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How Does a School Lottery System Work?

By Cece Gilmore

Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Reviewed by Cari Shultz

Cari Schultz is an Educational Review Board Advisor at Scholarships360, where she reviews content featured on the site. For over 20 years, Cari has worked in college admissions (Baldwin Wallace University, The Ohio State University, University of Kentucky) and as a college counselor (Columbus School for Girls).

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: February 1st, 2024
How Does a School Lottery System Work?

School lottery systems are being used more and more often due to the high demand for charter schools. You might be asking yourself, “how does a school lottery system work?” Luckily, we are here to answer that very question, so keep reading if you are interested in lottery schools!

Why do some schools use lotteries? 

Charter schools have specific enrollment periods where parents can register their children. However, due to the high demand of charter schools, there might not be enough enrollment spots to allow all applicants to attend the school of choice. 

To fix this problem, charter schools usually turn to what is known as a school lottery system. Because charter schools are public and tuition-free institutions, they do not require any type of admissions process such as interviews or essays. Therefore, the most fair way of selecting who can attend charter schools is through a school lottery system. 

What is a school lottery system? 

A school lottery system is a random selection process for determining which students will attend. The lottery system aims to give all applicants an equal chance of being admitted. A school lottery system only occurs when more students apply for admission than can be admitted. 

How do schools conduct the lottery? 

There is not one universal method or way of administering the school lottery. However, there are certain criteria that every charter school must follow to ensure that they are as fair as possible in the selection process. 

The method of the lottery should be transparent, random, and conducted in accordance with the policy of the specific charter of the particular charter school. There are many different methods of lotteries that are fair and random. The two main categories of these fair lottery systems are computer-generated randomization and human randomization. 

Computer-generated randomization 

Some charter schools use a computer-generated randomization to ensure that the lottery is truly random and free of any human error. There are many software programs specifically designed for this purpose to ensure that the lottery drawings are fair. 

Human randomization 

Charter schools may decide to use human randomization methods. For example, schools may choose to draw names from a jar or choose popsicle sticks from a box. These methods, although effective, can lead to a lot of questioning regarding bias or preferential treatment. Therefore, it is critical that the charter school ensures there are no errors in the performance of human randomization lotteries. 

Don’t miss: What is a magnet school?

Is there any way to bypass the school lottery system? 

A charter school may utilize enrollment priorities if authorized by their charter. An enrollment priority allows a charter school to offer certain students enrollment prior to a lottery system. 

For example, some charter schools allow siblings to be granted enrollment priority. This means the siblings of a student who has already been enrolled in a charter school will not have to go through the lottery process. 

Related: All about parochial schools

What happens if you are not selected by the lottery? 

If all of the enrollment slots have become filled after the lottery, the students who were not selected will be added to a wait list. The lottery method will continue to determine in what order students will be put on the waitlist. 

The waitlist should be continuously updated as students are admitted. This will allow the position of any student to be known and allow parents to stay updated on the status of their children’s admission. 

Also see: Public vs private K-12: What to consider

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • The school lottery is a random selection system to ensure that all applicants have an equal chance of being admitted
  • The lottery system is not the same at every charter school and could be either a computer or human randomization method
  • If a student has already been enrolled in a charter school, they do not need to enter the lottery as their spot is already locked in
  • If a student does not receive a spot after the lottery, they will be assigned a spot on the waitlist
Key Takeaways

Additional K-12 resources

If you are a parent or student looking for non-public school educational opportunities, check out our list of scholarships for private K-12. There are even private scholarships for middle school students, so check those out as well. If you are thinking ahead, check out this list of top summer programs (some are zero cost or offer financial aid!). Throughout your educational journey, make sure that you apply to all the scholarships you qualify for. Good luck! 

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Frequently asked questions about school lotteries

Do you have to reapply for the school lottery if you were admitted to the charter school in prior years?

No! Students who have been attending the charter school do not need to reapply and participate in the lottery. 

Are school lotteries fair?

Whether school lotteries are fair is the topic of sometimes heated debate. One argument claims that some students work harder than others only to be denied entry to their school of choice. Others say that a lottery system is the only way to ensure fairness and level the playing field for all students. Hopefully, all students will soon attend the school that helps them reach their potential!

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