Meeting Chicago High Schools Competitive Admissions With Success

Admissions to Chicago high schools is a challenging process. Learn how a program for eighth grade students makes the goal of attending a first-choice high school attainable.

The good news for Chicago families: there is a robust selection of high-quality high schools to choose from in Chicago. Unfortunately, there are so many students trying to get into these schools that schools demand high standards and rigorous admissions requirements. A robust high school placement program is essential to deliver successful outcomes.

It’s a daunting process to navigate admissions for all these schools — Chicago Public Schools selective enrollment schools, private, parochial, boarding, independent day schools and more. In addition to being exposed to high academic standards to prepare them to attend the school of their choice, Chicago City Day School students also get focused support throughout the application process.

At Chicago City Day School, a JK-8 independent school on Chicago’s North Side, students are supported through a high school placement program that helps each family find the right fit for their child. City Day students are prepared for the rigors of outstanding high schools and their placement program ensures they have options as they transition to the next step in their academic journey.

“Our high school placement program removes the burden of navigating the complex process from the parents and ensures that students are left with top quality choices for high school,” says Chris Dow, Head of School at City Day.

Students may only be as focused on their high school enrollment much closer to the time, but educators at City Day have been preparing students for their next stage of education since day one.

“Across the board, everything is leading to that eighth grade experience, bringing together all the aspects of the curriculum students have been engaged in throughout their time here,” says Dow.

Individualized program provides focus and guidance

Each of the students in the eighth grade class at Chicago City Day School participates in the high school placement program that, during the first semester, helps them identify and narrow down their high school options, then prepares them for the various kinds of admissions processes.

The process starts with students figuring out which prospective high schools are right for them. Large or small? An arts emphasis? Opportunities to lead? Lots of extracurriculars?

The eighth grade high school placement program at Chicago City Day School guides students and parents through those initial decisions and every other step of the admissions process to take pressure off the families.

In the course of the program, the students learn skills that will help them when they apply to college and throughout their lives.

Photo credit: Chicago City Day School

Depending on the desired high school, the admissions process may include shadowing, interviews, tests, essays and more, all taking place on specific schedules. Certain skills are needed to navigate all those steps, including what questions to ask when shadowing, how to handle an interview, how to dress appropriately, the best strategies for taking different tests, and how to write the all-important thank you notes.

It’s a combination of skills and details that can feel overwhelming for kids and parents during an already stressful time. City Day’s placement program helps students sharpen those skills so they can step into the process with confidence.

Becky Ballard, parent of two City Day alumni, says the program was a huge help to her children.

“The intensive test prep work during the first semester provided the perfect preparation for both of our children to confidently perform and enjoy a host of high school opportunities,” she says. “Furthermore, the interview role-playing our children did for those schools requiring in-person interviews prepared them to confidently and maturely represent themselves, and it supplemented the strong foundation of public speaking that City Day provided every year beginning in kindergarten.”

Supporting students toward continued success

The staff tracks all dates and requirements for each high school and is in constant contact with each family to ensure nothing is missed. Preparation and testing are done with each child’s specific needs and prospective high school in mind.

Eighth grade teacher Sara Allison helps students with high school admissions test-taking strategies. “My job is to explain the nature of the various tests so they are comfortable with that test when they go to take it,” says Allison. “They learn the academic content in their classes, but I teach them what to expect on these tests, format-wise, and how to manage their time so that when they go in, there are no surprises and they can stay calm and perform at their best.”

With the application process typically ending in January, the program continues in the second semester, focusing on building life skills for students, including public speaking at their eighth grade graduation ceremony.

Chicago City Day School’s program is working. For the last two years, 100% of students have attended their number one Chicago high school of choice. In previous years, it was 95%, with a few going to their second choice.

Most importantly, students learn lifelong skills from the moment they start at City Day and throughout the high school placement program.

“Our students leave here as self-advocates with confidence, with critical thinking skills, and the academic abilities and social-emotional abilities to thrive in a number of places,” says Dow. “Then you have a number of high school options where it’s going to be a great fit. And that goes on to be true in college as well.”

Learn more about Chicago City Day School at


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