Selective Enrollment High School Profiles

Selective Enrollment High Schools offer an accelerated program to meet the needs of Chicago’s most academically advanced students. Attendance is free and enrollment is open to public and private Chicago students. There are 11 Selective Enrollment High Schools.

These schools are (in alphabetical order):

Competitive Intensity

In the most recent round of Selective Enrollment High School admissions (2018-2019),scores at the top five schools rose an average of 7 points while scores at the bottom three schools fell an average of 11 points as shown in Figure 1. Admissions scores at competitive schools were propelled by a significant climb in Tier 1 scores and continued upward creep in Tier 4 scores. At the same time, scores for the bottom ranked Selective Enrollment High Schools slid downwards as academically advanced students across all four Tiers shunned them.

Wide Gaps between Tier Admissions Scores

For the past eight years, CPS has been using a socio-economic Tier system to select students for all of its selective admissions schools. Currently, thirty percent of seats are allocated to students with the highest academic performance citywide — regardless of their “socio-economic status”. The remaining seventy percent are allocated to each of four socio-economic Tiers, with each Tier receiving 17.5%. Students compete for this portion based on their academic performance in comparison with other students in their Tier.

In the most recent admissions cycle, cut-off scores for Tier 1 students at the more competitive schools rose sharply — increasing on average about 30 points. Tier 4 cut-offs, already impressively high, continue to inch upwards, increasing on average 5 points. Use of the Tier system has led to significant gaps in the academic achievement required for admissions between students from different part of the City of Chicago. Despite the significant climb in Tier 1 cut-offs, huge gaps between Tier 4 and Tier 1 cut-off scores persisted, average about 100 points across the top five schools.

There is a particularly large gap between admissions scores of Tier 4 (the highest socio-economic Tier) and Tier 1 (the lowest socio-economic Tier) — for the more competitive schools. For example, the cut-off score for Tier 4 students was 126 points higher than the Tier 1 cut-off at Lane Tech. At Jones, the cut-off was about 82 points higher as shown in Figure 2.

Getting into one of the top five schools became even more of a challenge for Tier 4 students. Figure 3. shows what a Tier 4 student with straight A’s would need at a minimum to get admitted into each of the top Selective Enrollment High Schools. For example, a student in a Tier 4 neighborhood would have to get all A’s in 7th grade core subjects, a minimum of 91% on both sections of the 7th grade MAP test and a minimum of 91% on the Selective Enrollment Exam to get into Lane Tech. To get into Payton or Northside a Tier 4 student would need virtually perfect performance in all three areas.

Academics-ACT Scores

The ACT is the most widely used college admissions test, so its scores are a useful guide for comparing high school academic performance. The test contains four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, a composite score is the average of these sections. The score of any of these sections and the composite range from 1 to 36.

Selective Enrollment High School students achieved an average composite score of 24.5 (approximately 75th percentile nationally) in 2017. This compares to an Illinois State average of 21.2 (57th percentile nationally) and a CPS average of 18.5 (approximately 41st percentile nationally). Average school scores varied significantly from 17.1 (31st percentile nationally) at Hancock to 29.8 at Northside (about 94th percentile nationally).

Top Ranking Selective Enrollment High Schools (2018)

2018 National Rank
US News & World Report
2018 Illinois State Rank
US News & World Report
52 1 Payton
82 2 Northside
112 3 Lane Tech
124 5 Jones
140 6 Young
345 10 Brooks
395 11 Lindblom
1,120 22 Westinghouse
1,507 39 King College Prep
1,676 48 Hancock

While each Selective Enrollment school offers a unique program, there are common threads, including exceptional academics and a wide range of sports and extracurricular activities. All Selective Enrollment High Schools offer an extensive selection of Honors and Advanced Placement courses. Specific academic features include:

  • Colloquia (or seminars). A number of Selective Enrollment High Schools offer colloquia or specialized seminars that allow students to explore interests that range above and beyond the standard high school curriculum.
  • International Orientation. Selective Enrollment High Schools have an international flavor. In addition to numerous ethnic clubs, Selective Enrollment students can choose from a half dozen foreign languages, with one or more Far East languages being standard fare.
  • Block Scheduling. A number of Selective Enrollment High Schools use college-like block scheduling, where classes last twice the length of a typical high school class, but meet only twice a week.
  • Integrated Math/Science Curricula. Selective Enrollment High Schools have taken the lead in re-orienting the “traditional” science sequence, putting physics first – since it leads to insights in chemistry, and moving up chemistry to provide a background for biology. Several schools use the Interactive Mathematics Program which emphasizes integration between different disciplines and greater investigation.
  • Academic competitions. A number of Selective Enrollment High Schools have successfully competed at the state and national level in academic competitions, including the Academic Decathlon, and mathematics and entrepreneurial competitions.

Many Selective Enrollment High School graduates attend elite colleges. Indeed, they are among the high school graduates most coveted by these colleges.