HISD Magnet & Vanguard Programs for 2019-2020 School Year: Overview of the Programs, What You Need to Know & How and When to Apply!

It is NOW time to apply for NEXT school year!

I’ve applied for HoustonISD Magnet Schools (and Vanguard Magnet Schools), 4 times in the last 8 years.  The first time around, I found it very overwhelming… but over the years, I’ve (mostly) figured it out.

In case you are also overwhelmed and confused by the HoustonISD application process, here is a summary of the process, key dates and changes for this year.

For the official information on applying to HoustonISD Magnet Schools, go HERE.  And be sure to look at this FAQ page.


(Also, last year there were budget cuts and the magnet school program was under review.  Since then, the bus system has changed some… but it looks like the application process is the same for next year.  If you have any other updates, let us know!)

Key dates for the 2019-2020 School Year:

  • School Choice Fairs (Optional, but very informative)
    • Sept. 29: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Sterling High School
    • Oct. 20: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Washington High School
    • Nov. 10: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Westbury High School
    • Dec. 1: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. at Milby High School
  • School Choice Thursdays (Optional, but very informative)
    • Thursdays from October 4 through December 6 at all magnet schools.
    • October ( 4, 11, 18, 25), November (1, 8, 15, 29), and December 6.
    • These tours are intended to help parents learn more about Magnet programs to make more informed decisions.
    • Now that Elementary tours are not intended for students.  Middle School and High School tours are for parents and students.
    • Find more details HERE.
  • September 28, 2018 – Applications are open
  • December 7, 2018 – Deadline for Phase I (first round) Magnet applications.
  • December 8, 2018 –  Start of Phase II application window. (Note that the most popular Magnet Schools will fill in Phase 1.  If you are trying to get into one of these schools, you really need to apply for Phase 1 by December 7.  For an idea of the most popular schools, look at this HISD list.)
  • For Kindergarten Vanguard Magnet Programs (Askew, Carrillo, De Zavala, Herod, Oak Forest, River Oaks, Roosevelt, T.H. Rogers, Travis, Windsor Village), you will need to select a test date when you submit your application:
    • (Dates to be added)
  • March 21 2019 – Notification Date
    • The official Phase I notification of a students’ lottery outcome will be viewable within the online application dashboard.
  • April 4, 2019 – Deadline for accepting your seat.
    • Documentation (recent proof of residency and a signed Magnet entrance agreement) must be turned in.
    • Students will remain on the waitlist of all programs which parents ranked higher than the highest program to which a seat is offered.


RECENT Changes in the Magnet Application Process & Answers to FAQs:

In case you have not applied in a few years, some things have changed.  We had to start ranking our school choices (and not just apply to 10 schools and pick a favorite after we were accepted).  Also the number of total applications is 5 instead of 10.

  • There are new bus hubs for magnet schools this year.  Besides that, the process looks the same as last year.
  • You can apply online or with paper… but with just one method.  You use the same application for all 5 school choices.
  • It only takes 10 minutes to complete… but deciding on which schools to apply to can take longer.  There are a lot of open houses and school tours that help you decide.
  • Your favorite school is likely the favorite school of hundreds of other families.  To see the popularity of the HISD programs, go HERE.  (This is a very cool resource from last year… and lets you know what to expect.)
  • Parents can ONLY apply to 5 magnet programs.  This is for magnet programs and Vanguard magnet programs.  The G/T test dates are in January and February, so I would not make these all Vanguard schools because if the child does not qualify, they will not be entered into any lotteries.
  • Parents need to rank applications in priority order.  Parents will be able to adjust the order of their choices through the December 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.
  • Applications for students who live outside the HISD boundaries may be submitted any time after September 28, 2018 but they will not be considered until June.  (See the FAQ for details.)
  • Students must be in attendance on day one of school. Magnet seats are not saved if there are zoned students to fill the spaces.
  • In the 2019-2020 application, this is a new note:Due to large number of applications in Phase I, the following schools will not be accepting any applications after the Phase I deadline of December 7, 2018.Harvard Elementary, Herod Elementary, Kolter Elementary, Lovett Elementary, Oak Forest Elementary, River Oaks Elementary, T.H. Rogers, Travis Elementary, Wilson Montessori, Lanier Middle School, Pin Oak Middle School, Bellaire High School, Carnegie High School, DeBakey High School, Heights High School, and Lamar High School.

