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Selective Enrollment High School Admissions Process

The admissions process for CPS Selective Enrollment High Schools can be overwhelming. Lucky for you, we have years of experience with hundreds of families, and we can help you, too!

The Points System

CPS uses a 900-point system for Selective Enrollment High School admissions, based on two factors:

  • 450 points for seventh grade grades: CPS considers only reading, math, science, and social studies grades when calculating these points.
  • 450 points for the CPS HSAT: The admissions test is taken in the fall of eighth grade. There are two sections on the test (math and reading), and each counts for up to 225 points. 

Understanding the HSAT Score Report

The HSAT score report will include percentiles and standard scores. 

  • The percentiles show what percentage of the tested group scored equal to or less than the student (for example, if a student scored in the 89th percentile, it means that they performed as well as or better than 89% of the students who took the test). The percentiles for math and reading are used to calculate the HSAT portion of the Selective Enrollment points system. Each percentile can count for up to  225 points. Learn how scores are converted to points here.
  • Standard scores are the result of complex math calculations involving the student’s raw scores (how many questions they answered correctly). Basically, the standard scores show how close a score is to the average score of the group that was tested. Standard scores are used in the tie breaker process, which you can learn more about in the next section.


If students have the same total number of points (composed of final seventh grade grades and their HSAT score) and there aren’t enough seats, CPS will go through a tie-breaker process.

First, they’ll compare the students’ math standard score*. If one is higher than the other, the student with the higher score will move ahead of the other student in the line. If their math standard scores are the same, CPS will rank by their reading standard score and move the student with the higher score ahead in the line. If both the math and reading standard scores are the same, “a random computerized lottery” will determine where each student will be placed in line. You can read about the tiebreaker process on CPS' website here

Score Cutoffs

Thirty percent of seats are filled based on these scores alone. The other 70% are filled based on a combination of scores and rank within socio-economic tier groups. Score cutoffs are quite high for the most competitive schools, like Payton, Northside Prep, and Jones, particularly for students who live in tier three or four. You can see the most recent cutoff scores for Selective Enrollment schools here, and for Choice schools here.


The waitlist process differs for Selective Enrollment and Choice schools. Learn more here.

Principal Discretion

If your child is not accepted into their top-choice selective enrollment school, they can choose to apply for a seat via Principal Discretion. Basically, the principal of each selective enrollment high school has the opportunity to choose a handful of students to enroll in their school. Interested students must complete an extensive application process and the students selected will be notified in the spring. Selection for Principal Discretion is very competitive, but it's worth trying if your child has their heart set on a particular school! 

Ranking Schools

When your child applies to Selective Enrollment High Schools, they will be asked to rank their school choices. CPS will attempt to place them in their top-choice school. If they do not qualify for that school, CPS will see if they qualify for their second choice school and so on. This means that your child should rank their top choice school first, even if it's a long shot. If they don't qualify for that school, CPS will simply move on to the next school on the list. Learn more here.

The CPS Parent Portal

CPS has provided a helpful set of directions for using their portal here. This is where you can check HSAT scores, point totals, offers, waitlists, and manage your application.

Prepping for the CPS High School Admissions Test

Learn more about how we help students develop test-taking skills and confidence here.