Update: This post originally ran Oct. 6, 2016, and has been updated with current information. We’ve also launched a new interactive online school guide to help parents navigate school choice

San Diego Unified School District’s choice program provides students with the opportunity to attend a school other than their neighborhood school. Students may apply to any school within the district.

There are all sorts of reasons parents look for alternatives to their neighborhood schools. They might want to avoid the low-performing school closest to their home. Others search for high test scores, dual-language schools or simply a school that’s on their way to work.

The window to take advantage of San Diego Unified’s school choice program for the upcoming academic year is Oct. 2 to Nov. 13.

How can I find my neighborhood school?

Simply go to San Diego Unified’s website to see its neighborhood school finder. You type in your address and hit “find.” It will tell you your assigned school, which is the school your kids would automatically attend if you don’t opt into other schools.

How do know which school is best?

This one’s tougher. If you’re a parent whose kids are already in the district, you’re connected with teachers, principals and other parents whom you could ask for advice.

But new or incoming parents might not know where to start. San Diego Unified put together a handsome brochure on what different schools have to offer that can be found on its website.

Handsome brochure notwithstanding, that information likely won’t answer all your questions about the school, so your best bet is to narrow down your options and pay those schools a visit. That will give you a chance to look under the hood. You can tell a lot about a school’s culture by how well you’re treated by principals or front office staff.

How do I apply?

Once you’ve circled your top options, you can submit your application online. It doesn’t matter how early you submit the application, so long as it’s in by Nov. 13.

You can apply to your three favorite schools. Then you wait to hear back from the district about which of those schools have room. Available seats go first to students who live in the surrounding neighborhood. So if the school is popular with neighborhood parents – like schools are in La Jolla – parents from outside the area will have a smaller chance of getting in.

Here’s a map of available charter schools.

You can also take a look at the number of choice applications a school typically receives and how many it accepts by looking at last year’s numbers.

Parents from outside San Diego Unified who want to choice into a district school can find information on the San Diego County Office of Education website.

How does the district determine who gets into a school?

It really comes down to space. Elementary schools in La Jolla, for example, generally take very few choice students, if any. But if seats are available, the district has a list of priority considerations.

Parents looking for magnet schools or schools with specialized programs not offered by their nearest school will get priority consideration. Same goes for district employees, students who want to transfer out of low-performing schools or students who want to attend the same schools as their siblings.

Can I apply to charter schools, too?

Yup. And that application process is separate from the district’s. So while the district limits you to three choices, you can apply to as many charter schools as you want. Parents who want to boost their chances of landing in their preferred schools improve their odds by applying to both charters and district schools.

Here is a map of all the charter schools.

San Diego Unified’s website also provides a list of all charter schools in the district.

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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