Unified Enrollment

Cities around the country are taking steps to simplify the PreK-12 school choice process for families through providing coordinated timelines, common applications, and unified enrollment systems. For an ‘Introduction to Unifying Enrollment’, click here.

Market Design & Governance

While the broad outlines are typically consistent, each city has to design the specific policies and procedures for their system. For a common application, which schools will participate? For a unified enrollment system, will schools keep waitlists or not? Will there be a single lottery round, or multiple rounds? These are just a few examples of the types of policy decisions required. Collectively, these decisions are typically referred to as “market design.” Most cities choose to involve a wide variety of stakeholders in the design process. Recommended resources:

Systems & Technology

Unifying enrollment requires building a set of tools for families to use to apply for schools, and for system administrators to run the process. Typically, cities building either a common application or a full unified enrollment system set up an online application platform which families can use to submit their school selections – often called an “application management system” or AMS. Recommended resources:

Family & Community Outreach

No system will be effective unless eligible families know about it. Cities use a range of strategies – from paid advertising to door-to-door canvassing to partnerships with community-based organizations – to let parents and students know about new timelines and processes. Special populations might need extra support in navigating the application, such as translated materials, or assistance in-person or by phone from trained staff.  Recommended resources:

Assessment & Evaluation

In order to confirm that the system operated correctly and fairly, cities typically conduct an audit of their system in the first year, and often on a regular basis. Additionally, since unified enrollment systems also provide rich data for policymakers and school leaders about parents’ preferences for schools, cities often use the data to inform educational decision-making.  Recommended resources:

Unifying Enrollment Map


Across the country, there are many examples of cities unifying their enrollment systems. View the map to see cities that have implemented a “common application” or a full “unified enrollment” system, and to learn more about their processes.

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