To say there's a lot of hype around the preschool admissions process is an understatement of epic proportions. Anecdotal evidence regarding every aspect of the game flies back and forth across the playground like, well, children. While this post won't answer all your questions about preschool admissions, we hope it provides a solid overview.
While, for the most popular preschools, the admissions process can be very competitive because many more people apply than there are spots, outside of the most popular schools there are many other schools that one can easily find a spot in without having a nervous breakdown. The most difficult thing may be finding a spot in the exact program and schedule that you want, but if you can be flexible there are plenty of spots in very good schools.
Why are the most popular schools so sought after? One reason is that some of them are considered "feeder schools" for the most popular ongoing schools. Whether this is true is hotly debated. The truth is probably that it is partly true and partly not true. It is true that the directors of certain preschools have relationships with the directors of certain ongoing schools, but that does not necessarily mean that going to one of these "feeder schools" will give you a better chance of getting in to the ongoing school.
The ongoing schools will only take so many kids from each preschool and the director will recommend certain kids from the preschool to the ongoing. So if you are one of those kids then that might help, but if you are not, your chances will be worse. If, however, your child is in a preschool where most of the kids are going to public school, your chances could be better since you will not be competing against a quota from your preschool.
If you do plan on sending your child to private school, you should try to find out how helpful the director is in the application process to ongoings — exmissions. If a director does not have a lot of experience in the process, they may not be very helpful in advising you and writing good recommendations, etc.
Most preschools will take children when they are 2 or 2.5 - each school has its own policy - but, some parents choose to wait until their child is 3 to begin school. Whenever you are planning to send your child to school, you should start thinking about it two summers before the fall they would start school. This is difficult for many people because when your child is only one, it's hard to imagine them being ready for school, but they really grow up in that year and most kids are ready for school at two. Preschool programs come in every imaginable configuration from a couple of hours a day, two days a week, to all-day, full-time programs. Again, just pick the program that you like and is convenient for you. Usually the parents are much less ready for school separation than the kids are.
Once you have chosen the schools you are interested in you must call them to schedule a tour and get an application. The very competitive schools often limit the number of applications they will give out. You should find out what the process for getting an application is as soon as possible. Some schools will have a lottery. Some you have to call the day after Labor Day, they will only give out so many and there will be a race to get the applications. This madness is not true of all schools, however. There are many good schools that will just tell you to call back in October.
You will go on a tour and and fill out applications for the schools that you like. Applications are usually due toward the end of the year before your child would start school. Some schools require an interview or a playdate with the child. The schools generally just want to see if your child has any major problems that will be disruptive in the classroom. There is much speculation about what the schools may be looking for in the parents. Some may just want to see that you are reasonably nice people, some may want to see how much money they think you are going to donate, but some may not really care that much about the parents at all.
Sending a First Choice Letter to your favorite school may help slightly increase your odds of getting in because the school will have some assurance that you will accept the spot if you are given it and they won't have to worry about having an empty spot.
Tips to navigating the preschool admissions game:
If you have your heart set on a certain school the best thing you can do to increase your odds of getting in is to apply for the afternoon class. Most people prefer the morning and people who ask for afternoon first will be given spots before people who ask for morning and don't get them. Likewise, if you really want a morning spot for a threes program, you pretty much have to send your child to the twos program because the returning children from the twos will fill all the morning slots for the threes and new students will only get into the afternoon classes.