Parents interested in sending their children to preschool in the city often have a lot of questions. A very good place to turn to for answers is the Parents League of New York, whose primary mission is to help parents navigate independent school admissions for preschools and on-going schools. Spring and summer are the best time for parents to begin their preschool research, so they’re ready for the fall when it’s time to apply. To offer advice on how to navigate the process, we chatted with Gina Malin, the Parents League’s Executive Director.
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in New York Family last year, and has been updated for the 2017-2018 admissions calendar. Also, please note that we use the word “preschool” interchangeably with “nursery school” to refer to early childhood education programs.
When do parents begin the formal process of applying to preschools?
Parents begin the application process the fall of the year before they would enroll their child. Most applications become available in September, right after Labor Day. Entrance age varies from school to school. Many preschools offer a program for 2-year-olds, but parents need to check the entrance age of each preschool they are considering. Some schools start at 2 years; others may require children to be 2 years and 3 months at the start of school, etc.; and some start at 3.
From a practical point of view, if a school begins at age 2, then chances are that’s the year when that school would have the most openings, yes?
Not exactly. Some schools may have only one or two classes of 2-year-olds, but expand to four classes of 3-year-olds, doubling the size of the grade. If a school starts at age 2 and does not enlarge at age 3, then it is true that the best time to apply to that particular school would be at age 2. For this reason the Parents League’s Guide to New York City Preschools lists enrollment by class for each school.
So, what advice do you have for parents who worry that their child might not be ready for preschool at age 2, on the one hand, but don’t want to miss out on applying for those available spots?
Parents often want their children to start school at 3 rather than as a young 2 for a number of good reasons, and they should be reassured to learn that there are spaces for 3-year-olds in every neighborhood across the city. However, if a parent is focused on a particular school that doesn’t enlarge at age 3, then our advice would be to apply to that school at age 2.
Most preschools don’t offer parent tours or open houses in the spring, right?
Correct. Preschool tours generally take place over the course of the fall during the application process. However, ongoing schools with an early childhood or preschool program often offer spring tours. [An ongoing school is a school that may have an elementary, middle, and high school]. Some ongoing schools begin at age 2, 3, or 4, but most ongoing schools begin at kindergarten, which is age 5.
How can parents find out about spring tours?
Parents can check individual school websites or the open house calendar on the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) website at issagny.org.
To get an overview of the admissions process, what are some of the popular resources for parents? What does the Parents League offer?
We are a trusted resource for both parents and schools. We have a professional team of advisors with experience as former admissions directors, preschool directors, or teachers. And because our team regularly visits each of our schools, we have a deep understanding of them. We offer a preschool workshop for parents where we walk families through the admissions process. This workshop, along with our Preschool Workshop booklet and Guide to New York City Preschools offers comprehensive, up-to-date information about the schools. Once a family attends the workshop, parents can speak to a Parents League adviser by phone as often as they need to.
In addition, we hold independent preschool fairs that are open to the public. Our Uptown Preschool Fair [took place already, but] the Downtown/Brooklyn Preschool Fair, featuring preschools below 42nd Street and in Brooklyn, will take place on May 16, 2017, at the Broad Street Ballroom at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. Each fair is a wonderful opportunity to meet with representatives from most of the city’s preschools gathered all in one place, and is followed by a Preschool Admissions Panel where parents hear directly from the heads or admission directors of our member schools.
Do the preschools listed on your site have to be Parents League members?
In order for a preschool to be a member of the Parents League, the preschool must be licensed and in operation for three years. The Parents League only lists its member schools on our website; we list both member and non-member preschools in our Guide to New York City Preschools. If a school is licensed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it is eligible to be listed as a non-member school in the Guide.
Please help parents understand the difference between a licensed preschool and a preschool alternative program.
More and more preschool alternative programs are opening and the line between what is a preschool and what is a preschool alternative is blurring. Many look and feel like a preschool and have qualified, experienced teachers with degrees in education. However, preschool alternatives are not typically licensed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Parents sign up on a first-come, first-served basis. Many preschool alternatives run by semester (or have rolling admissions) so parents do not have to commit to a full year. This allows flexibility for parents, but the make-up of the children in the class can vary and is not fixed. In an official preschool, the make-up of the class is the same for the year. Tuition tends to be a bit less at preschool alternatives, but parents should check the hours and time the child is spending at a preschool alternative and compare the hours with a traditional preschool. With any program, whether it is a preschool alternative or a preschool, parents should visit the program before they make a decision.
