Musical Chairs: Chicago Families Fight for Seats in the City’s Top Schools

musical chairsFor many kids around the country, the next school year this coming fall will be their last year as middle school students. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare for many different reasons. For most parents, the fear that their little baby is growing into a young man or woman is hard enough to bear. For others, they are afraid of the social calamities their child might experience during their high school years. For parents in Chicago, however, these fears are the furthest ones from their minds.

If you are a parent in the Chicagoland area with a rising 8th grader at home, you are probably preparing your child for the strenuous high school admission process that is about to begin.  You’ve probably booked your schedule for open houses at various high schools around the city or signed your child up to shadow high school students at their number one choice. It’s an exciting time indeed, but a stressful one nonetheless.

“Getting into high school is like a game of musical chairs. Every child in the city is fighting for that one spot in a top school, but only one of them can get it. Everyone is just hoping their child is the one.” Says a Chicago mom. For her daughter Elena*, the high school admissions process was anything but easy. “She applied to four selective enrollment schools and two private schools. She tested well and she had great grades, but she still didn’t get into any of the schools she wanted. We had to put her in a catholic school an hour away from home just so she wouldn’t have to go to the neighborhood school down the street.”

This is the reality for thousands of Chicago families as well. Getting into a selective enrollment school or a private school means a lot more than just prestige for most kids. Parents are willing to pay thousands of dollars they don’t necessarily have or drive across the city to make sure their child has a decent high school experience. Sending your child to a neighborhood school on the south and west sides could mean placing your child in the middle of a war zone. Selective enrollment and private schools could not only provide a child with a better education, but it could end up saving their life.

According to CPS and the Private School Review, 10% of high schoolers attend selective enrollment schools, and roughly 19% of high schoolers attend private schools. The lucky 29% has an opportunity the other 71% does not. Graduation rates, Test scores, and admission to four-year Colleges and Universities are much higher at selective enrollment and private institutions than in public schools. To put it plainly, students have a smaller chance of being successful at lesser performing public schools than at selective enrollment and private schools.

If this is the case, the next question is ‘When can I sign my child up?’ However, it’s not that simple. There are only 10 selective enrollment schools in the city, and the top private schools in Chicago can be as costly as some parent’s yearly salaries. Unfortunately for these small handfuls of schools, they only have so many seats to fill.  Because so many children apply to these schools, getting in is not as simple as writing a check or filling out a simple application. Both Selective Enrollment and Private institutions require that all applicants take a test in order to be considered. Those with higher scores on the exam are more likely to be admitted into the school of their choice. For private schools linked with the Archdiocese, the student must also complete a personal application and a series of essays that are to be reviewed by the admissions office. The student’s admission into the school of their choice will depend on 7th and 8th grade report cards, test scores, teacher recommendations, and essays. This process is almost as grueling as the college admission process. And much like the college process, getting into the school of your choice could mean a difference between success and failure. The process is so stressful, that many parents decide to move to suburbs outside of the city with great school districts to avoid the admissions process all together.

If you are a parent about to go through this process, don’t be scared. This time is one of anxiousness, but more importantly, excitement for your child’s future. Remember to follow these steps to find the right school for your son or daughter:

1.Visit as many possible schools as you can. Don’t hesitate to go to an open house or a tour. It’s harder to know what your child’s best fit will be without visiting

2.Sign your child up to be a shadow during the first semester of the school year. This way, your child can have a taste of what high school life will be like at that particular school.

3.Remind your child that the 7th grade and first quarter 8th grade report cards are crucial. Your child should always shoot for straight A’s at all times, but they should put extra effort in to achieve their best grades during this time frame. If an admissions officer sees a not so glowing test score, but a glowing report card, it test scores can possibly be overlooked for the great class performance.

4.Stay optimistic. Your child will find the school for him or her. Staying positive during this stressful time may be difficult, but it will always be for the best in the long run.

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