Admissions to Primary and Pre-School: A-Z

Admissions to Primary and Pre-School: A-Z
For many reasons it can be more difficult to get your child into a preschool or kindergarten than into a prep school. Here's an overview of the process.

For many reasons it can be more difficult to get your child into a preschool or kindergarten than into a prep school. Especially if you live in a major city like New York or Chicago. Read The Truth About Preschool Admissions by Jacoba Urist in The Huffington Post to get an idea of what you are up against. Getting your child into preschool is not quite the same as walking into Bergdorf's and purchasing an expensive item of apparel. Your money and your accomplishments take a back seat to your child and her abilities and accomplishments. Preschools look at your child first. Then they will give you the once over.

If you live in an area where places in the local preschools are not as difficult to come by, count your lucky stars. In any case here's an overview of the process.

Getting Started

Much depends on the area in which you live. Major metropolitan areas seem to have the fewest preschool places. How do you make sure your child will get into a school? You start the process as soon as you can and you go through the admissions process at at least three schools, five if you can manage it. In those highly competitive markets getting into a preschool, any preschool is almost as dicey as drawing lots. So cover your bases by applying to more than one school, preferably three. Applying to five schools couldn't hurt. Listen to Joanna Port's preschool admission tips.

If you have the option of choosing between several schools, you need to visit the schools. That is a must. Don't rely exclusively on hear-say and other people's opinions. Very often those opinions were formed years ago and may even be based on gossip. Go and visit the schools. See for yourself. Ask questions. Find out if the school is a good fit both from your point of view and also your child's. You know your child better than anybody. Go with your guy. If something tells you that the school isn't quite right for your requirements, move on to other options.

Depending on the market where you live, places may be at a premium. Begin your school selection process as early as you can. At the very least start exploring your options and determining what is out there. New schools open every year. Should you send your child to a new preschool? Why not? But be sure to do the same thorough due diligence which you would do with an established school. Find out how they teach, what they teach, how they treat staff and parents, and so on.

Each private school is unique. So expect differences in the admissions procedures. While every school will require at least one interview, a formal application and testing, precisely how each individual school goes about each part of the admissions process is something the school decides. In other words there is nothing uniform about private school admissions. Expect differences. Some subtle. Some rather obvious. Be aware of those differences.


The school will want to meet you and your child. What are they looking for? Pretty much the same things that you are looking for. They want to make sure that you and your child will fit in. Wait a minute! What do you have to do with this? You are not going to the school. Your child is. That's the point: the school wants to make sure that you are going to be a willing and able partner with the school in your child's education. It needs to know that you are in agreement with the school's philosophy and methodology. The school needs to know that you child will flourish in the school's unique environment.

Laura Gradman, an educational consultant, offers useful tips for navigating the preschool admissions process.

Depending on the school, you will be interviewed by a teacher or an admissions staffer or the head of school. In most cases you will be interviewed by all three at some point. Be alert. Pay attention to the questions asked and in particular how they are asked.


Applications for preschool and primary school are not nearly as extensive as those found at the high school level. There are no teacher recommendations and transcripts to worry about. The school is probably going to insist on some commitment to volunteering a minimum number of hours to help the school. There will be the usual medical forms and agreements to sign regarding drop off and pickup times, as well as school closure policies.

Admissions are generally on a rolling basis. That means that once all places are filled, the rest of the applicant pool is put on a waiting list. Make sure you adhere to any deadlines the school sets forth. The way most preschools work is that once the admissions deadline has passed and admissions have closed for the next year, the staff meets to consider all the applicants. Their goal is to build a class which will be compatible with what they are trying to accomplish, among other things. Each private preschool sets its own admission standards. Once again, that is why it is so important not to put all your eggs in one basket. Always apply to several schools.


Most of the time preschools are interested in making sure that 4 and 5 year olds are potty-trained, socialized and ready for school. Schools will try to determine whether the child will be able to keep pace with the school's academic program. The technical term for this testing is developmental assessment. Each school administers its own testing routines according it its established protocols. There is no standardized test for primary school admissions.

Veronica Bidwell explains the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC IQ Test) which some schools use.

Should you hire a consultant to prep your preschooler for the admissions testing and interviews? In my opinion this is unnecessary, though I am well aware that preschool children are 'coached' or 'prepped' in major metropolitan areas such as New York. If you have done a good job of parenting, your child will under normal circumstances reflect that love and attention. So, relax and let your child be herself.


If the school decides not to offer your child a place, you have no recourse. The decision is generally final. Don't be upset. As I pointed out earlier, there is a certain lottery aspect to preschool admissions in highly competitive markets. So move on and find another school which will accept your child. If the school puts your child on a waiting list, you would be well-advised to have Plan B ready just in case the place never materializes.

In conclusion all I can say to reassure you that things will work out is that I have been there and done that. It is a bit of an ordeal but do it and do it right. You will get your child in somewhere which will meet your requirements. Both our daughters went to preschool or nursery school as I remember calling it. My late wife handled all the admission details at both schools. One school was a new primary school at St. Peter's by the Sea Episcopal Church, Bay Shore, New York and the other was the Cathedral Nursery School housed in the basement of Cathedral House in Garden City. The headmistresses of both schools cared about their students. As a result the education our daughters received was both sold academically and affirming from an emotional and maturation perspective.

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