A Parent's Guide to Getting Ready for CPS High Schools

A group of students head to school at a CPS high school.

When it comes to finding the best Chicago high school for your family, where should you start?

Finding a Chicago public high school that fits the needs of your family, especially your young student, can be a complex and long process. But, fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there to help, so you won’t have to navigate this daunting prospect alone.

Let’s dive into some important topics that you and your family will want to explore as you move from elementary to high school in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system.

In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the types of high schools and program offerings that are out there, before listing some of the most well-regarded CPS high schools.

Types of CPS High Schools

Navigating the CPS system can be complicated - in fact, in many ways, it’s so complicated that this resource can only hope to scratch the surface. When it comes to high school in Chicago, there are many different types of schools out there, each offering different programs and features, as well as different methods for enrollment.

Whether you’re aiming for one of CPS’ selective enrollment options or prefer a neighborhood school, which admit students based purely on location or lottery, determining the best fit for your soon-to-be high schooler can be tricky. In fact, did you know that there are a total of 116 high schools within CPS, including 11 selective enrollment high schools?

There are a variety of high school categories for you and your student to choose from. Below, you’ll find a broad overview of some of the most common high school choices in the CPS system:

  • Neighborhood School
    You can think of a neighborhood school as something of a “default” option. Generally speaking, if your student lives within the designated attendance boundary for the school, they’re allowed to enroll. Many neighborhood schools are also “Open Enrollment” schools. If you live outside the neighborhood boundaries, your child may apply to attend the school. Acceptance is granted through a computerized lottery, and not based upon academic achievement or testing.  
  • Career Academy
    In CPS Career Academies, students receive a college-prep curriculum alongside a career-focused education, available for different fields. Testing is used to determine enrollment.
  • Magnet School
    A CPS magnet school offers courses specialized in a specific subject area or program, including Montesorri and International Baccalaureate courses. A magnet school may emphasize math and science, humanities, or language immersion. Generally, students must apply to magnet schools, with admission determined by lottery.
  • Military Academy
    These schools offer a specialized educational focus designed for students who wish to develop leadership and team-building skills as they receive military training.
  • Selective Enrollment
    Selective enrollment schools require testing to earn admission. Admission is also based on a priority system, designed to promote enrollment for students of different backgrounds, from all across the city. These schools are designed to provide advanced courses for more academically-advanced students.

There are other types of educational institutions throughout the city, as well, including charter and contract schools. Charter schools are independent of CPS, and operate under different regulations and policies than traditional public schools. Contract schools are public schools open to CPS students, though they are operated by private entities under contract with the school district. There are also special education options available, offering resources for students who require more individualized education.

To add one more consideration to the pile? As you and your child look ahead to high school, you’ll also want to think about whether or not your student would thrive in an academic center, which can act as a precursor to a selective enrollment high school.

Academic Centers: One Path to High School Success

One the most sought after options for parents is enrolling their child into one of CPS’ growing number of academic centers.

This is an accelerated education program special to a few high schools throughout the city. Essentially, testing into an academic center allows your child to enter high school in seventh grade. Students who test into an academic center during their sixth grade year can start taking high school level courses early, and are usually guaranteed a spot to enroll at that selective high school down the line.

Students interested in continuing their education at an academic center must take an entrance exam and are selected based on standardized test scores, as well as elementary school grades, among other factors.

While academic centers grant students a spot at their respective high school, students generally still have the option to test into a different school, if desired. As of the time of this writing, there are seven academic center options for parents and students to look at:

A Quick Guide to Notable CPS High Schools

As we’ve indicated already, there is a lot of complexity and choice that goes into high school enrollment in Chicago. There are many different options out there, and finding the “right” school is going to depend on your unique situation. Ranking schools is difficult, then, since so many different schools have so much to offer, depending on your student’s wants and needs.

So, instead of attempting to give a comprehensive ranking of every individual school in the city, our goal is to help our clients understand more about some of the different schools that are out there.

To do that, we’re going to hone in on a few different CPS high schools that have earned a positive reputation, to help highlight some of the local features that make CPS so special:

Lane Tech College Prep

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 4,421 (including LTAC students).
Student to Teacher Ratio: 19-1
Neighborhood: Roscoe Village, 2501 W. Addison St.
Special Features: Academic Center (7th and 8th grade); over 100 elective courses including Advanced Placement (AP), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses and after school activities; extracurriculars ranging from the arts to athletics; ranks #3 in Illinois High Schools according to U.S. News & World Report.