When forming a list of schools to apply to, don’t most people focus on schools in their neighborhood?
Yes. Never underestimate location and close proximity.
You’re going to hear about nursery schools from friends and neighbors, from people you meet in the park, from people at work. You may also read opinions online. How much credibility should you give to anyone else’s opinion?
A friend, neighbor or colleague can be helpful. But remember: You know your child and your family best. And only you know what feels right for you and your child. I am somewhat leery of online chat rooms. You don’t know who is participating and what their motivation is. They tend to raise anxiety and do not provide information that can be trusted.
Let’s say you meet someone with a child at a school you’re interested in, or someone with a child who has recently graduated. I would think their opinion would count for something.
Of course! But parents should trust their gut, and make their decision based on their own family’s values and needs and where they live.
These days, almost every school has their own website. What’s the important info to glean from a school’s website?
Philosophy and mission, admissions procedures, dates and deadlines, entrance age, hours, and tuition.
For the interested parent, how much value should you put on the website and how much on a school tour?
Nothing can replace a tour of the school and the opportunity to ask questions. Remember, too, that many nursery schools are small, nonprofit entities with limited staff and technology. Parents shouldn’t judge a school if its website looks dated.
Parents are often surprised by the idea that there are many different kinds of approaches or philosophies to early childhood education. How deeply should a parent try to distinguish between the different philosophies?
Parents should look for a school whose philosophy is compatible with their parenting style and values. Preschool is the first big step children take outside of home, one in which adults other than parents or caregivers observe them, guide them, and care for and teach them. Some schools are play-based and child-centered. Others are more teacher-directed and academically focused. Some schools are Montessori, some Reggio. Most are a mix of methods.
Assuming that you’re a parent who has done their homework—and has come up with a list that includes some very popular schools and others that are less competitive to get into—what’s your rule of thumb for how many schools you should apply to in the fall?
This is a hard question to answer because there are many variables. If you live in a neighborhood where most of the schools use a lottery system for application, you might have a longer list than someone who is applying to non-lottery schools (you are not guaranteed an application when you apply to a lottery school). If you have twins, you need to apply to more schools than a family who is applying for one child, because a preschool does not separate twins, so you’re asking for two of its available spaces. Six to eight schools is the general rule of thumb. One of the most valuable services we offer at the Parents League is one-on-one advice about a family’s list of preschools. We tell them whether they need to add more schools or subtract schools on their list.
If a family is interested in a preschool at a religious institution, are they guaranteed a spot at the school if they are members of the institution?
You are not guaranteed a spot at the school, even if you are a member of the school’s affiliated church or synagogue. Active members of churches and synagogues generally do receive admission priority, but each institution defines “active” differently. Most synagogue schools ask that you join the temple once you enroll your child. Schools affiliated with a church do not require church membership.
Please explain the importance of the Tuesday after Labor Day in the admissions process. Do many schools still give out their applications on that day?
Schools’ websites give specific information as to when to call or download an application. Schools also often leave a detailed message on their answering machines in August about when and how to request an application in September. Many schools have switched to online applications or online requests for applications rather than phone calls. This has greatly reduced the anxiety and the frenzy surrounding what some have called the “Terrible Tuesday” after Labor Day. There are only a handful of schools that require a phone call, and yes, there are a few popular schools whose applications are all given out on the day they open the phone lines. But if parents find out when and how to request an application in advance of Labor Day, they will find the process is manageable. If for some reason parents did not request applications during that first week after Labor Day, they will find lots of schools that will take applications requests throughout the fall.
How much does it typically cost to apply to a preschool?
What’s the common range for school tuition?
The average range of tuition is $10,000-12,000 for 2-year-olds who go 2-3 days per week for a couple of hours each day, to $25,000-30,000 for 4- and 5-year-olds who go five days a week for a full day.
I assume that some families will have their children attend an independent nursery school for 2s and 3s; and then consider public free Universal Pre-K for when their child turns 4. I’m guessing that if you’re likely to end up in public school, then Universal Pre-K might seem like a good step. But if you’re likely to be applying to ongoing independent schools (Kindergarten and up), then staying in your independent preschool might seem like a natural progression and the best way to get good admissions guidance when you apply for the next level. What are you seeing?
