Magnet School Applications: Playing the Points and Waiting List Game

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[Note:  This is the second in a multi-part, occasional series about school options in mid-town Los Angeles.]

With a November 13 deadline looming for Los Angeles Unified School District magnet school applications, this is a good time to take a look at the finer points of applying to magnet schools, which are a popular option for many local families.

As we noted in another recent article, there are 16 magnet schools in fairly close proximity to our mid-town area, and a total of 210 magnet schools throughout greater Los Angeles, all of which are open to any student who lives within LAUSD’s district boundaries.

Magnet schools feature special curricula, often based on areas of interest (e.g. arts, science, technology), not found at other schools.  The programs were first created in the 1970s to help diversify public schools. Since they draw students from throughout the city, they will ideally have an ethnic balance more reflective of the city as a whole, rather than just one specific neighborhood.  They also receive special federal funding for their role in the district’s desegregation efforts.

Because of the special academic programs and additional funding, magnet schools are often among the best public schools in the district, with a strong sense of community and highly motivated students and families.  And that means they can be hard to get into.  They also have a unique point-and-lottery-based admissions system, which can seem both mysterious and daunting to those who may be approaching it for the first time.

The first thing to know about magnet school applications is that they are made exclusively through the district’s eChoices website, which explains everything you need to know about magnet programs in general, how to apply, and specific descriptions of each magnet school program in the district.

But then it gets a bit more complicated.  Once you know the basics, however, it’s not hard to figure out and play along.

Magnet School Point System

Once an application has been submitted to a magnet program, students are selected for admission through lotteries. But their priority in those lotteries is often weighed by a point system. Points are awarded for a variety of factors, including:

– Sibling at the school – 3 points
– Resident school is overcrowded – 4 points
– Resident school is Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian or Other Non-Anglo (PHBAO) – 4 points
– Student is already on a waiting list at a magnet school but has not yet been admitted – 4 points
– Student is already enrolled in the highest grade at a magnet program (e.g 5th grade for elementary or 8th grade for middle school) – 12 points, good for one year only as the student matriculates into a new school at a higher grade level (e.g. middle or high school)

Students can accumulate up to 12 points, with waiting list points bankable for up to three years (and up to the 12-point maximum).  Also, some magnet programs give additional priority based on factors such as a residence near the school (for magnets that were recently converted from neighborhood schools), auditions or portfolios (for performing or fine arts magnets) or special tests or recommendations (for Gifted/Highly Gifted/High Ability magnets).

How many points do you need?

So how many points do you need to get into the school you choose?

It depends, based on the particular program and whether or not it grants priority for factors other than points (as noted above).

Obviously, if you want to get into a popular school (there are a few that get thousands of applications for only a couple hundred openings), you want to make sure you have as many points as possible, because there will be a lot of other people with the maximum possible points applying.  But how do you get those points?  Especially if you’ve been happily ensconced at a non-magnet elementary (or middle) school for a few years, so don’t have any waiting list or magnet matriculation points…and you want to apply to a magnet middle (or high) school for next year.

Playing the Wait List Game

This is where the “game” comes  in.

Since students already enrolled in a magnet program receive 12 points just for being a current magnet student, non-magnet students need to save up as many waiting list points as possible, so they can match those 12 points when they’re ready to apply to a magnet school.

And parents have discovered that the best way to do that, even if they’re happy with their child’s current non-magnet elementary (or middle) school, is to submit a magnet school application every year…to a school where they’re most likely to get rejected (out of sheer volume) and placed on a waiting list.  That way, their child will receive the coveted 4 magnet points for being wait-listed, but they can also stay at their current school for another year (or more), until they’re ready to move up into a magnet middle or high school (at which point, they’ll apply to the school they’re actually interested in attending and hope their accumulated wait list points will help give them an edge for that application).

