NYC Admissions Guide 2015-2016: Kindergarten And Up (Independent Schools)

Editor’s note: This story is part of our larger 2015-2016 NYC Admissions Guide, which you can read here.

  • For our story on the Universal Pre-K admissions process, click here.
  • For our story on the Kindergarten admissions process in public schools, click here.
  • For our story on Gifted & Talented program admissions, click here.
  • For our story on charter school admissions, click here
  • For our story on private nursery school admissions, click here.
  • For our story on Catholic school admissions, click here.

The most important difference between applying to nursery school (when your child is 1 or 2) and applying to an ongoing school (when your child is 4 or 5) is that you now have a much better sense of your child’s personality and early interests, and perhaps even their learning style. While you don’t want to go too far in pigeonholing a young child, both you and the admissions departments at the ongoing schools have a lot more to go on when trying to make good matches.

You should be thinking about what kind of school environment your child would thrive in—and given that, what schools you think you’d enjoy being a part of as a family. These are long-term, expensive, and involved commitments, so the schools are thinking the same way: Would the child thrive here? Would the family be a positive part of the community? Like with applying to nursery schools, you want to form a preliminary list of the schools to seek applications from in September. Unlike many nursery schools, there isn’t the same kind of Tuesday after Labor Day deadline when schools give out applications and often run out. That said, it’s very helpful to get the applications back to schools as soon in September as possible—because some schools end up capping the number of families they can accommodate in the touring and interview process early in the fall, even if their website says that they’ll accept applications through December.

Leman Manhattan
Leman Manhattan

Another big difference with Kindergarten admissions is that the private school will make more of an effort to get to know your child by observing them in playgroups or assessment situations that don’t involve the parents. You want to avoid over-preparing your child for their interviews, but they do need some context and encouragement, so you should explain in age-appropriate ways that these playgroups are a chance to have some fun at a school that they may end up going to next, so they should be nice to the other kids, show the teachers what they know, and have a good time. Whatever explanation works best for your child, make it clear that Kindergarten is a long time away and they’ll be going back to their own nursery school after the visit! In the same spirit, there’s now more to share about your child in the applications and your parent interviews, but here, too, you don’t want to seem overly and unrealistically boastful. Instead, aim to share a few charming anecdotes that illustrate some things you love about your child’s personality and interests. To research schools, the resources we mentioned earlier are all helpful—including Victoria Goldman’s Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools, which also has a section on outstanding public schools. And this time, chances are your child’s nursery school will be your most important source of guidance, often acting as a kind of middle man between ongoing schools and applicants, helping the schools get a sense of the students and families, and helping guide the families to schools that are likely to accept them. Many families also turn to private admissions consultants like Smart City Kids to help strategically navigate the process and provide insights and advice on schools that are a good fit for child and family.

How many private schools should you apply to? If you do your research and formulate your list wisely, including a few schools that are not only a good fit for your child but also aren’t extremely competitive, then 8-10 schools should be a good enough number to land a spot at a school you like. And get out your calendar: If you’re applying for a Kindergarten spot in September of 2016, many schools have the official cut-off date for age as being 5 by that September, but many, preferring older children, have an unofficial date of around May.

What about the cost of a private school education, now more than $40,000 at many schools? If you can afford it, then it’s a question of whether you prefer to start your child in a public school or a private school setting. A good public school may have larger classes, but they have tried and true curriculums in place and they really do get to know your child. Then again, private schools don’t have to operate within the strictures of state and federal testing, which generally gives them more flexibility to focus on learning and discovery. If you feel you can’t afford private school but really value what a private school education has to offer, be aware that financial aid is available to families at both low and middle incomes, or consider taking advantage of a public elementary school education and approaching the private school process for middle or high school.

Eric Messinger is the editor of New York Family. You can contact him at Roxana Reid is the founder of Smart City Kids, which advises local parents on independent school (nursery and ongoing) and public school admissions. For more on their services, visit