So, for entering school in August 2019, you will apply to schools from September 28, 2018-December 7, 2018.  It will look something like this:

  • You apply to up to 5 schools for the 2019-2020 school year by December 7.  These include both Vanguard and Magnet Programs.
  • You will rank you favorite schools… for example: #1 River Oaks Vanguard, #2 Wharton Dual Language, #3 Poe Fine Arts, #4 Wilson Montessori…
  • In January/February, IF you applied to Vanguard schools, your child will take the G/T test.
  • In March, you will learn which schools have accepted our application (through the lottery).
  • If you got a spot at #2 Wharton, you would stay on the waitlist for #1 River Oaks, but be dropped from the waitlists from #3 Poe and #4 Wilson…
  • In April, you must accept your spot at Wharton or you will lose it.  If a spot opened up at River Oaks, you could still accept it.


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 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 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 5 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!  Also, children must quality for Vanguard programs.  In case they do not do well on the test, make sure you have selected some non-Vanguard magnet programs when you apply.

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 be directed to contact your zoned school for GT testing.

From the HISD website 9/2018:

The Houston Independent School District has one G/T testing window. Therefore, only those students who are already identified as gifted and talented in HISD may apply for a space available placement at Vanguard Magnet campuses after December 7. If you have any questions, please email the Advanced Academics Team at advancedacademics@houstonisd.org.

Also from the HISD website 9/28:

Please contact the G/T Coordinator at your child’s current HISD school or HISD zoned campus to request testing. The deadline to request G/T testing at your child’s current HISD school or HISD zoned campus is December 8, 2018. Requests for G/T testing received after December 8, 2018 will not be accommodated.


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.

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.  And do NOT feel like you MUST prepare. (affiliates)

ABC Mouse (You can get a free month HERE.)
Lollipop Logic
Wiz Kidz
Kindergarten Test Prep Bundle for ITBS

{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, the schools hold 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 online and sent through the mail in late March.

If you are on a waitlist you can monitor the changes online through the parent dashboard.

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

Your place on any higher ranked waitlists will 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 will not 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 (or PreK, if it is a magnet PreK) class is guaranteed to siblings of currently enrolled students. (Same for 6th and 9th entry grades.)  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 will hold true for them as well.

If two siblings apply for an entry grade‐level program (and do not have another sibling in the program already) they are treated the same as any other applicant. However, if one is offered a place, the other is moved up the wait list, and placed among the other siblings. (Each sibling must have a separate application on file.)

For twins (and all multiples), you can have them treated like all other siblings or opt to have all the children receive one lottery spot.  All will be offered a seat or all placed on
the wait list. If they are on a wait list, they will not be offered seats until there is room for all of them. (Each sibling must have a separate application on file.)



For elementary magnet programs, the “entry” grade is usually Kindergarten.  For Magnet dual language, Magnet language immersion, and Montessori Magnet programs, the “entry” grade is Pre‐K.

In the application, you can see which schools have PreK magnet programs.

Note that some schools have PreK programs that are NOT magnet programs.  Contact the school for details on applying.


  1. Question -when you do the first preliminary application, where do you upload the required document in the dashboard? That is one thing that has me stumped in our application status (we are pk4 and our application status is: submitted, in processing) but don’t see a location to upload our children’s required documents.

    • Jill Jarvis says:

      Let me look at the website and see now that the form is open.

      Last year I just applied… and submitted the documents when we were accepted… but let me look!

    • Jill Jarvis says:

      I just went through again and I was able to submit… with only submitting GT paperwork. Everything else comes later (I think!). You favorite school could tell you for sure!

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