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 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. Most Chicago schools also have a fairly strict cutoff date of Sept. 1, so if a school accepts students who are 3 by September 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.
While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have a centralized application portal (www.go.cps.edu) with a set open and closing date for applications (typically the 1st Monday in October to the 2nd Friday in December), private schools have varying application deadlines that can start in late August and end in February. 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 one for up to 20 non-selective programs and another for up to six selective (test-based) programs.
Private schools, however, typically do require participation in a coffee/tour, as well as 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.
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 requires at least a year foresight so we recommend families of any age visit NPN’s 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 Spring 2021