How to register your child in a US School

A guide about school registration and available supports for new students

US schools welcome new students coming from all over the world every day. But, have you ever wonder how schools support your child when they arrive at a new US school? New school registration is the start of many services provided to new students.

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Over the years, I have had the opportunity to set up a welcoming environment for students from different countries to US schools. Below, I share various requirements about the school registration process that every parent must understand and fulfill to register a child. In addition, this post includes acceptable documentation required during school registration.

The following information applies to any public, private, and charter school registration. In some cases, registration documents may vary slightly depending on the school. In addition, you will find several items to consider before you depart to the US from another country or move to a different US school.

When is school registration required?

New school registration is necessary when a family moves outside their current school feeder pattern. In US schools, a feeder pattern determines which addresses or designated areas attend which school within a school district. In other words, a family address pre-determines a child’s school. Feeder patterns are pre-determined for elementary, middle, and high school.  

Registration is required whenever a family decides to move out of a designated feeder pattern for a school. Furthermore, a new registration is necessary when a family moves to another city, state, or country.

What if I want my child to attend a different school?

Parents have the option to switch schools depending on where they reside. In addition, some places offer families the option to choose a school different instead of their assigned school. School choice is a free option that many families take advantage of each school year; however, school choice comes with a registration process of its own.

Others may opt for charter schools in their area. Charter schools are free; however, they also have their own registration process.

Completion of the Registration Form

The completion of the registration form involves the provision of personal and demographic information. Every school registration also asks for language information that helps a school determine the languages spoken in the home. A home language survey is a mandated form or questions that all schools must ask to identify potential English language learners in need of language services.

Additionally, a registration form asks for health-related information to inform the school whether a child has special needs that the school needs to pay attention to during school.  

What to Do Before You Move or Migrate to the US

Once you decide to move or migrate to the United States, there are important original documents that you will need to gather and bring with you. These original documents are required for school staff to complete the school registration process. In addition, such documents show guardianship, prove parent and child identification for grade-level placement, and show a child’s health record.

Keep in mind that although the school staff needs to see original documents to complete a registration form, they will not keep these documents.  Copies of the original documents are kept once the school personnel verifies the documentation. The pandemic is changing how schools registrations are done; however, documentation is still required even when registration is done online.

Required Documents for Registration

Identification

School staff must be able to verify and identify the adult registering a child in a school. To prove your identity, you will need to show a state identification card, a passport, or a guardian photo indentation. Additional documentation such as court order or guardianship documentation may be provided when a biological parent is not present during registration.

Besides adult identification, the school requires proof of identification for every child that registers. Only an original birth certificate, an identification card, or a passport are acceptable documents for registration in most schools. In some cases, an official document that identifies you as the parent might fulfill this requirement. These documentations (birth certificate and passport) must reflect the child’s full name and complete date of birth. 

School Report Card Record

Grade level placement is often questioned and debatable during registration. To ensure that your child continues in the proper grade level, you will be asked to prove prior grade level completion. Depending on where you live, you’ll want to make sure to request a copy of your child’s school record and report card.

You’ll also want to make sure to take a copy of the current report card for each child moving with you. Students in Kindergarten to 5th grade may only need to provide a copy of the most recent report card showing the school year’s progress.

On the contrary, students in grades 6th to 12th grade should bring copies of report cards for each grade level completed above 5th grade. Having a copy of each prior grade level during school registration will ensure they are given fair credits for the classes taken. This also provides the new school an overview of your child’s academic abilities to determine current class level placement.

This ensures that students aren’t placed in classes they may have already taken at the high school level.  Copies of the report cards will ensure appropriate grade level placement. High school students in the US have a certain number of classes to take before graduating with a high school diploma. The classes taken in other US schools or outside the US will count as long as the classes are documented. 

Health and Immunizations

All schools in the US require students to have appropriate vaccines before they start school. Request a copy of your child’s vaccination record to bring with you for school registration. Immunization records are reviewed and approved by a school nurse, who also determines if additional vaccines are necessary for registration.

What immunizations are required?

  • Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine and Pertussis vaccine (DTaP or Tdap)
  • Hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR)
  • Polio vaccine.
  • Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine.

In the US, school registration and attendance are required for between the ages of 5 and 18. Therefore, school registration is necessary as soon as you settle into your new location. Some schools require parents to schedule an appointment to complete the registration. However, others may take a walk-in registration without an appointment. You will need to bring identification, school report card/records, and vaccinations mentioned in the prior section to register.

The above list may vary depending on the school.

Get a checklist with a list of items you need for registration.

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Address Verification

Additionally, you will also be required to provide address verification documents of where or who you live with. Proof of current address confirms and verifies that you live at the address you provide to ensure you register in the corresponding school. To prove your current address, you will be asked to provide a recent copy of an electric bill.

Other bills or documents showing the property address may be required when an electric bill is not available. For example, an affidavit may be necessary if you live in someone else’s home or apartment. Ask the registering secretary what you’ll need, depending on your situation, to show proof of your new address location during school registration.

What happens after registration?

The first day of school can be a challenge for a new student in a US school; however, most schools have a set routine or plan to support new students during school.

Some schools pair the student with another student

Teachers may pair a student with another student that speaks the native language your child speaks. This makes the student feels welcomed and safer, knowing that someone else can communicate with them in their native language. Teachers are often extra careful in ensuring the other student supports but not burdened by this responsibility.


Some schools provide an Interpreter

Some schools use an over-the-phone interpreter service for immediate communication. Although, a language line does not replace the personal touch of an in-person interpreter. An over-the-phone interpreter is better than no interpreter at all. Schools use the language line to explain immediate information when an in-person interpreter is not available.


Some schools use a welcome kit, picture book, or brochure

Some schools use a translated welcome kit, picture book, or brochure. This helps to share important information with newcomer students. In addition, such resources may contain information about the school’s everyday routine, such as cafeteria, nurse, bathroom, arrival and dismissal procedures, and class schedules. This type of document can often become a helpful guide that students can use throughout the day.


The start of a new school can make a student feel a bit overwhelmed and nervous at the same time. Students face new demands and may sometimes struggle to adjust and maneuver a new school system. Talk to your child to help reassure them on this journey.

Most importantly, to learn more about your child’s school routine, make sure to attend the back-to-school night events to learn what school will be like for your child. Then, contact your school with questions or concerns. Interpreting services are often available to help parents communicate with schools and teachers.

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