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What You Need to Know About Preschool Admissions in NYC

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If you’re interested in pursuing a private preschool education for your tiny tot, you’re in for a lengthy administrative journey (“Hey Dad, Dad, are we THERE yet?”), especially if you’re in NYC.

The private preschool admissions process closely resembles that of college admissions, which means you should treat the process similarly: be mindful of deadlines, thorough in your research, and meticulous in your proofreading.

In order to tackle the process as efficiently as possible, start with:


1. Research

There is so much to take into account when it comes to choosing the right preschool for your family. We recommend starting the process about a year in advance; that way, you can take your time to do your due diligence by surfing websites and speaking with other parents at the playground. You should also take advantage of open houses and tours!

Some questions to consider as you begin the process:

  • What is most important to you when it comes to location, cost, teaching style, specialized programs, etc.?
  • Which schedule will work best for your family? Does the preschool offer any supplemental afterschool programs?
  • Are you looking for an ongoing program, in which your child will continue elementary school in the same school system? Or are you open to independent preschools?
  • Does the teaching philosophy align with your family values and your academic goals for your child?
  • Does your child require any special accommodations? And, if so, are the preschools on your list prepared to offer that support?
  • How much are you willing to pay in tuition annually? And, if applicable, do the preschools on your list offer financial assistance?
  • What role will diversity and inclusion play in your decision-making process? Is it important to you that your child attends a preschool with peers who come from backgrounds different than that of their own?
    • If so, how are the preschools on your list building in inclusivity within their community? What initiatives or programs do they run for tiny tots who have been historically excluded from these kinds of educational opportunities?

We also recommend keeping notes on your child’s development. This account will be nice to have in the future, but it will also serve as launching points for you when it comes time to write about their interests, and even their strengths and weaknesses, in the applications. 

Finally, research is invaluable because you may find that some competitive preschool programs on your list require you to submit an inquiry form in order to even receive the application. Yes, you read that right. And you’ll have to do it quickly. Some programs distribute applications on a first come, first serve basis to a limited number of inquirers. 

2. Teaching Philosophies

If you are new to the process, it might be helpful to familiarize yourself with the different teaching philosophies adopted by preschools. Here are a couple to know:

  • The Montessori Method focuses on developing a child’s soft skills, also known as common or core skills (think effective communication, critical thinking, conflict resolution), in an environment that encourages learning through play. The teacher acts as more of a guide than an instructor, with  children encouraged to follow their instincts for self-directed development. This focus on individual learning allows children to move at their own pace.
  • Inquiry-Based learning encourages children to follow their natural curiosity, providing opportunities for collaboration, exploration, and self-expression. This philosophy intends to instill a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime.
  • The Waldorf philosophy focuses on dependability and structure, with teachers often remaining with the same group of children for years. This model emphasizes the physical and emotional maturation of each student, as well as intellectual growth. 
  • Reggio Emilia teachers act as facilitators, guiding students through projects that reflect their inclinations and interests. This philosophy emphasizes equal learning, creativity, and artistic expression.
  • In Bank Street programs, children are encouraged to interact with and learn from the world around them. This philosophy does not rely on structure, but focuses instead on active learning, play, and imagination.
  • Employing the founding principles of Anti-Racist Early Childhood Education, children are taught about inclusivity and engage in open conversations about race and culture. 

3. Playdates 

Some preschools will invite families for a twenty to thirty minute playdate, so they can observe firsthand how your child interacts with others, follows instructions, transitions between activities, and more. At some institutions, you will be allowed to spectate, and at others, you won’t be in the room (where it happens, the room where it happens) at all. Any Hamilton fans in the treehouse?

There is no concrete way to prepare for these playdates. However, if you’ve raised your child to be kind and curious, that will naturally show as they  connect with the stimuli around them. And remember: young kids can’t be expected to share their toys every time!

That being said, there are a few steps you can take to curate the right kind of environment for your child to flourish. We recommend arriving on time with a full-bellied toddler. Try to plan ahead to avoid any irritability that results from hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, etc. Finally, don’t put any pressure on your child to ace the playdate. 

There is no one way to “win” the playdate and no one really knows what admissions officers are looking for from year to year. A lot of it could depend on factors outside of your control, like the genders and dispositions of the children who have already been accepted into the program. 

4. Get Ready to Write

You should be prepared to answer highly specific questions, like, “Please describe your child’s speech and language development,” and/or, “If we were to walk into your child’s classroom, how would we know which child was yours?”

Questions like these require some serious brainstorming. Our advice is to familiarize yourself with your top choice preschool’s application prompts as soon as possible, so you have time to let those questions marinate in your brain. 

It is possible to write your responses too early, especially if you’re getting started a year or two in advance. As we’re sure you’re well aware, your child is developing at lightning speed, and you will know much more about their personality and behavior as time goes on. 

Ultimately, your goal with the written components of the application is to introduce your unique child to admissions. The more specific, anecdotal stories you can share about your child, the better. It’s one thing to say that your child is intuitive and kind, but it’s much more powerful to tell a story about a time when your child exhibited these traits.

It’s also integral to keep in mind that admissions is not expecting perfection; try to remain as objective as possible. 

5. Brace Yourself for Rejection

Odds are that you will receive at least one rejection letter. Preschool admissions is competitive, especially in big cities. In New York City, there are more applicants than there are open spots, which means the odds are not in your favor (unless you have a legacy status or older children already enrolled in the school system). In fact, the admissions rates at some elite preschools in Manhattan are as low as 5%. 

Remember to not take it personally, and stay focused on the opportunities that are available to you and your child. 

6. Consult an Expert

Finally, if you are overwhelmed by the process, don’t hesitate to get in touch to see how we can help. Whether you’re looking for an expert to review your short responses or an Advisor to guide you through the written components of the application one-on-one, we are here to lend a hand.

This process can be overwhelming and grueling, so just remember: the preschool your child attends will not make or break their academic trajectory. Odds are there are several preschools that will engage, support, and nurture your child’s growth and development in line with your own philosophy and vision.

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