no testing involved.

    2. Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) – These include Classical Schools, Regional Gifted Centers (RGC) and Academic Centers for middle schoolers. A completed SEES application is required; students are selected through a testing process.

    For kindergarten entry at any CPS school, children must be age 5 by September 1 of the year they are entering kindergarten. (The only exception is via the Illinois Accelerated Placement Act.)

    Here's an abbreviated guide to getting the application process started in 5 manageable steps:

    1. Activate an account (if applying online). Go to go.cps.edu to request a CPS ID for each child who is new to CPS. Each applying student needs a CPS ID to open an online CPS application. Paper applications do not require a CPS ID. All applications are due by January 8, 2020.

    2. Apply. Select the schools for which you want to apply via Choice Elementary (lottery) and/or SEES (test required) applications.

    1. For the Choice Elementary application, you can choose up to 20 schools with no ranking required for the lottery.
    2. For the SEES application, you can select up to 6 Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center (RGC) schools and must rank them in order of preference.
    3. 3. Schedule a test date. If you wish to have your child tested for SEES, you will be asked to choose a test date via your portal at go.cps.edu after applying to any SEES programs. There are separate tests for Classical Schools and RGCs. If applying to kindergarten for both types of schools, each test will be administered on the same day. If applying for both types for older grades, your child will be tested on separate dates. Testing will occur from November 2020 through February 2021, or until all applicants have been tested. Students who take their test in November will receive their test results before the January 8, 2021, deadline.

    4. Submit your application by 11:59pm CST on January 8, 2021 (or received by 6pm at CPSOAE for paper applications). You should receive instant confirmation of your online application and sending via certified mail is recommended for paper submissions. Notification letters and test results (for students who took their exam(s) after November 2020) will be posted to your online application portal (or mailed to paper applicants) in April 2021.

    5. VIRTUALLY visit the schools you are most interested in. This is a very important step in the process and ideally should be done before you select schools and submit your application. Check out NPN School Directory to get an overview of each school, contact schools for virtual tour dates and open houses, and try to connect with parents whose children attend the schools you’re considering. Bear in mind that the “hottest” schools might not be the best fit for your child. Also, don’t underestimate your own neighborhood school, as it may be a “hidden gem” and the perfect place for your child—and for you and your family to become part of an active school community.

    [Related: CPS 101 video (members only)]

    These are just the basic steps in the CPS application process. Please note that there may be variations to these steps, depending on the particular programs and/or grades your child is applying to. Visit go.cps.edu for more information and details.

    Remember: No application or deadline is required for your neighborhood school. Every street address in the city is assigned to a neighborhood school where your child is guaranteed a seat. However, keep in mind that the public school nearest to your home may not necessarily be your neighborhood school (even if it’s right across the street!). Enter your primary residential address on the CPS School Locator to determine your neighborhood school. Then contact the school directly for a registration timeline and other pertinent information for incoming students and families.

    Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 school year (or beyond)? Keep your eye on the NPN Chicago School Choice events on the calendar for our next round of CPS 101 presentations, which offer more guidance and tips for learning about CPS and successfully navigating the public school selection and application process. NPN members can also access the four-part CPS 101 video series.

    Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum.

    Grace Lee Sawin

    Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS. Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school and beyond, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.

    Photo credit: Bruno Girin/Flickr

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