Whether you are moving to New York or just another city, enrolling your child in school in a new school an be a daunting prospect. Your child’s education and well-being are of course top priorities, but how can you ensure you’re making the very best choices when you’re unfamiliar with the system and procedures in your new home country?

The following overview on finding the right school in New York will acquaint you with at least the basics. While you’ll still need to conduct specific research on institutions and neighbourhoods, you’ll at least be starting on the right track.

Public schools in New York

The New York City Department of Education is the largest public school system in the United States, with 1.1 million students in over 1,700 schools spanning Pre-Kindergarten to High School.

Free pre-k sessions in New York

Pre-kindergarten is available to four year olds for either half-day or full-day sessions, and is free. Places are allocated on the basis of availability – you can contact schools directly with enquiries and to enrol.

Public elementary, middle, and high schools in New York

The city is divided into 32 districts for elementary and middle schools and five districts for high schools. Every child has a guaranteed place at their zoned school which is determined by their home address.

It is possible to enrol your child in a non-zoned public school – either by direct application to a different school, a charter school or via a special programme such as Gifted and Talented or dual-language.

Districts 1, 7 and 23 are ‘choice’ districts – rather than zoning you rank your available schools in order of preference in your application.

How to apply to school in New York

Admissions windows for elementary and middle schools run from late January to early March. All applications received before the deadline are treated the same, i.e. it’s not first come, first served. After the window has closed you should register at your zoned school.

To enrol your child in a high school you need to apply to an enrolment office in your borough.

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Private schools in New York

While the public school system in New York can be very good there is also wide variation between districts – even between different schools in the same district. In order to insure against sending your child to the wrong public school you might choose a private education.

There are at least 175 private elementary and middle schools in New York City and at least 60 private high schools. Many of these public schools are faith-based – there are large numbers of Catholic schools for example – or offer a curriculum unavailable in the public system (e.g. the International Baccalaureate for high schoolers or Montessori methods for younger students).

Tuition fees at the best New York City private schools exceed $40,000 per year – demand far outstrips the number of available places and so fees have been rising consistently for many years.

Many schools offer financial aid to increase the diversity of their student body; around 18.5% of students at private schools in New York receive some kind of financial assistance. Foreign students are more than welcome to apply.

International schools in New York

If your family’s move to New York is only temporary, or you want to try an international curriculum, you might favour a school which offers an internationally recognised qualification.New York is home to the UN, and these schools offer instruction many languages and your child can mix with other children in the same kind of situation.

There are a large number of international schools in New York ranging from those with British curriculums (British International School in Gramercy Park) through French language schools (Lycee Francais on the Upper East Side) to the United Nations International School in Kips Bay.

Tuition fees at New York International Schools are comparable with those at private schools – they average $30,000 per year.