Families need time to settle down and adjust to their new homes and routines after a relocation.
An important factor in enabling a smooth transition is finding the right school and having kids start in the new school at or close to the beginning of the school year. That way, they have a chance to get to know their classmates before the other kids have already made friends.
Fortunately, school calendars in the US are streamlined and most schools follow a similar schedule. Here’s a look at the typical school year in the US and the enrollment process for getting your child into the school of your choice.
The School Year
Based on data released by the Education Commission of the States, public schools have between 170-180 school days in the academic year. Instruction hours vary by state, especially for kindergarten, where some have full-day programs and others half-day.
In most states, the school year starts a week before or right after Labor Day, which is the first Monday of September. In states such as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, public schools start on the Wednesday or Thursday following Labor Day. States like Connecticut, Florida, Texas, and some parts of California may have earlier start dates that are from the second week to the end August.
Private schools follow a calendar similar to the public schools in their district, though the dates may vary within the range of a week or two. The academic year typically ends from around the first week of June to the end of June.
Sometimes, for states that experience a heavy winter, the end of the school year may get postponed by a day or two if there have been too many closures due to snow days.
Apart from the big summer break, there are two other mini-breaks. The first is a winter break which typically ranges from 10 days to three weeks, covering the week between Christmas and New Year’s day. The second is the spring break which lasts for a week or two around the March-April timeframe.
The School Enrollment Process
Depending on whether you’re considering a public or private school, the admissions process can vary significantly.
Private School Enrollment
The admission timeline and process for private schools depends on the grade of the child and how much the school is sought after. For the more competitive schools, Open Houses start as early as November and many finish their admissions by January. The process for private schools may involve a test or an assessment along with an interview of the child and the parents. Other requirements include:
- Report cards from the previous school
- In some cases, teacher recommendations from previous schools attended
- Schools may also require students to take standardized tests such as SSAT or TOEFL (to test language proficiency).
In general, if you are considering moving your child into a private school, it’s good to initiate contact with the school and start the process almost a whole academic year earlier, so you can get the school of your choice.
In order to get your child enrolled into a public school, you will require:
Proof of Age: Documents such as birth certificates or passports will work. If you are getting your child enrolled into Kindergarten, then it’s important to be aware of the age cut-off dates by when your child should have turned five years old. The dates vary significantly by state. Click here for a full list by state.
Proof of Residence: Since public schools are primarily for people who reside in the district, it is required to show some proof of residence – a lease document, home deed etc. In some cases, if you are planning to move to a district in the near future and can provide evidence to support this, for instance, a signed contract on a home or a rental agreement, the school office can process the enrollment contingent upon your providing the complete documentation within a stipulated time frame.
Immunization: Most schools will follow the immunization schedule of the American Association of Pediatrics and you will need to get a signed proof of immunizations from your child’s pediatrician. Some may also require certification from the doctor on the overall physical well-being of your child and his or her ability to participate in sports.
For further information on the kind of documents you might need, click here.
Depending on the grade that your child is enrolling into, the school might conduct an assessment to understand where your child might stack up in relation to the grade requirements. These are not typically used to make admission decisions but are used more to judge whether your child will need any special assistance in the school.
Charter and Magnet Schools
Charter and magnet schools might have additional requirements over and above regular public schools. For instance, some magnets that focus on a particular area – such as STEM or art– may require proof of proficiency in that particular area. Charter schools may run a lottery and may require you to submit your child’s name for consideration.
While the list of requirements and enrollment process may seem daunting, it is usually streamlined. The trick is to plan ahead and start early so that you can get your child into the new school right from the start of the school year.
2014-2015 School Year Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2014, from NYC Department of Education
American Academy of Pediatrics. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2014, from AAP.org
Bush, M., & Ryan, M. (2011, August 1). Number of Instructional Days/Hours in the School Year. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from Education Commission of the States
Connecticut School Openings and Closings 2013 - 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2014, from State Department of Education – Connecticut
Ohio Department of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2014, from Ohio Department of Education