Since magnet points accumulate for up to three years, parents often start applying to the most popular programs about three years before they actually want their child to matriculate in a magnet.  (Third grade to prepare for a 6th grade magnet matriculation, or 6th grade for a 9th grade magnet matriculation.)  And, again, these applications are often made just for the wait-list points, with little or no desire to actually attend the target school.  (Note: we won’t single out any specific schools for parents looking for wait-list points, but the eChoices website lists the number of openings, and the number of applications received for last year for those openings, for each magnet school in the district.  The schools where applications are most likely to be wait-listed are fairly easy to identify.)

Three consecutive years of wait list points (4 points per year) will give you the 12 points you need to be competitive in the lotteries for most magnet schools.

Plot Twist:  What if you get into your intended wait list school?

Of course, even if you’re applying to a popular program with the hope that you’ll be wait listed, there is always the chance that your child will be selected for a spot at that school.  And that can be an unexpected complication.

First, remember that this is a good thing. If your child is one of the lucky ones chosen for a spot at a wonderful, popular school, even if you only applied to get wait list points, you have a terrific choice to make – staying at one great school or moving to another.

The decision may also be terrifying, however, because you will have only a few days to decide whether or not to accept the spot at the great new school, whether or not you were actually considering moving your child this year.  And you need to be aware that if you turn down the spot offered to you, you will lose all your magnet points and have to start over next year.  (This is actually more common than you might think; it has happened to quite a few families we know.)

Some parents in this position choose to take the spot at the new school, because it’s a good fit for them and/or because doing so means their child will leave that magnet program with the full 12 magnet matriculation points when they’re ready to apply to middle or high school in another year or two. Other parents, though, decide the move wouldn’t be worth it, and happily surrender their accumulated points to stay where their child is currently comfortable and thriving.  You just have to decide which will be the right choice for you at the moment.

Playing the Multiple-Application Game

The second complicating factor for magnet applications comes when figuring out how many magnet schools to apply to.  If you’re applying just to accumulate wait list points, and are not really all that interested in switching schools next year, then it does indeed make sense to apply just to one very popular school and hope you wind up on a waiting list.

If, however, you really do want to switch schools next year (whether within your current school level or making the move from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school), and you are applying to schools you’re actually eager for your child to attend, you need to be aware of how multiple applications are handled.

In the past, it was fairly simple – LAUSD families were allowed to apply to only one magnet program per year.  If you didn’t get in during the lottery, you were placed on a waiting list and either received your waiting list points, or were eventually offered a spot at the school as enrollments firmed up closer to the start of the next school year.

But a few years ago, the district changed the rules and students are now allowed to apply to up to three magnet schools per year.  This sounds pretty straightforward…until you find out how those multiple applications can affect your wait-list situation if you don’t get into your first or second school choice.

How Multiple Application Wait Lists are Handled

When a student applies to multiple schools, they are first placed in the lottery for their first-choice school.  If they are not chosen in the lottery for that school, however, they are placed in the lottery for their second-choice school.  If they don’t get into that school, then they go into the lottery for their third-choice school.

And if they don’t get admitted to their third-choice school, they’re wait-listed…at the third choice school (not their first or second choice schools).

So this means that if you’re interested in several schools, but have a strong preference for just one or two of those schools, it might be better to either put all your magnet eggs in one basket and apply to just one school (so you could be wait listed, with a chance of being admitted later, at that school)…or apply to two schools you’re fairly equally interested in, knowing that you might get wait-listed (and eventually admitted) at the second instead of the first.

It can be a gamble either way – playing the odds of whether it’s better to limit your overall choices, or figuring out how to shuffle three applications so that you get wait listed at a school you’d actually be happy attending.

Don’t Panic – Many Great Options

Despite these complications, however, magnet school applications shouldn’t be as scary as some people are afraid they will be.  You absolutely can find, apply to and be admitted to a terrific program for your child.  And remember, if you don’t get into the magnet school you’re most interested in, there are a LOT of other wonderful options:  neighborhood schools, charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.  And your magnet applications have no consequence at all for applications to those other kinds of schools, or vice versa. You can still apply to as many of them as you want, even at the same time you’re playing the magnet game.

 

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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - first in the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and since 2012 in West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill. She was long-time board member of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, currently serves on the board of the West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill Neighborhood Association, spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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