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Charter School Lottery: How Does it Work?

As a condition of their public funding, charter schools must have open enrollment. When the number of applicants to a charter school exceeds the number of available spots for students, schools must fairly determine enrollment. The way these schools — including Success Academy — determine acceptance is through a lottery system. Each student is entered into a lottery. Some students are accepted. Others receive placement on a waitlist.

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What is a Lottery for Charter Schools?

Charter schools are publicly funded institutions that operate independently of the traditional public school system. They have more freedom in their curriculum, teaching methods, and governance structures. Because of their unique qualities, charter schools often attract many applicants, sometimes more than they can accommodate. This is where the lottery system comes in.

teacher walking down a school hallway

How Does the Lottery System for Charter Schools Work?

The lottery system is a way to manage high demand and level the playing field for all potential students. It prevents favoritism, bias, or discrimination from influencing who gets admitted. It also eliminates the need for competitive entrance exams, interviews, or other subjective selection methods that might be prone to bias.

All interested students apply and, if the number of applications exceeds the number of available seats, a lottery is conducted. Each student’s application is assigned a random number, and a computer program or a physical drawing method is used to select the winners. The selected students receive admission offers, while the others are placed on a waitlist in the order their numbers were drawn.

Success Academy’s lottery occurs each April. Parents or guardians rank five schools that are closest to their address, with the option to add five more based on preference.

We distribute the results of the lottery through email and publish them in each family’s application dashboard afterward.

Notification of waitlist placement indicates they did not receive acceptance to a specific Success Academy school. Waitlisted students are ultimately accepted to some Success Academy schools each year. The likelihood of placement depends on your ranked locations, which is why we recommend considering all Success Academy schools.

Interpreting Charter School Lottery Results

Even though public charter schools use the lottery to increase fairness in the admissions process, there are some factors that influence its outcome.

Success Academy and other charter schools offer preferences to students as part of the lottery process. These preferences include:

  • Preference for applicants whose siblings currently attend or have been accepted to Success Academy schools. Applicants with siblings who attend a Success Academy elementary or middle school receive a preference at that same location.
  • Preference for applicants who are the children of our employees.
  • Community School District (CSD) preference applies to students who live in the same community school district as the SA school they apply to.
  • English Language Learners (ELL) receive weighted preferences.

Remember: While preferences can improve your child’s chance of acceptance, they do not guarantee seats at any specific school. After the school considers preferences and notifies waitlisted students, any remaining seats go to applicants who have not received other preferences.

teacher working with a student sitting at a desk

Best Practices for Increasing Chances in a Charter School Lottery

The lottery process is supposed to make the application process impartial and provide (mostly) equal chances to every applicant. But there are still some strategies you can use to increase your chances in a charter school lottery:

  • Understand your charter school’s application process. Make note of important dates (like April 1) so you don’t miss a key deadline.
  • Apply to multiple schools. The more charter schools you apply to, the greater your chances of acceptance.
  • Use preferences to your advantage. If you meet one of the Success Academy criteria for preferential placement, ensure the school knows it.


smiling student sitting at a desk with interlocked fingers

Learn More About Success Academy

Success Academy’s NYC charter schools offer lottery-based admission to students throughout the city. Applications are currently open for the next school year. If you’d like your student to be considered for admission or have questions about our curriculum, schools, and enrollment process, sign up to learn more.

If you already know you want your learner to be part of our unique, engaging curriculum, apply now.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are charter school lotteries fair for all applicants?

Charter schools design their lotteries to be as fair as possible and rely on random chance. Each applicant should have an equal opportunity for admission to the school. Some schools may weigh applicants who live nearby or who already have siblings at the school differently, but generally speaking the process is fair.

What happens if my child doesn’t get selected in the lottery?

Not being selected in the lottery doesn’t automatically mean your child will not attend your preferred charter school. In many cases, students who aren’t selected will be placed on a waitlist. Some students may decline their spot, which opens up additional opportunities for students on the waitlist.

Can I apply to multiple charter schools?

You can absolutely apply to multiple charter schools! Doing so may increase your chances of securing a place for your child. Each school will have its own application process and deadlines, so pay close attention to those.

Remember: Success Academy automatically selects the five closest locations to your home address. You may also add up to five more locations for potential admission.

How are charter school lottery results determined?

Charter schools determine the lottery results randomly. If charter schools see more applications than available seats, they must hold a lottery to determine which students receive admission offers. Some schools draw names by hand, while others use random name or number generators and computers.

Is there a lottery system for all charter schools?

Not all charter schools require lottery systems. If schools have enough room for every student who applies, the school doesn’t need to hold a lottery. Unlike district magnet schools that require specific enrollment criteria, charter schools do not use tests, auditions, or essays to determine a student’s chances of enrollment.

Written by Success Academy March 12, 2024

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