Are you anxious about where your child will attend school next fall?  This process is very confusing, so I thought a timeline might be helpful to parents who need to make school decisions next year.

In looking at this, I have a few thoughts:

  1. Where you buy your house matters.  If you purchase a house in the zone of a good school you don’t need to do any of this.  The school board needs to keep school zones constant so parents can purchase or rent a home with confidence that their child will attend a specific school.
  2. The public school system should start this process earlier, so parents can apply knowing they will find out if their child got a spot before private school tuition payments are due.
  3. We need more good public middle schools.  There are a few good options for elementary schools – my older son got into Grahamwood in June (right after we moved to Memphis), but not enough Middle and High Schools.  This is why parents camp out for several nights – to get into White Station Middle School or Maxine Smith STEAM Academy – thankfully there are now two good options!
  4. Optional Schools are a safer option than General Transfers.  Optional Schools provide notice to parents in time to avoid paying a deposit to a private school.  In 2013 General Transfer requests were promised by April 1st (in time to avoid a private school deposit) but did not actually get mailed out until mid June.

The public/private school timeline (how it happened prior school years, with notes added for this school year):

October & November

Private schools start holding open houses.  2015-16 dates are in this post.


The Optional School Fair is Sunday, January 1oth, more info.

Shelby County Schools Optional Schools (i.e. Grahamwood, White Station Middle, Peabody, Idlewild) hold their open houses starting January 11th.  In-district schools (i.e. Richland, White Station Elementary) do not hold open houses, but parents can tour by contacting schools directly. See the schedule here (go during the school day if possible, so you see the school with school in session).

The Campus School (a public school on the Univ. of Memphis campus) Parent Information Meeting is Friday, January 15th 2016.  The registration period is late January.  Open spots go to siblings and children of University of Memphis faculty, and then to students who live the closest to the school.  Visit their website for dates.

Bar coded applications to apply to Optional Schools will be handed out at 6:30am on Monday, January 25th, 2016.  Parents started camping out on Thursday for the Tuesday application handed out in 2013.  If I recall correctly, in 2014 someone started the line on Tuesday. Read about the 2015 camp out here.  It was so cold in 2014 that SCS handed out numbers to parents camped out and then sent them home, then they got the first applications on Monday.  The parents camping out for days are almost exclusively looking for White Station Middle School and Maxine Smith STEAM Academy spots.  Applications are processed on a first come, first serve basis and many programs also require students pass a test (elementary) or have specific TCAP scores (middle/high) to get into a program.  Find out the requirements BEFORE you get the application!  Siblings are given preference.  Read more about the Optional School application process here.


Shelby County Schools typically hold their General Transfer process online mid-February.  This process gives parents the opportunity to try and switch out of the school they are zoned for into another school that has space (i.e. Richland, White Station Elementary, Snowden, Sea Isle).  Available spots per grade are typically not provided, and one year there was confusion regarding school boundaries before this process started, landing me on TV.  Transfer applications are processed on a first come, first serve basis.  Siblings and children of employees at the school (or at a feeder school) are given preference.   Read more about this process here.

Some private schools require a non-refundable deposit for the fall semester by February 1st. Parents start hearing if their child got into private schools this month.


Some private schools require a non-refundable deposit for the fall by March 1st.

In 2013, parents found out if they got a spot in an Shelby County Schools Optional School mid- to late-March. Grahamwood started calling parents to schedule tests prior to spring break, which started March 11th that year.


The first months tuition is due at many private schools, with some schools locking you into paying for the entire school year by April 1st.

One mom in the General Transfer process says she was notified via email April 18, 2016. Another mom said she got her notification via email April 18.


Full tuition is due at many private schools


General Transfer information was received via mail around June 19, 2013. In 2015 parents also got their letters mid-June.


Parents register for public schools late July.  If you live within the zone of a good school you just need to show up with proof of residence and you’re good to go.  If you live within the zone of a school with an Optional Program your child may need to pass a test or have certain grades to be admitted to the program.


School starts early August for public schools, typically a week later for private schools. Some private schools don’t require a large tuition payment until this time.

The General Transfer process was not properly run for some schools in 2013, and principal’s were promoting available spots even after school started.  Because of last minute changes (families moving) Grahamwood had available spots in their Optional program after school started.