The advent of Universal Pre-K has changed the landscape somewhat. But parents should know that every independent school seeks children from all neighborhoods, programs, and preschools—public and private. And parents should keep in mind that the Parents League advises families moving from public to independent schools at all grade levels.
For parents who know that they’re interested in an independent school education for their child for the long term, should they be focusing their preschool admissions efforts on the early childhood programs of ongoing schools?
Not really. The entrance age to independent schools with early childhood programs varies from school to school. Some start at age 2, some at 3, and many at pre-K or age 4. Also, spots in early childhood programs at ongoing schools tend to be limited due to priority admission for siblings and legacies.
Are you seeing any other trends in independent preschool admissions that parents should be aware of?
As so many new programs—both preschools and preschool alternatives—have opened in the last couple of years, I believe there has been a shift in supply and demand. There was a 7 percent increase in preschools listed in our 2014-2016 edition of the Guide to New York City Preschools compared with 2012-2014 edition. We are currently working on our new 2016-2018 edition and it looks like there will be an 8 percent increase in new preschools. There was an even greater increase in preschool alternative programs listed in our Let’s Play guide. We are also seeing parents look at and explore lots of different options for their child’s early education. Some are waiting to enroll in a preschool, and choosing instead to enroll their child in a preschool alternative before they transition to a preschool or public pre-K.
Is there tuition assistance at the preschool level?
There is some, but not a lot, and it varies from school to school. Some schools offer no aid; at some schools 10 percent of the parent body receives some aid.
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People are often surprised by how much work is involved in applying to preschool. Is it necessary?
The application forms are simple and straightforward. They are not time-consuming. Visiting the preschools is a time commitment but is essential to the process. Being organized and having a well-thought-out list makes the process less overwhelming.
What are the most important factors that parents typically hone in on to come up with a list of schools to apply to? Location? Educational philosophy? Ex-missions record? Overall reputation? How they felt on the school tour? Available schedule (day or afternoon)? What else?
All of the above. I would also add leadership. Who is the preschool director? What is his or her background? Is this someone you feel comfortable with as the leader of the school? Would you also feel you could work with this person if there ever was a situation, besides Kindergarten placement, where you need her help and guidance?
Much like when you’re applying to college, I know that families are advised to come up with a list of preschools that go beyond the list of the most popular schools in their neighborhood to include what might be called some “safety” schools, right? That’s only good sense. But how are you supposed to know which preschools are more competitive than others?
I encourage parents to look at all the schools in their neighborhood (obviously within reason), whether they have heard of them or not. They will be surprised by how many little-known gems are out there. But you are right, there are some schools that are more difficult to get into than others, and not surprisingly, popularity can shift.
Again, we’re hoping this story will help families be ready for September. But let’s offer a quick preview of what follows after that.
Parents request applications in September. Schools generally ask for a completed application before scheduling a tour of the school. A few offer open houses for parents after which they can decide whether or not they would like to apply. Application deadlines vary from the end of October through January. We advise parents to send their applications in by early fall in order to have flexibility, should they need to reschedule because of illness or work emergency. Whether they are the first parent to file an application or the last one who meets the application deadline, it makes no difference as far as showing interest. Once parents have toured the school, the next step is the child’s visit. These visits usually begin in late fall/early winter and run through the end of January; sometimes a child’s visit might be in the beginning of February. Some schools do not have a separate child visit. The notification period when parents hear from schools about whether or not the school can offer their child a spot is the end of February. This is when the Parents League is in high gear helping our parents make informed decisions.
Eric Messinger is the Editor of New York Family.