 

 

Whitney M. Young Magnet High School

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 1,400
Student to Teacher Ratio: 19-1
Neighborhood: Near West Side, 211 S Laflin St
Special Features: Academic Center; a wide range of extracurriculars including a highly esteemed Academic Decathlon team and various sports; and is ranked the fifth best public high school in Illinois according to U.S. News.

 

 

 

Walter Payton College Prep

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 887
Student to Teacher Ratio: 16-1
Neighborhood: Old Town, 1034 N. Wells St.
Special Features: Advanced Placement and honors courses in math, science, language and the humanities; global exchange programs in countries such as France and South Africa; and is ranked the best Illinois public high school according to U.S. News.

 

 

 

Jones College Prep

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 1,667
Student to Teacher Ratio: 18-1
Neighborhood: South Loop, 606 S. State St.
Special Features: Career and Technical Education (CTE); 88% of the student partake in the 20 AP courses available;  #5 ranked top Illinois high school by U.S. News.

 

 

 

Northside College Prep

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 1,048
Student to Teacher Ratio: 17-1
Neighborhood: North Park, 5501 N Kedzie Ave
Special Features: Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP); AP classes in all subjects; various extracurriculars for sports, the arts, and STEM; and is ranked number two in Illinois by U.S. News.

 

 

 

Lincoln Park High School

School Type: Neighborhood
Enrollment: 2,105
Student to Teacher Ratio: 18-1
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park, 2001 N. Orchard St.
Special Features: International Bacculerate Program (IB) as well as AP courses; neighborhood enrollment for students from the following elementary schools are fed into Lincoln Park High School: Agassiz, Alcott, Abraham Lincoln, Manierre, Oscar Mayer Magnet School, Ogden International School, and Prescott.

 

 

 

Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 1,135
Student to Teacher Ratio: 16-1
Neighborhood: West Englewood, 6130 S Wolcott Ave
Special Features: Academic Center; advanced STEM courses; and a wide range of extracurricular activities.

 

 

 

 

Prosser Career Academy

School Type: Career Academy
Enrollment: 1,308
Student to Teacher Ratio: 17-1
Neighborhood: Belmont-Cragin, 2148 N Long Ave  
Special Features: CTE and IB programs; wide variety of after school activities and extracurriculars; career certification programs.

 

 

 

Westinghouse College Prep High School

School Type: Selective Enrollment
Enrollment: 1,175
Student to Teacher Ratio: 16-1
Neighborhood: East Garfield Park, 3223 West Franklin Boulevard
Special Features: Advanced STEM and AP courses; over 30 extracurricular clubs; Targeted Instructional Area (TIA) pedagogy.

 

 

 

The Chicago High School for the Arts

School Type: Career Academy
Enrollment: 604
Student to Teacher Ratio: 16-1
Neighborhood: Humboldt Park, 2714 W Augusta Blvd
Special Features: Accelerated fine arts programs including dance, music, creative writing, theater, and visual arts; AP options for courses in subjects such as English, mathematics, social studies, science, and world languages.

 

 

 

Phoenix Military Academy High School

School Type: Military Academy
Enrollment: 520
Student to Teacher Ratio: 22-1
Neighborhood: East Garfield Park, 145 S Campbell Ave
Special Features: JROTC program; 4th ranked public high school in Illinois, according to U.S. News; emphasizes student development in categories of “Leadership, Character, Citizenship, Service, and Academics.”

 

 

 

Aren’t Seeing Your Student’s School On Our List?

Remember, our list is only a sampling of the vast high school options across the city of Chicago. If your student goes to a CPS high school that you rave about, we would love to hear about your experiences! Send us an email, drop a comment on Facebook, or send us a Tweet to let us know what we should add to our list next.

Looking for an experienced guide to all the ins and outs of Chicagoland? Are you looking to move to a new Chicago school district? Our experienced and knowledgeable team  of Chicagoland experts would love to help! Drop us a line whenever you want to keep the conversation going.

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