7th and 8th Grade Timeline for Applying to High Schools

applying to high school

7th and 8th Grade Timeline for Applying to High Schools


If you’re the parent of a 7th grader, high school may still seem far in the future. But if your child is planning on applying to one of Chicago Public Schools’ selective enrollment high schools, the road to high school may be shorter than you think.

That’s because 7th grade core subject grades, along with results on the NWEA MAP test (given in spring of 7th grade), make up two-thirds of your child’s selective enrollment application score. That means 7th grade is crunch time. (The final third of your score is based on the Selective Enrollment High School Exam, which is held in the late fall/early winter of 8th grade).

So even though your child won’t actually start high school for another year or two, now is a good time to sit down with your child and start thinking about where he or she would like to apply.

Here’s a timeline of what 7th graders can do to start preparing for the high school admissions process:

1. Winter of 7th Grade – Set Your Priorities
Before you begin looking at schools in earnest, the first step in the high school admissions process is to have your child envision what he or she would like in a high school.Rachel Sollinger, a high school admissions counselor at Chicago Jewish Day School, suggests asking your child to think about everything from what academic courses he wants to take and how much homework he can handle, to how large a school he is comfortable at and what types of extracurricular activities he’s interested in.“I make them come up with a list of their must-haves and their like-to-haves,” Sollinger says. “Try to articulate as much as you can up front. Don’t just say, ‘I want to go to Northside or Jones because they’re prestigious.”Vivien Hanson, the parent of a high school sophomore and junior, said someone suggested her son write down three to five things that he already valued about his experience in middle school.

“Have your child sit down and reflect on what they really like or what they are looking for that they’d like to have more of,” she says.

For example, Hanson said her son was interested in going to a small school where he would really be known by his teachers, as he was in middle school, as well a place where he could play basketball. This helped inform his choices about where he was going to apply.

2. Spring of 7th Grade – Start Studying for the NWEA MAP Test
The spring NWEA MAP test is the one that will count for a third of your child’s selective enrollment score. That’s why it’s important that students start learning effective test-taking strategies and reviewing content as soon as possible. Public and charter school students will simply take the MAP test adminstered at their school in May or June. However, private school students will have to register to take the exam at a CPS site. Parents should keep an eye out for announcements from CPS about when to register for this test and be careful not to miss the registration deadline.

3. Summer before 8th Grade – Research Schools, Talk to Other Parents
Once your child has his final 7th grade grades and test scores from the NWEA MAP test, you should have a good idea of the schools where he has the potential to be admitted. (You can use the score calculator on CPS’s website to figure it out – scroll to the bottom of the page).You can research schools a bit through CPS’s website, as well as on individual schools’ websites and on ratings sites like GreatSchools.org. If you know any older students who have already started high school, see if you can have your child talk to them about their experience. “A clever parent might think about whose kids go where and try to make those connections,” Hanson says.

4. Beginning of 8th Grade – Register for Entrance Exams and Start Studying
With the NWEA MAP behind them, students can sign up to take the selective enrollment exam — registration typically opens in early October. Additionally, private and Catholic schools each have their own separate exams that students might want to take if they plan on applying anywhere outside CPS. While there is a good amount of overlap among the various entrance exams, each has its own specific format, rules, and timing, plus some differentiation in content. So 8th grade test prep is a good idea, whether self-directed, with a tutor or in a workshop.

5. Fall of 8th Grade – Attend Open Houses
Most of the CPS selective enrollment high schools, as well as many private schools, hold their open houses in October and November. (However, private schools will usually hold additional open houses throughout the year).Often, open houses are akin to giant pep rallies. You’ll have the chance to browse tables representing all of the various departments and activities, hear the principal give a welcome speech, take a school tour, and even see the cheerleaders and basketball team put on a show.Unfortunately, not only will you be there with hundreds of other prospective parents, but also the CPS open houses are held when school isn’t in session, so it can be hard to get a sense of what a regular school day is really like.One tip is to seek out students who may be working during the open house and ask them about their experience.

Donna Zarei, a parent of one middle school and one high school student, says her son and daughter got the most candid information from students who led the tours at Lincoln Park High School and Jones College Prep. “Some of the questions that were helpful to ask were ‘How do you manage your time?’ … and ‘What type of student do you think would do well in this type of environment?’” she says.

Hanson agrees. When her son and daughter visited Jones, she says, they happened to see someone they knew while standing in line, and they pulled her over to ask questions. She suggested they talk to a specific history teacher, which Hanson says was the most informative part of the open house.

While open houses can be a great opportunity to ask questions and get a sense of a school’s culture, some experts think the experience can be misleading to impressionable students. Sollinger says parents should attend open houses themselves and leave their children at home. “I actually really advise heavily against open houses,” Sollinger says. “Adolescents are really not in a position to know what to look for. They tend to look at very superficial things.”

6. Fall of 8th Grade – Visit in Person
Since open houses at selective enrollment high schools are very orchestrated events, Sollinger suggests that parents get creative about other ways to glimpse what life is really like at various schools. For example, if your child is interested in playing football, go to a football game. If your child wants to be in theater, attend a school play.If you’re considering private schools, Sollinger suggests scheduling a time to take a tour of the school during a school day or have your child sign up to shadow an older student for a day. Whenever possible, Sollinger recommends seeing the cafeteria during lunchtime to get a sense of what a school is really like. “To me, lunch is the most important window into a school’s culture,” Sollinger says.

7. November/December of 8th Grade – Apply!
Before you know it, your child will be applying to the schools of his or her choice. Remember, if you take time to do this research and prep work now, both you and your child will feel confident that you have applied to schools that are the best fit.

This post was updated on 2.15.20 to reflect changes to the NWEA MAP test date for non-CPS students.