Neighborhood Preschool Guide
14th Street Y Preschool, 14streety.org/preschool
My Little Village, mylittlevillagepreschool.com
Nord Anglia International School, New York, nordangliaeducation.com
Sara Curry Preschool of Little Missionary’s Day Nursery, lmdn.org
Third Street Preschool, thirdstreetmusicschool.org
The Acorn School, acornschoolny.com
Beginnings Nursery School, beginningsnursery.org
Bellevue South Nursery School, bsnurseryschool.org
Brotherhood Synagogue Nursery School, nursery.brotherhoodsynagogue.org
Children’s International Workshop at Union Square, childrensinternationalworkshop.com
Explore + Discover Early Learning Center, explorediscover.net
The Jack and Jill School at St. George’s Church, thejackandjillschool.org
Barrow Street Nursery School at Greenwich House, greenwichhouse.org
Downing Street Playgroup, downingstreetplaygroup.org
First Presbyterian Church Nursery School, fpcns.org
University Plaza Nursery School, universityplazanursery.org
Village Preschool Center, villagepreschoolcenter.com
West Village Nursery School, westvillagenurseryschool.org
LOWER EAST SIDE
Central Synagogue May Family Nursery School, centralsynagogue.org
The Chabad Preschool at Beekman Place, beekmanjewishpreschool.com
The Family School, 212-688-5950
Kaplan Nursery School of Sutton Place Synagogue, spsnyc.org
Roosevelt Island Day Nursery, ridn.org
St. Bartholomew Community Preschool, stbarts.org/preschool
Vanderbilt Y Early Childhood Center, ymcanyc.org/Vanderbilt
Buckle My Shoe Nursery School, bucklemyshoe.org
Garden House School of New York, gardenhouseschool.org
The Goddard School, goddardschool.com
International Preschools of NYC, ipsnyc.org
Philip Berly Preschool of the Arts, nycpreschool.org
Montessori School of Manhattan, montessorimanhattan.com
Smarter Toddler, smartertoddler.net
Twin Parks Montessori Schools, twinparks.org
Aleph Bet Preschool of Murray Hill, alephbetny.com
The Barclay Street School, thebarclaystreetschool.org
The Jewish Community Project, jcpdowntown.org
The Park Preschool, theparkpreschool.org
Tribeca Community School, tribecacommunityschool.com
The Washington Market School, washingtonmarketschool.org
UPPER EAST SIDE – 60s
Children’s All Day School, childrensallday.org
Christ Church Day School, christchurchnyc.org
The Episcopal School in the City of New York, episcopalschool.org
French Institute Alliance Francaise Preschool, fiafpreschool.org
The Madison Playgroup, madisonplaygroup.com
Renanim Preschool and Nursery School, renanimpreschool.com
Rockefeller University Child and Family Center, rockefeller.edu/cfc
Temple Emanu-El Nursery School, emanuelnyc.org
The William Woodward, Jr. Nursery School, williamwoodwardns.org
UPPER EAST SIDE – 70s
The Cathedral School, cathedralnyc.org
Chabad Preschool, chabaduppereastside.com
The Church of the Epiphany Day School, epiphanynyc.org
Epiphany Community Nursery School, ecns.org
Madison Avenue Presbyterian Day School, mapc.com/nursery
Resurrection Episcopal Day School, redsny.org
Temple Israel Early Childhood Learning Center, templeisraelnyc.org
Temple Sharaay Tefila Nursery School, shaaraytefilanyc.org
UPPER EAST SIDE – 80s
All Souls School, allsoulsschoolnyc.org
The Merricat’s Castle School, merricats.org
Park Avenue Methodist Day School, pamdayschool.org
Park Avenue Synagogue Early Childhood Center, pasyn.org
St. Ignatius Loyola Day Nursery, ignatiusdn.org
St. Thomas More Playgroup, stthomasmoreplaygroup.org
York Avenue Preschool, yorkavenuepreschool.org
UPPER EAST SIDE – 90s
92nd Street Y Nursery School, 92y.org
Arc En Ciel, arcencielny.com
The Brick Church School, brickchurchschool.org
Elizabeth Seton Pre-school, nyfoundling.org
Gillen Brewer School, gillenbrewer.com
Town House International School, thisny.org
UPPER WEST SIDE – 60s
The Day School at Christ & St. Stephen’s, thedayschoolatcss.org
Esther Ashkenas Central Park Early Learning Center, schools.ahrcnyc.org
Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Balfour Brickner Early Childhood Center, ecc.swfs.org
West Side YMCA Co-op Nursery School, ymcanyc.org/westside
UPPER WEST SIDE – 70s
Beit Rabban Day School, beitrabban.org
First Friends Preschool, ffpreschoolnyc.com
Park Children’s Day School, parkchildrensdayschool.org
The Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC Manhattan, nurseryschool.jccmanhattan.org
UPPER WEST SIDE – 80s
UPPER WEST SIDE – 90s
Basic Trust, basictrust.org
Chabad Early Learning Center, chabadelc.com
La Escuelita, laescuelitanyc.org
The Mandell School, mandellschool.org
Montclare Children’s School, montclareschool.org
River Park Nursery School, riverparknurseryschool.com
West Side Montessori School, wsmsnyc.org
Upper Valley Preschool, uppervalleypreschool.org
UPPER WEST SIDE – 100s
Adults and Children in Trust (A.C.T.) Programs at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, actprograms.org
Bank Street Family Center, bankstreet.edu
Broadway Presbyterian Church Nursery School, greatlittleschool.com
Child Development Center: Henry & Louise Loeb Theraputic Nursery School, jbfcs.org
Children’s Learning Center at Morningside Heights, clcnyc.com
Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School, columbiagreenouse.com
The Family Annex Nursery School, familyannex.org
Hollingworth Preschool at Teachers College at Columbia University, tc.columbia.edu
The Medical Center Nursery School, mcns.org
Morningside Montessori School, morningsidemontessori.org
Purple Circle, purple-circle.org
The Weekday School at Riverside Church, wdsnyc.org
INDEPENDENT NURSERY SCHOOLS IN SCHOOLS WITH ONGOING AFFILIATIONS
Academy of St. Joseph, academyofstjoseph.org
The Abraham Joshua Heschel School, heschel.org
Alexander Robertson School, alexanderrobertson.org
Avenues: The World School, avenues.org/nyc
Bank Street School for Children, bankstreet.edu
The British International School of New York, bis-ny.org
The Caedmon School, caedmonschool.org
The Calhoun School, calhoun.org
City and Country School, cityandcountry.org
Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, cgps.org
Convent of the Sacred Heart, cshnyc.org
Corlears School, corlearsschool.org
Dwight School, dwight.edu
École Internationale de New York, einy.org
Ethical Culture Fieldston School, ecfs.org
Geneva School of Manhattan, genevaschool.net
Grace Church School, gcschool.org
Horace Mann School: Nursey Division, horacemann.org
Hudsonway Immersion School, hwis.org
La Scuola D’Italia, lascuoladitalia.org
Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, lemanmanhattan.org
Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School, lrei.org
Lycée Francais De New York, lfny.org
Lyceum Kennedy French American School, en.lyceumkennedy.org
Manhattan Country School, manhattancountryschool.org
Manhattan Day School, mdsweb.org
Marymount School of New York, marymountnyc.org
Metropolitan Montessori School, mmsny.org
The Montessori School of New York International, montessorischoolny.com
The New York International School, nyis.org
The Nursery School at Habonim, habonim.net
Polis World School, polis.school
Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School, parkeastdayschool.org
Ramaz School, ramaz.org
Rodeph Sholom School, rodephsholomschool.org
Rudolf Steiner School, steiner.edu
Saint David’s School, saintdavids.org
St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s Episcopal School, sthildas.org
St. Luke’s School, stlukeschool.org
The Studio School, studioschoolnyc.org
The Town School, thetownschool.org
Trevor Day School, trevor.org
BASIS Independent Brooklyn, basisindependentbrooklyn.com
Beansprouts Nursery School, beansproutsnurseryschool.com
The Berkeley Carroll School, berkeleycarroll.org
Brooklyn Friends School, brooklynfriends.org
Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, bhmsny.org
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Preschool, bhsbrooklyn.org
Brooklyn Preschool of Science, brooklynpreschoolofscience.com
Dillon Child Study Center at St. Joseph’s College, sjcny.edu
Grace Church Nursery School, gracechurchschool.org
The Green School, the-green-school.org
Greene Hill School, greenehillschool.org
International School of Brooklyn, isbrooklyn.org
Open House Nursery School, openhousekids.org
The Packer Collegiate Institute, packer.edu
Plymouth Church School, plymouthchurch.org
Poly Prep Country Day School, polyprep.org
Rivendell School, rivendellnyc.org
Saint Ann’s School, saintannsny.org
Williamsburg Neighborhood Nursery School, wnns.org
Williamsburg Northside Schools, willnorth.org