Let's start by acknowledging that in many places, the very idea of a "preschool application" is a foreign concept. You find out about a couple of good preschools nearby, give a call or drop by, get your child signed up, and there you have it. Doesn't that sound great?
Sadly, such a simple process could not be farther from the reality in many urban areas. In cities across the country, vast numbers of small children apply for too few spots at popular preschool programs. We all wish it were not so, but we must cope with the fact that the wonderful nursery school down the street may be flooded with more applications than its staff has time to read. What is a Savvy parent to do?
Savvy has gathered the collective wisdom of hundreds of parents who have been through the process and found spots for their children at preschools they love. As the admissions season begins, we've been sifting through their comments and advice, looking for ways to make a child's preschool application stand out.
The first thing all experienced parents will say is to do your research, and do it early. (The Savvy Source preschool directory makes it easy!) It may seem absurd to begin looking into preschools when your baby isn't walking yet, but you'll need to make all of these inquiries sooner or later, and we promise that getting it done sooner will serve you well. Once you've identified particular programs that seem appealing, you'll want to learn as much as you can about their admissions procedures. Believe it or not, preschool applications can be as complex and unique as the schools themselves.
You'll want to know, for example, from what age a school accepts inquiries. If you are able to put your child on a wait list from the very earliest age, don't tarry: make the call, and get it done. A parent at the popular Secret Garden Preschool in Seattle advised, "Called early in the fall and placed our name on a list. Attended the open house in January." A parent at The Da Vinci School in Dallas said, "I put my child on the waiting list as soon as the child was born. I also signed my child up for summer camp at the school when eligible, so the director could see my child." And she was smart to do so. When her child's admissions year rolled around, the school could see that her interest was long-standing.
Most schools offer priority admissions to siblings of current students, but new parents may not realize that many well-regarded programs give preference to families from an affiliated community such as a church, synagogue, day care, community center or the like. As a parent at Calvary Nursery School in San Francisco noted, "We were members of the church, which helped us enormously getting into the school, I'm sure." When spots have been filled by siblings and (in this instance) church members, very few tend to be left over for the rest of the applicant pool. Not that we suggest joining a place of worship just for its preschool! But if you love a certain school's values and its community, it's not impossible that its affiliated institution would also have a great deal to offer your family. At the very least, it's worth taking into account.
In particular, if the preschool is part of a larger community center that offers classes for babies and toddlers (i.e. the local Y or JCC), then it's a great idea to sign for a few of those classes in the early years so that the teachers can get to know your family and perhaps act as a reference. One parent at the highly regarded Rhinelander Nursery School in Manhattan noted that the fact that her daughter "did attend classes there since she was a year old" was instrumental in her admission to the preschool.
Along the same lines, if the school you like has a program for two-year-olds, do not, whatever you do, wait until your child is turning three to apply. As a Savvy parent from the Apple Creek Private Preschool in Dallas wrote, "Getting in the 2 year old program ensures you a spot in the older classes. This has helped us secure a spot for [our son] later on." If you wait another year, it's more than likely that a spot that could have been your child's will have been filled by kids rising from the toddler class.
Another reason to look into schools early is to have a chance get to know families and children who attend schools that interest you. This may simply mean pricking your ears at the playground and asking other friendly parents for their thoughts on the preschools in your neighborhood. Meeting other families will help you determine whether the school's community is right for you. And, when the time comes, you may be able to call on fellow parents to be a reference or write a letter to the school on your behalf.
When it comes to the application itself, our Savvy parents offer the following pointers:
And let us add that just as many parents cite "good luck" and good "timing" in their preschool application story. So good luck to you!
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