Home»All»HISD Magnet & Vanguard Programs for 2016-2017 School Year: Overview of the Programs, What You Need to Know & How and When to Apply!

HISD Magnet & Vanguard Programs for 2016-2017 School Year: Overview of the Programs, What You Need to Know & How and When to Apply!

Update: For 2018-19 Magnet Applications, go HERE!

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Update: For 2017-2018 Magnet Applications, go HERE for an overview of the new process! 

It’s time to apply for NEXT school year!  For official information on applying to HoustonISD Magnet Schools, go HERE.  If you want a mom to summarize the process, based on my experiences, look below for key dates, changes for this year and what you need to know about HISD schools!

Key dates for 2015 (for 2016-2017 School Year):

  • October 1 – For the 2016-2017 school year, the HISD magnet application will be available online or on paper.
  • December 18 – Magnet application deadline.
  • March 24 – Parents will learn the outcome of their children’s applications.

For the details on phase 2 and 3 of the application process, go HERE.

 Important Changes in the Magnet Application Process:

  • For the 2016-2017 school year, the application system is the same but the way they are being processed has change.
  • Parents can still apply to up to 10 Magnet programs (and 5 of these may be Vanguard schools).
  • New this year, parents will need to rank applications in priority order.  Parents will be able to adjust the order of their choices through the December 18 deadline.
  • In March, when HISD contacts parents of the outcome of the applications, all applications ranked below the top choice will be dropped automatically. Any programs you are wait listed that rank above the highest accepted choice, remain active.
  • For an example, go HERE.
  • This change should reduce the number of students who remain on wait lists waiting for others to keep or drop their spots.

In short, you need to decide your favorite schools when you apply.  In the past, you could just apply to 10 schools and decide your favorite in March when you were accepted to (maybe multiple or maybe no) schools.

For this school year, I will apply on October 1… but I believe this process will look like this:

  1. By December 18, I will apply to up to 10 schools (and 5 can be Vanguard).
  2. I will need to rank my favorite schools: #1 River Oaks, #2 Roberts, #3 Poe, #4 Wilson, #5 Garden Oaks…
  3. In March, I will learn which schools have accepted our application (through the lottery).
  4. If we got a spot at #2 Roberts, we would stay on the waitlist for #1 River Oaks, but be dropped from the waitlists from #3 Poe, #4 Wilson and #5 Garden Oaks.


What you need to know about HoustonISD:


The school that you are zoned to is your neighborhood school and the one that your child will be automatically accepted into (as long as it is not too full). If you don’t already know which school you are zoned to, go to THIS website, type in your address, and choose the grade level your child will be in for the 2015-2016 school year.

If you are happy with your neighborhood school and want your child to go there, you don’t need to worry about the magnet application process*.  (One note is that a few HoustonISD neighborhood schools are over full.  Call your zoned school to see if there is any issue at all with attending your local neighborhood school.)  Contact the school to find out what you need to do to enroll your child and when to do it.

(*One more note on zoned schools and Vanguard Programs:  If you are going to your zoned school and it’s not a Vanguard Magnet School (like Roberts, Poe, etc), your kids will be tested at school for the Vanguard Neighborhood Program. If you are going to your zoned school and it’s a Vanguard Magnet (like ROE, Travis, etc), the official word from HISD is: “In October, when the online application system opens, go ahead and apply to ROE, even if you are zoned. You will be provided details about testing.” You can also contact your zoned school to get all the details.)



If, however, you would like the opportunity for your child to attend a school you are not zoned to, you will have apply for a magnet transfer. THIS  is the part of HISD’s website about the magnet programs.

Each magnet school has a specialized theme that is incorporated into their classes and curriculum. For example, a fine arts magnet school may offer more exposure to music, dance, art and drama than other schools would.



You can submit up to 10 magnet school applications, of which 5 can be for Vanguard schools.  Know that magnet schools can be very hard to get in to, so apply to several!

Apply online or print an application HERE.



The Vanguard Magnet schools are different than the other Magnet programs. Vanguard is HISD’s term for G/T or gifted and talented. Students must pass a test in order to be accepted as a transfer student at these schools.

You can apply to up to 5 Vanguard schools and must rank your top choices.  When you apply, you will select a test date for your child.

We did the Vanguard test several years ago and this is what we found… tell me if you have a more recent experience!  On test day, parents and children signed in then were directed to a large waiting area. Then students were called out on their own or in small groups while parents waited for them.

Your child probably won’t be called out immediately, so you may want to bring snacks and something quiet for them to do.

Once the students left the waiting area they met individually in a room with the person administering the test. When they finished they were brought back to the room then the parents and students could leave.  For some very very very unofficial tips on testing, go HERE.

If a student passes the test, then he or she is entered into the lottery at the Vanguard schools already chosen on the application. If the student does not pass the test, he or she will not be considered for transfer to a Vanguard school. Children who pass the test but aren’t accepted into one of the Vanguard schools can still be in the Vanguard program at the school they end up attending (if that school has a program).

I always get asked for resources to help prepare kids and parents for testing.  Here is what has been recommended by other parents over the years… but review each to see what is best for you:

Lollipop Logic
Wiz Kidz
Kindergarten Test Prep Bundle for ITBS

If you have books you recommend, please let us know!

