Helping Chicago Students Navigate the High School Application Process

Helping Chicago Students Navigate the High School Application Process

Getting into high school in Chicago is no easy task. For many parents and students who want to get into one of CPS’s 11 selective enrollment high schools, navigating the seemingly endless maze of school visits, application deadlines, standardized test deadlines and more can feel like you’re hacking your way through the jungle without a map.

And if you start considering sending your child to a Catholic school or private school, the process can become even more overwhelming.

That’s why Educational Endeavors has recently partnered with Lock & Key Educational Services to help families determine which high schools to apply to and walk them through the application maze every step of the way.

Lock and Key was founded by Chrissy Lewis and Kandyce Woods, who both previously worked with High Jump, an academic enrichment program that helped high-achieving, low-income 7th and 8th graders get into good high schools. Now, with Lock and Key, Lewis and Woods’ mission is to expose students and parents to all of the possible choices they have in high schools and help students find the right school for them.

Lewis says when she was working as a CPS guidance counselor she would ask students which high school they wanted to go to, they’d all say the same schools: Walter Payton, Jones College Prep and North Side College Prep. But many students didn’t realize how competitive it is to get into those schools.

According to an article on, about 13,000 students applied for just 3,600 spots in selective enrollment high schools in 2015. And for this school year, students from the highest income areas had an average score of 896 out of 900 possible points to get into Payton, while students from the lowest income areas had an average of 838 points.

The 900 points are based on your 7th grade grades in academic classes, your score on your NWEA MAP test (taken in the spring of 7th grade for public school students and the fall of 8th grade for private school students), as well as your score on the Selective Enrollment High School Entrance Exam (taken from October through February of 8th grade).

Students are also ranked by tiers, with preference going to students from lower income and racially diverse areas. That means students in high-income areas have to have straight As and almost perfect scores on both tests to get into the most competitive schools.

“A lot of kids don’t know how detrimental their 7th grade grades can be,” Lewis says.

At every initial consultation, Lewis and Woods sit down with the parents and the student and review their grades and test scores to determine where they have the best chance of getting in. But they also take the time to talk to the students about what they are looking for in a high school to find the best fit.

“There is no best high school,” Woods says. “There’s the best high school for you.”

Lewis says the initial consultation with families is always very laid back and relaxed, and they make sure to spend time with the students one-on-one so they are free to talk about their own wants and needs, away from their parents.

For example, some students prefer a smaller school environment, and others are looking for schools with great theater programs, basketball teams or science programs.

After the initial consultation, Woods and Lewis come back with their recommendations of the best schools to apply to, and they encourage families to consider looking at selective enrollment high schools, private schools, charter schools, parochial schools or boarding schools, too, which may be a good option for some families.

“We really want to expose families to all of the choices they have,” Lewis says.

They even walk families through the process of applying for scholarships and financial aid if needed. “Boarding schools are a very good option because a lot of times they have money to give away for scholarships,” Woods says.

Once they choose which schools they want to consider, Woods and Lewis map out a calendar, showing them when they can attend open houses, when they need to take certain standardized tests and more. They will also recommend that they take additional test prep classes or writing classes to boost their chances of getting in.

In addition, Woods and Lewis can help students prepare for interviews, which they may need to get into certain private schools and boarding schools.

“In many cases, this might be your child’s first experience with interviewing,” Woods and Lewis write on their website. “The interview preparation session… will make your child more comfortable with interviewing, giving your child the confidence that is vital in making a stellar first impression during their high school interview.”

The best advice that Lewis has for parents who are worried about where their child will go to high school is to start early. “The earlier the better,” she says. “I would love to have the initial conversation at the beginning of 7th grade.”