• Choosing Wisely: An Expert Guide To The School Choice Process

    We sought insights from admissions directors, heads of school, and educational consultants, for expert advice on getting through the school choice process

    By New York Family

    Diverse elementary school students studying plants in science class

    Whether you’re getting ready to apply to nursery school or pre-K, or you’re embarking on admissions for Kindergarten and beyond, the process can be daunting. New York City is blessed with a wealth of fantastic educational institutions at every level—so how do you choose which to apply to? We sought insights from admissions directors and heads of school at a number of top independent schools, as well as savvy educational consultants, for expert advice on getting through the school choice process with your sanity intact! Plus, click here for a big list of the city’s premier private schools.

     7 Tips On Determining How Many Schools To Apply To

    The number of schools (both schools in general and the number of public vs. private) varies for every family. However, there are certainly some best practices to keep in mind when locking in your list. Many admissions pros note that 5-10 is a healthy range if you’re strategic with your choices. Here, admissions directors and educational consultants share their insights.

    1. Think of the Children!

    “Parents should have their children at heart as they approach the admissions process. Most schools will require an interview with parents and at least some observation time with children. Do your homework carefully and pick and choose only those schools that you are really interested in and that are a good fit for your child and also your family.” –Martine Lala, Director of Admissions, Lycée Français de New York

    2. Keep it Real!

    “While it is important to complete the application process at multiple schools, families should be realistic about the time commitment required to do so. Attending multiple open house events (many of which do not require completed applications) is a good way to pare down a long list.” –Nora Thomson, Director of Preschool Admissions, Dwight School

    3. Love Your List!

    “Families should apply to schools to which they truly feel a connection and immediately believe their child will grow to love. Each and every school on a parent’s list, in the best-case scenario, is one to which they are fully prepared to matriculate, should they be offered a seat.” –Jackie Sirgo, Director of Admissions, Speyer Legacy School

    4. Don’t Worry About the Number!

    “There is no ‘magic number,’ and while you should cast a wide net, keep in mind that you should only consider schools that would be the right fit for your child.” –LaNette Hodge, Director of Admissions, BASIS Independent Manhattan

    5. Consider Your Private vs Public Mix!

    “The number of schools families apply to is usually based on whether they are focused only on independent schools or are strongly considering public schools as well. If families are only considering independent schools, they should apply to an average of 10-12. This number should provide enough of a range of programs and options… For families who are strongly interested in public schools, as well, the number of independent schools may be smaller.” –Kristen Pallonetti, Program Director, TriBeCa Community School

    6. Be Strategic!

    “Research what types of school you think you would prefer your child to be in and arrange tours. Apply to 4-5 of those schools. Do not only choose schools who normally have long waiting lists.” –Torun Kirk, Director of Admissions & Marketing, Nord Anglia International School New York

    7. Weigh Your Options!

    “I generally recommend that if a family really wants a private school that they apply to 6-10 schools with eight being a good number. I have rarely, if ever, found a family willing to go to a school above their eighth choice. However, it comes down to how satisfied the parents would be at their local zoned public school (providing that school does not tend to have a wait list) or how willing they are to accept a private school that is not as competitive as some out there. If they are willing to go public or have a safer school on their list, then they could just apply to three schools they would really prefer.” –Robin Aronow, Founder, School Search NYC

    5 School Choice Process FAQs Answered

    How heavily should parents weigh educational philosophy?

    “Parents should make sure the school’s educational philosophy speaks to them and is aligned with the way they want to raise their children. A school should be in close partnership with the parents, so that the transitions from home to school are as seamless as possible, and the value of the education which the school can deliver is most impactful when there is consistent reinforcement coming from the family.” –Doug Schachtel, Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer, Portfolio School

    How heavily should parents weigh social fit?

    “It depends how important social fit is to an individual family, and how inclusive the school is or isn’t. There are many schools in NYC and the surrounding areas where part of what makes the schools so special is the diversity of students, all of whom share a love for learning and collaboration, regardless of whether they share the same social space. This is a very personal deliberation, but there are clear benefits to having an inclusive school culture which values all children.” –Jason Morrow, Headmaster, The British International School of New York

    What are the top things to look for on a tour?

    “Engaged students and teachers demonstrate a key component of a meaningful program. Facilities and program availability play a role in an educational experience, but the most impact will derive from the teacher guiding the learning process. How do the student/teacher relationships appear? Do the students seem happy? Students who are comfortable with the educators are more likely to take academic risks and turn to them with questions.” –Tanya Espy-Disparti, Assistant Director of Enrollment, Calhoun School

    What are some factors that might determine that an independent school is the best choice for a family?

    “Independent schools have a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of identifying an educational philosophy that supports their mission, creating a curriculum, and providing a range of program enhancements. Children are typically taught in small, ability based groupings so they are able to progress at a rate that is most appropriate for their individual learning.” –Erica Papir, Educational Advisor, Smart City Kids

    How important are exmissions in the school choice process?

    “Exmissions are important in that parents should be confident that the school their child is attending is properly preparing them to flourish in the next school they attend—not only in terms of academics, but with other qualities such as confidence, compassion, leadership skills, and resilience.” –Kate Bailey, Head of School, Wetherby-Pembridge School

    DO’s & DON’Ts: Quick Tips For Acing The School Choice Process


    • Think about the logistical and commuting factors when looking at schools outside of your neighborhood
    • Consider whether or not you want your child to attend a religious school
    • Apply for your zoned public school as well as a variety of independent options
    • Make sure the schools you apply to mesh with your core values as a parent
    • Check all your math when considering the financials of an independent education
    • Observe as many details as you can on a school tour and ask questions


    • Judge a school just based on reputation without doing in-depth research
    • Assume that your zoned public school won’t have a waitlist
    • Choose schools solely based on whether they cater to your child’s present interests
    • Ignore red flags (like lack of security, inauthentic dialogue, and disorganized classrooms) on a school tour
    • Put all your eggs in one basket by applying to just 1-2 schools
    • Underestimate the amount of time it takes to thoughtfully complete school applications

    Words of Wisdom

    “The admissions process varies from school to school but most [independent] schools require a tour, parent interview, and a child visit. Most applications require a school report/transcript, teacher recommendations and some require an ERB test. Schools are ultimately looking for children that will be happy and successful in their program and for families that want to be part of their community.” –Linda B. Shuffman, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management, The Town School

    “Some parents go into the Kindergarten exmissions process only wanting schools that serve Kindergarten through grade 12. By doing this, they miss out on many excellent schools that serve grades K-5 or K-8. While the Kindergarten exmissions process can be daunting, parents should remember that a child entering middle school or high school will have defined interests and will play a larger role in the whole process.” –Jessica Anub, Candace La Douceur, and Liz Lowy, Admissions Directors, Twin Parks Montessori Schools

    “The ‘best’ school means something different to everyone, so it’s important to choose what is right for your family. You want your child to be excited to go to school every day, to feel engaged, and to be respected. Are you looking for an environment that emphasizes grades and testing? Do you want social-emotional learning to be included? It’s good to go into the school application process with certain goals, but be open to the fact that oftentimes the one thing you are convinced is the most important factor might end up being much less important once you’re there.” –Anne Bellec, Head of Enrollment, AltSchool

    “When choosing a school, parents should carefully consider the physical location. A trip that seems reasonable before and after a school tour can become unmanageable during morning and evening rush hours. It would be a shame to have to transfer schools mid-year because the commute turns out to be too difficult.” –Hope Mueller, Principal, St. Ann, The Personal School

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