{One more note on zoned schools and Vanguard Programs:  If you are going to your zoned school and it’s not a Vanguard Magnet School (like Roberts, Poe, etc), your kids will be tested at school for the Vanguard Neighborhood Program. If you are going to your zoned school and it’s a Vanguard Magnet (like ROE, Travis, etc), the official word from HISD is: “In October, when the online application system opens, go ahead and apply to ROE, even if you are zoned. You will be provided details about testing.” You can also contact your zoned school to get all the details.}



Once the deadline for turning in applications has passed, each school holds a lottery where they draw the names of the students they’ll accept. Any students who applied but were not chosen are placed on a waiting list in the order their names were drawn.

Many of the schools that you’ll be applying to will probably have long wait lists and you are not guaranteed to be accepted as a transfer student into any of the schools that you’ve applied to. I was waitlisted at around number 320 for one of them, in the 200s for another and actually got in to 1!

So, if you really don’t want your child to attend your zoned school you should to turn in applications to more schools to increase your chance of acceptance.

Status notifications (whether you’ve been accepted or your number on the waitlist) are mailed out in late March.

If you are on a waitlist you won’t hear back from the school again unless enough spaces open up for your child to be accepted. You can call the school to find out updated waitlist numbers though.

If you are accepted you have until early April to inform the school of your “intent to attend.”

Your place on any waitlists should remain the same though, so if you receive a spot at your second choice school, but are waitlisted at your first, accepting the second choice shouldn’t affect your chances of getting into your first choice.



Those of you who have, or who plan to have, additional children may be wondering if you’ll have to go through this whole process again. The answer is yes, but special consideration is currently given to siblings in the lottery.

As of now, up to the 25% of the incoming Kinder class is guaranteed to siblings of currently enrolled students. If the number of siblings applying is more than 25% of the entering class, all sibling names are placed in a lottery and those spaces are awarded according to the order the names are drawn.

Any remaining siblings are placed in the general lottery, and if their names still aren’t drawn, they are placed at the beginning of the wait list. So, chances are that if your older child gets a spot at the school you want, your younger one(s) should too… but no guarantee… especially at very popular schools!

For Vanguard schools the younger child(ren) will have to pass the Vanguard test, but as long as they do the above should hold true for them as well.

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  1. Thi
    February 9, 2016 at 12:26 pm — Reply

    I am so glad to find your website. It’s very helpful. I have a question. My daughter is turning 4 in May 2016. I want to enroll her to pre at a public school because she can attend to the ESL program. Does application for magnet school include pre K as well or does it only start at Kindergarten level? The elementary school that we’re zoned to is not good. I hope to enroll her in River Oaks or west u.
    I’m also told by the school registrar staff from West Uand Roberts that their school is full with zoned kids, won’t have space for magnet program. Does that sound right?

    • February 9, 2016 at 12:45 pm — Reply

      Thi – Thanks! For schools that have pre-k, you can apply through the magnet process. The only trick is that the first round of applications was due in December and notifications will be given out in March. You can still apply now, but the most popular schools (like Roberts, West U, River Oaks) will be full with long wait lists. (Even if you had applied in December, the chances of getting into these schools is very slim.)

      The HISD magnet coordinators know the official information, so I am sure you got the latest information from them. (In any case, West U and Roberts are very hard to get into with the magnet process.)

      The best way to get into your favorite school is to be zoned to that school. (I know this is not always possible… but we were 100+ on many magnet school wait lists.)

      What I do not know is if there is another way to apply to the ESL program for pre-k. You should check with HISD to see if there is another way to attend HISD ESL preschool program that you are not zoned to.

  2. Veronica
    March 21, 2016 at 2:06 pm — Reply

    My twin girls are in Pre-K this year. Pre-K is not included in the magnet lottery system. The schools determine their acceptance system. Some schools take only qualified low income which is free while others may only offer tuition based, others even take both categories. At one of the schools i approached, i was told that first priority would be given to zoned kids and any remaining spots would be given at first come first serve. Another school I went to and the one my daughters currently go to, everyone was given the same opportunity. The front office for that school said Pre-K is open to all HISD students regardless of where you are zoned. They also did not let me register until June. So you should call your interested schools to find out their system. Pre-K has it’s own set of rules so you will hear differing rules. It is not too late.

  3. HD
    April 16, 2016 at 4:23 am — Reply

    Thank you for this information!

    Do you know where could I get an idea of what are the dates for Vanguard testing? I assume is sometime in January.

    • April 16, 2016 at 9:48 am — Reply

      When the applications come out again in September 2016, the dates should be available. In the past there have been several dates to choose from in January (and I *think* early February).

    October 22, 2016 at 11:48 pm — Reply

    I recently moved to the North Houston area from Spring in the end of August 2016. My son is a 9th grader and is currently attending Spring High School because I do not want him to attend Sam Houston the school he is zoned to attend. I would like to transfer him to a magnet school this year however. I don’t want him to have to attend Sam Houston until the whole selection happens. I rather him attend any other school but Sam. Any ideas how I can make this happen

    • October 22, 2016 at 11:53 pm — Reply

      Tracy –

      Admission to the magnet schools is based on a lottery. So, unfortunately you cannot guarantee you will get into a school… but you should submit an application with your top 5 choices right now. The applications are open until December.

      After that, if you do not get into any schools, you can see if any high schools have openings.

      If you attend any of the school choice open houses, they can give you the official information from HISD!

      Good luck!

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