Research all NYC schools

Research Now

The Different Types of NYC Public Schools Updated for 2021

April 08, 2021 Halina de Jong-Lambert

Public schools are the most common school type in New York City, but within this category is a wide variety of schools. With so many choices, there is a school for everyone! It is important to note that students apply to programs, not schools, and can be admitted into more than one program within a single school. Families can choose a maximum of twelve programs on MySchools for the main list, but the specialized schools are on a separate ranking list filled out on the SHSAT. 

Specialized Schools

There are only nine schools in this category, but they are ranked as some of the city’s best public high schools. This group includes schools such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science. For eight of these schools, the SHSAT exam is the only factor considered in your application, which is a good option if you feel your grades don’t reflect your full academic ability. But the test is notoriously difficult, and these schools have cutoff scores on the exam to be considered, so study well in advance and consider prep classes. The only specialized public high school that doesn’t use the SHSAT is Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music Art and Performing Arts. Instead, the school uses your grades, test scores, and an audition to the studio/studios of your choice to determine admission. LaGuardia can be a good school option if you want to combine your arts passion and academic education (also look at the other performing arts high schools that fall under different categories).

Screened Schools

Screened schools such as Beacon High School and Midwood High School rank students on various aspects of their record: standardized (state) test scores, interview, portfolio, grades, attendance, and/or audition. This can vary with each program (but all look at your grades and attendance). Using a score determined by this criteria and sorting students by their priority group, programs decide whom to admit. If you feel that your academic record shows strong academic ability, these schools will be your strong suit.

Unscreened Schools

Unliked screened schools, which rank applicants, unscreened schools use a lottery system. So when applying to an unscreened school like Energy Tech High School or Food and Finance High School, students are randomly selected for a school without rubric or criteria. However, many schools have priority groups that may give students from a particular geographic location a better chance. 

Note (and this goes for screened schools, too) there will no longer be district priorities.

Charter Schools

Generally, charter schools such as KIPP Infinity Charter School use a lottery to determine who they will admit (just like unscreened schools). But the difference between unscreened admissions and charter school admissions is that charter schools typically have eligibility requirements such as attending school events etc. Charter schools are not among the public schools ranked on MySchools, but families can use the Common Online Charter School Application. Unlike other public schools, charter schools are exempt from regulations and laws regarding education and administration; this allows schools to curate curriculum independently. 

Educational Option (Ed-Opt) Schools

These schools aim for diversity among their student body, with a fourth of admitted students with high state test scores, a fourth with low state test scores, and the other half with scores in the middle. If a student scores in the top 2% on their English Language Arts (ELA) state exam and rank an Ed-Opt school first, they are guaranteed admission. This type is growing, and more schools have switched to being Education Option recently, including Williamsburg Prep and Brooklyn Collaborative Studies. This is a good option if you want a school environment with a more diverse academic range of students. 

Zoned Schools

These are the schools that students are assigned to in their district. If a student is not offered admission into any high school, they are guaranteed a seat in their zoned school. 

The beauty of public schools is in the range of options you have. With so many options, you can work hard and gain admission to a school that will help you explore and grow your interests. Good luck!

Halina de Jong-Lambert is a sophomore at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music Art and Performing Arts in New York City. She is an acting major at the school, enjoys Stephen King novels, and is a fan of August Wilson.

Join to

Join today and have a high school mentor guide your child through their middle school years

Join Now

Other articles

  • img

    How Volunteering and Extracurriculars Can Affect Applications and Where to Go?

    • April 11, 2023
    • Dean Domingo

    Volunteering and extracurriculars are activities that can benefit both the community and yourself. For middle school students, volunteering and doing extracurriculars provide opportunities to develop new skills and interests and demonstrate to high schools that you are well-rounded and hardworking. High Schools are always looking for capable students willing to do more than what is required. So if you’re not doing extracurriculars and/or volunteering, getting the headstart and being a part of a club or helping out your community is the best way to demonstrate to schools that you are a hardworking and all-around person.

    Read More

  • img

    Tips for Attending High School Information Sessions

    • March 28, 2023
    • Sereia Sarumida

    Public high school admissions decisions came out on March 9th, and families have until April 5th to accept an offer. Many high schools are now offering information sessions, open houses, and virtual events for accepted students. These events are the perfect opportunity to ask students and teachers detailed questions about the schools, so you can decide which one is the best fit for you. If you have trouble getting started thinking of questions to ask, asking these sample questions (divided by topic) can help you to consider a broad range of factors to decide on a school to attend!

    Read More

  • img

    How to Write an Outstanding Essay for your High School admission process

    • February 21, 2023
    • David Romero

    The highschool admission process is very stressful. With all of its different required parts, the essay section of the application can be really overlooked. The essays are a chance for the admission officer’s to get an insight into who the applicant really is. Numerous people can have very similar transcripts, but a creative and charismatic essay will make an application stand out.

    Read More

  • img

    How to Ask for a Recommendation Letter and How to Pick the Right Candidate for the Job

    • February 12, 2023
    • Dean Domingo

    Recommendation letters are a key aspect of high school applications and are a great way to demonstrate your character and abilities from another perspective. While not mandatory in some schools, it’s highly encouraged and should be seen as a requirement. But, who do you ask for a recommendation letter? Choosing who to ask is very important and should be someone that has seen your growth as a student. Most schools usually require at least one recommendation letter from a core teacher (Math, Science, Social Studies, etc) and one letter from either another teacher, mentor, coach, or counselor. So after making a list of potential candidates take some time to consider a very important question. “Who knows you the most?”. If you choose a candidate that barely knows you, their letter may sound disingenuous and phony. So when selecting a recommender, you should consider someone who has had a significant impact on your life and should be someone who knows you both academically and personally and can attest to your abilities, interests, achievements, and growth.

    Read More