Your 4-Step Plan for High School Admission Success

Chicagoland seventh graders have decisions ahead of them. Here’s your plan to maximize success for high school admission.

In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, middle school students and their parents have choices about which high school to attend. Whether your child will attend a school in your suburb’s public school district, a private or independent school, or a neighborhood or selective enrollment school in Chicago, early planning is the best — and least stressful — path to high school admission success.

Families aren’t always aware of how much work is needed for high school admission, says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services at the Chicago-based academic tutoring and test prep company, Academic Approach. Waiting until the fall of your student’s eighth grade year to start thinking about high school is not ideal — especially if your child wants to attend a highly competitive Chicago Public Schools selective enrollment school.

“We have discussions with families in the late fall of eighth grade, just weeks before the selective enrollment exam,” Ferguson says. “In some cases, parents are surprised to learn that testing isn’t one of their child’s strengths, even though they get very high grades.”

Starting early means you can address all your options and create a plan. “If you don’t start early, the options you have available become limited. Even for private schools, students have to test for admission,” he says.

When is the best time to start thinking about high school admission for your student? It’s never too early, but as a general rule, the spring of seventh grade is when you should start researching high schools, talking with your student about their preferences, figuring out admission requirements, and preparing your student for any high school entrance exams.

There’s a lot more to know. Here’s a four-step plan for high school admission success.

1. Investigate and make a list of schools

Start by creating a wish list of features you and your student want in their high school. Common wish list items are small class sizes, access to individualized attention and ample curriculum and extracurricular choices, says Ferguson. Once you have your wish list finalized, find out if your neighborhood school fits the bill.

Then consider a CPS selective enrollment high school. “These are still public schools, so they are non-tuition based. However, they have a similar admissions model to many tuition schools,” Ferguson says. Every prospective CPS student must take the CPS High School Admissions Exam in eighth grade and scores are part of the equation used to determine admission to selective enrollment schools.

Students should prepare for this exam. Taking a complimentary diagnostic test with Academic Approach is a good starting point. “Whether or not parents want tutoring for their student, they can learn more about the CPS High School Admissions Exam and walk through the test prep process with Academic Approach,” Ferguson says, adding that parents can have broader conversations about their child’s academic and study needs, too.

2. Find opportunities to visit schools

Once you’ve created a list of schools you’re interested in, check with the schools on your list about open houses and shadowing opportunities, especially for selective enrollment schools.

“The sooner you can visit the school in person, the better,” says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director with Academic Approach. “The process to get into a selective enrollment high school is so challenging, so take advantage of any opportunity to see the school and get a sense of its environment and culture. It might be the right fit for you, and it might not be. Visiting can help you and your student determine which schools will be the best fit for them. Knowing as much as you can is smart.”

Think outside the box and be inquisitive about the schools on your list. Interested in Lane Tech College Prep? Attend a basketball game to get a sense of the school culture, suggests Ferguson.

3. Map out a schedule

Find out when applications are due and when tests are scheduled. Most independent and private schools follow a similar high school admission testing schedule to CPS, so start there and work back, taking into account any camps, extracurricular activities and events in your child’s schedule.

If you know some tutoring will help your child perform well on admission tests, add this to the timeline, Pedersen suggests. “Figure out where your student is in the process and how much preparation they might need to do,” she says. “Will your child need to work and prepare over the summer? The answer is almost always yes. But if your child is in camp during the summer, start sooner.”

If you plan to take a diagnostic test as a baseline, consider doing this in the spring of seventh grade. “You don’t have to get started the next day, but the data will help you make your plan,” Pedersen says. “You want to have that information as soon as possible so you can plan ahead. If you wait until the end of the summer and are surprised by the results, you won’t have as many options for preparation.”

4. Reach out for help

Your child is likely hearing about high school options in their classrooms, so talk with your child to learn their thoughts. Bear in mind your child’s age; they won’t necessarily be as clear-minded as a high school student who is preparing for college entrance exams.

Talk with your child’s teachers or counselors to gain more insight and seek support from other parents who have been through this process. Schedule a complimentary diagnostic test and consultation with Academic Approach to learn more about their specialized approach to preparing middle school students for high school admissions tests.

“The goal of the meeting is to answer as many questions as possible, discuss your student’s results and put together a plan,” Ferguson says. “We want families to walk away knowing what they need to do to be successful moving forward.”

Learn more about Academic Approach. Visit

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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