Key Questions

1. Choice Factors: What factors did students consider when choosing which high schools to apply to?

2. School Exploration: How and from what sources did students learn about potential high schools?

3. Application Process: How did students experience the application process using GoCPS?


Students and families in Chicago are increasingly taking up school choice options offered by the school district. In the last five years, about 75 percent of eighth-grade students have decided to attend a high school other than the one designated by their neighborhood of residence. Prospective high school students and their families have 160 high schools to choose from. These options include a broad variety of schools in governance, size, academic approach, and programs offered. To streamline the school application process, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) launched GoCPS, an online application platform for high schools, in the fall of 2017.

If we hope to understand the process of high school choice, it is essential to include student voices and experiences. This brief offers key insights from focus groups with eighth-grade students in three CPS elementary/middle schools about their experiences with the school choice process in Chicago, shortly after GoCPS was implemented. These student experiences offer important considerations about school choice policies and practices for educators, policymakers, and researchers.

Key Findings

When researching and applying to high schools, students considered:

  1. Setting factors, such as: location, proximity to home, and transportation logistics.
  2. School factors, such as: sports and afterschool programs, courses offered, reputation, and dress code.
  3. Student factors, such as: student body demographics, social connections, and their own personal and academic goals.

From middle schools and high schools, students need:

  • GoCPS to provide easy, linkable access to information on schools that is searchable on phones.
  • Ways for prospective students to hear from current students about their high school experiences.
  • Support to fulfill additional application requirements
  • Consistent and correct messaging about how to rank schools and how offers will be made.
  • Access to adults familiar with and knowledgeable about the GoCPS process.
  • Emotional support and reassurance.
  • School options they can be excited about.