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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 and when to apply to Chicago preschools and elementary schools

    When should you start searching for schools, both public and private, in Chicago? This guide gives you important timelines for preschools and elementary schools.

    While Chicago is replete with hundreds of school choices ranging from public options (open enrollment, magnet, selective enrollment) to private religious and independent options, all schools will require some forethought in planning except the one school into which you are automatically accepted and there is never a deadline: your assigned neighborhood Chicago Public School. Each Chicago address is guaranteed an assigned neighborhood elementary (K-8th grade) and high school (9th–12th grade) that allows for immediate enrollment any time of year. Find your assigned school.

    All other schools (including other neighborhood schools) can be viable options for families but typically do require at least an application to be filled out and, in the case of private schools, can require a lengthy, multi-step process that begins one year before your child will start the program. Some private schools do have rolling admissions, but most schools start their application processes one year prior to enrolling.

    The key for families is to be prepared and not to miss their window of opportunity, with the “entry year” (i.e., age or grade a program starts) of a school typically being the time when most spots may be available. The majority of Chicago schools also have a fairly strict birthday cutoff date of Sept. 1, so if a school accepts students who are 3 by Sept. 1, you should apply the fall when your child is 2 by Sept. 1. With the exception of Suder and Drummond (both start at 3 years old) and Inter-American (starts at 4 years old), CPS schools start in kindergarten, when your child is 5 by Sept. 1. Private elementary schools typically start at 3 or 4 years-old.

    Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have centralized information for either 3 and 4 year old preschool programs (www.cps.edu/ChicagoEarlyLearning) or K-9th grade programs (www.go.cps.edu). Preschool applications open the spring prior to entry (4/11/23 this year) while K-9th grade applications open a year prior (typically late September to early December). Private schools have varying application deadlines from late September to February or even rolling admissions. Be sure to check with each private school to determine application requirements and deadlines.

    Public schools may offer tours and open houses, but attendance is not a requirement for admissions. Their applications are also straightforward with preschools allowing up to 5 options and K-9th grade applications offering two pathways that can both be chosen: one for up to 20 non-selective Choice programs and another for up to six selective enrollment (test-based) programs. Both applications are part of the online portal at https://cps.schoolmint.com/login and this year CPS preschool applications are available through the same link.

    Private schools, however, typically do require participation in a coffee/tour, and may require a playdate or shadow day, parent interviews, and recommendations. While some private schools share online documents (via Ravenna or similar online platforms), each has its own application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to keep track along every step of the way.

    Whichever schools or programs you are interested in, the key is to be ready to apply by understanding the timeline. It really is a process that can require at least a year of foresight so we recommend families of any age visit NPN’s Annual Preschool & Elementary School Fair to ask about entry years and find the open house dates and deadlines for each school they are interested in.

    Updated Winter 2023



    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.





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