Making Your Preschool Application Stand Out

Eliza Clark
February 13, 2013

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:

  • "Turn paperwork in on time" says a parent from the Apple Creek Private Preschool in Dallas. Seem obvious? Perhaps. But how easy it is for busy, sometimes overwhelmed parents to let a little thing like paperwork slide.... Save yourself the headaches later on, and get it done!
  • "Show up at everything and be pleasant and interested" offers a parent from San Francisco's Calvary Nursery School. That's often easier said than done (a good babysitter is hard to find!), but definitely worthwhile.
  • Express "a genuine interest in this program above many others" says another Calvary parent, and we could not agree more. Preschools want to know that you understand and support their educational philosophy. Take the time to reflect on why a school appeals to you. Being able to articulate your interest clearly in a letter, interview or essay is crucial. Parents at the Beacon Hill Nursery School in Boston, for example, explains that they were "open and honest about our intentions and desire for our daughter to be a part of a supportive community of learners and educators; expressed desire to be an active part of the community via parent-based committees, etc."
  • Write a thank you letter after each of your visits to the school. And if a school is number one on your list, you may want to send what's known as a "first choice letter." As a parent from Calvary Nursery School advised, "letter writing is critical to distinguishing your application from the many others. Let the director know it's your first choice and that the school matches your values."
  • A parent from All Souls School in New York City believes that having "a friend write a letter" was important to her family's application. Parents of other children currently attending the school make great references.
  • When it comes time for the interview or playdate, "be normal" advises another parent from All Souls. "If your child was to have a melt down I would recommend focusing on calming your child gently and not getting flustered and blaming other kids. I feel the school does observe the kind of parent you are in these types of situations." And a parent from Beacon Hill Nursery School in Boston agrees. "Be yourself," she wrote. "I can't think of anything we did special-we were very lucky."
  • Summing up the advice of the many parents who filled out Savvy's preschool survey, a parent from Chicago's Black Bear Preschool says: "Be proactive!"

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!

From the Parents

  • Sebastien Thiol

    I want to share the following situation about Hands on world preschool in Carrol Garden We did registration for our kid 2 years and half for next September After his first year of 2 half days/ week, we asked for 5 days immersion in french next September. But in fact Hands on world don't provide 5 day/week in french immersion.So they kept our 3100$ and they put our son in their program of 3 days/ week in french. Finally 31th May i explain to the directrice of Hands on world that we found another place where our son can get 5 days/week in french immersion and asked her what is possible concerning our déposit of 3100$ for the inital registration(5 day/week). She refused to give us back 2000$ because we signed that the amount is non refundable. I asked her that in that case if they could register our son for their summer camp with this amount.Her answer is no. We told her that we understand that we signed for non refundable but at the same time we signed for 5 days/week wich is not the case because they don't provide this program in french and they put our son in their 3 days/week. We are very disappointed concerning their policy,We are in beginning of june and we know that there is waiting list and even if they will get another kid they just don't want make a décision of sense.They just make money on our back. If someone could help us or pass information to change that kind of policy and give the chance to parents to obtain more fair balance in that kind of contract. Thanks sebthiol@hotmail.com

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 1

    I like more, please in new york

    over a year ago

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