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Are All Those Crazy Things One Hears About NYC School Admissions True?

Let’s talk. Since becoming the editor of New York Family over six years ago, I’ve moderated numerous expert panels on local education and admissions issues. I’ve wrestled with many of these issues myself as a parent raising two children, now ages 8 and 12, in the city. I’ve had untold conversations with parents—from readers to pregnant women in my building—about the myths and realities of schooling a city child. I’m not sure if all of that qualifies me as some kind of expert, but, at the very least, I think I’m sensitive to many of the big questions that parents and parents-to-be commonly have about local education and admissions. Please think of this as the beginning of a conversation. If you like, we can extend it at newyorkfamily.com, where I regularly contribute to our Parenting In Progress blog, and you can also reach me at emessinger@manhattanmedia.com.

In Utero Or After Utero? When To Start Thinking About Nursery Admissions
Years ago, I read a Wall Street Journal article about how women in Britain, immediately after giving birth, needed to fill out nursery school applications right from their hospital beds. We haven’t gotten to that point here, but because so many new and expectant parents get spooked by the rumors they hear about nursery school admissions in the city, I recommend that people do a bit of research on the topic early on, if only to get a sense of the timeline that many schools now follow for nursery school admissions.

Here’s what you need to know about that calendar. Many popular nursery schools in the city now have “twos” programs. (For a particular school, you’ll want to know if  the twos has become the main point of entry for the school, or whether a significant number of spots remain open for threes. Then, extrapolate backwards: If you’re keen on a school where most of the spots get taken up by two-year-olds, you have to apply for admission to it in the fall season when your child is one, so you have to start seriously researching the process the prior spring and summer.

Likewise, you should be aware of the role that a certain day—the Tuesday after Labor Day—plays in the process. Not all but many popular city nursery schools still use that day as the only day when they give out applications. (Read that sentence again and commit it to memory beofre moving on.) It helps to prepare yourself by putting together a list of the schools you’d like to apply to and knowing which ones you need to contact for applications on that Tuesday. Also, plan on getting applications back to schools in a timely manner, because some popular schools will reach their capacity for the number of families they’re capable of interviewing—and then they’ll just stop interviewing, even before their nominal deadline for accepting applications arrives.

By the way, our Guide To Local Education Resources  has a number of good recommendations for books, websites, and organizations that can help you get the lay of the land for nursery admissions.

Nursery School Is Pricey: Is It Worth It?
For the “fours,” when children are typically at nursery school every day, many schools are now charging between $25,000 and $30,000 a year. Matters of value and affordability are subjective, of course, but I can tell you what I think are the best aspects of a good nursery school experience (and you can put your own value on that). Aside from a class here and there, nursery school will be your child’s first regular community of friends—but if all goes well, it’s also likely be a formative social experience for the whole family, with new friends who have children your age. Nursery school can help ready your child for the social and academic world of kindergarten. And many private nursery schools take an active role in helping parents navigate the admissions processes of both private school and public school. School settings also can bring to the fore developmental issues your child may have—and when it comes to early intervention, the conventional wisdom is always “the earlier the better.” Getting the feedback and support of experienced educators can help parents better address their child’s needs.

One more factor: Public pre-K is free and popular (for the year before kindergarten). There are no guarantees that you’ll land a spot, though many people do.

Is Getting Into A Popular NYC Nursery School Harder Than Getting Into Harvard?
No. The key fact to focus on is that the vast majority of families applying to nursery school actually do end up with a spot for their children at schools that they like. But to get there, you need to follow a few best practices: 1) Make sure you apply to a decent number of schools (at least six or seven), and make sure you include some schools that are not on everyone’s most popular list (but that you like anyway). 2) Treat the process with the respect you would reserve for the process of landing a job that you want. Be prepared, be polite, be reasonable. School administrators don’t want to be tethered to high maintenance parents who are going to make their lives miserable for two or more years.

Should You Favor Nursery Schools That Have Ongoing Schools?
The best answer here is that if you really like a school, then it’s reasonable to think of its ongoing program as one of its attractive features. Hey, you can always leave—and, in fact, you won’t really know whether a school is a long-term match for your child until the middle of grade school, if not later.

Public School Vs. Private School
I have close friends in private school who believe they’re giving their children the best possible education—and I certainly wouldn’t argue their point. NYC private schools are filled with wonderful, dedicated educators; the schools have low student-teacher ratios and extraordinary resources. I myself am a public school parent and advocate, and feel lucky to be zoned for schools that are high-functioning, happy places with lots of great educators. I also appreciate the cost-savings.

ERIC MESSINGER is the Editor of New York Family. Still, that doesn’t seem to give him any more credibility with his wife and children. You can follow his more personal musings at the Parenting In Progress blog at newyorkfamily.com