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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 to apply to CPS selective enrollment elementary schools and magnet schools

    The 5 steps you need to take to apply to Chicago Public Schools elementary schools, including magnet schools and selective enrollment schools.


    It’s the time of year again! Chicago Public Schools (CPS) opened its applications for the 2022-2023 school year on Wednesday, October 13; the deadline to apply is December 15 at 5pm. Students entering kindergarten through 8th grade may apply for open seats at elementary schools across the city, with a limited number of pre-k options available as well. Learn about Universal Pre-K status.

    [Related: How to apply for CPS preschools]

    In CPS, there are two main types of schools to which you can apply:

    Magnet schools and lottery admission programs – These include magnet schools, magnet cluster schools and open enrollment schools. A completed Choice Elementary Application is required; seats are determined via computerized lottery with no testing involved.

    Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) – These include Classical Schools, Regional Gifted Centers (RGC) and Academic Centers for middle schoolers, as well as three English Language Learner (ELL) RGCs. A completed selective enrollment elementary school application is required; students are selected through a testing process.

    For kindergarten entry at any CPS school, children must be age 5 by September 1 of the year they are entering kindergarten. (The only exception is via the Illinois Accelerated Placement Act.)

    Here's an abbreviated guide to getting the application process started in 5 manageable steps:

    1. Create an online family account at GoCPS. You can add a student and toggle “yes” or “no” on whether they have a CPS Student ID. If you need assistance, contact CPS directly at 773-553-2060 or email them at gocps@cps.edu. Applications are due by December 15, 2021.

    2. Apply. Select the schools for which you want to apply via Choice Elementary (lottery) and/or SEES (test required) applications.

    • For the Choice Elementary application, you can choose up to 20 schools with no ranking required for the lottery. The portal will use a “counter” instead, but you are not ranking your Choice programs.
    • For the selective enrollment elementary school application, you can select up to 6 Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center (RGC) schools and you must rank them in order of preference.

    3. Schedule a test date (for selective enrollment elementary school programs only). After submitting your choices, you will be asked to choose a selective enrollment school test date via your portal. There are separate tests for Classical Schools and Regional Gifted Centers. If applying to kindergarten, both tests will be administered at the same session. If applying to older grades for both types selective enrollment programs, your child will be tested on separate dates. Testing will occur from November 2021 through February 2022, or until all applicants have been tested.

    4. Submit your online application by 5pm CST on December 15. You should receive instant confirmation of your online application. Notification letters and test results will be posted to your online application portal in April/May 2022.

    5. Visit the schools you are most interested in. This is a very important step in the process and ideally should be done before you select schools and submit your application. Check out the NPN School Directory to get an overview of each school, contact schools for virtual or in-person tour dates and open houses, and try to connect with parents whose children attend the schools you are considering. Bear in mind that the “most talked about” schools might not be the best fit for your child. Also, don’t underestimate your own neighborhood school, as it may be a “hidden gem” and the perfect place for your child—and for you and your family to become part of an active school community.

    [Related: CPS 101 video (members only)]

    These are just the basic steps in the CPS application process. Please note that there may be variations to these steps, depending on the particular programs and/or grades your child is applying to. Visit the GoCPS FAQs for more information and details.

    Remember: No application or deadline is required for your neighborhood school. Every street address in the city is assigned to a neighborhood school where your child is guaranteed a seat. However, keep in mind that the public school nearest to your home may not necessarily be your neighborhood school (even if it’s right across the street!). Enter your primary residential address on the CPS School Locator to determine your neighborhood school. Then contact the school directly for a registration timeline and other pertinent information for incoming students and families.

    Looking ahead to the 2023-2024 school year (or beyond)? Members can watch the CPS 101 Q&A video (recorded 10/8/21) and the four-part CPS 101 video series. Keep your eye on the NPN Chicago School Choice events on the calendar

    Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification letters and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum.

    Updated Fall 2021

    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.

    Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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