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.
Online Application and Lottery Management System

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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