If you’ve ever wondered about the private preschool admissions process, you’ve probably asked yourself how parents maintain their sanity (and their child’s) as acceptances and rejections roll in.
The good news is that your child has no clue what’s going on, or that she’s been the object of intensive study on the part of a slew of adult professionals. This is really your trauma here.
The bad news? This is really your trauma here.
Receiving application results can be terrifically confusing. There are standard Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) dates that all member schools agree to adhere to. That said, some schools offer early admissions, while others will tell you earlier than the standard ISAAGNY date to see if you’ll confirm attendance. (That is how I found that not all schools stick to this supposedly standard notification date.) You might feel pressured to make quick decisions before knowing all the results — and, of course, to put down hefty deposits.
For those schools that do stick to the standard deadlines, there is a lot of movement even within “decision week." Rarely are children rejected outright — rather, they’re put on waitlists. You might receive a form waitlist letter or one with a handwritten “we’ll really try to get you in," or you might get a call or email from an admissions officer saying she is trying to squeeze you in and seeking to gauge your level of interest.
You might also be accepted at your favorite school but not get a schedule you like. For instance, you could be offered an afternoon slot when you prefer mornings, a space in the three-year-old class instead of the fours, or two days a week when you prefer five. If possible, it’s best to prioritize your preference list beforehand so you can reject schools quickly (and allow them, in turn, to offer spots to other children). It also helps you to know which waitlists to keep nudging at.
Rejection — whether it’s an outright “no" or even a waitlist — stinks, and it can be hard to understand. Was it your essay writing? Was it because your child spilled her water during fake snack time? Maybe it was due to demographics and connections. Maybe your child just didn’t make the cut (of what?). Maybe you seemed odd. Maybe you shouldn’t have worn those old maternity jeans.
For me, those waitlist letters were the first time I concretely saw that my own weaknesses could directly affect my child, and I felt horribly guilty. Should I have tried harder, or tried less? To what extent was I actually responsible for my child’s admissions triumphs and challenges?
You can see this all as an opportunity to practice — even if at a particularly early age — dealing with your child’s (apparent) failings, and trusting that she’ll be able to win admissions on her own merit, and to a school that is ultimately the right fit for her.
Acceptances can also be hard, especially when you have to decide among schools that you liked, but each in different ways. Saying “yes" can feel like a big decision. Here you are, painting the first stroke on your child’s beautiful blank slate , or — to use a different metaphor — placing her on one educational “track," all while publicly expressing your family’s identity. And for a lot of money. But at the end of the day, it is just preschool, and chances are, most of your options are good options. Go with your gut. Or with your partner’s gut if it rumbles louder.
And remember that there are opportunities for change down the road if you decide this isn’t the right path. So, yes, consider your choices thoughtfully, but also keep in mind the remarkable array of other preschool options out there — it may lighten your load a bit.
If you’re really unhappy about your child’s preschool spot, stay in contact with admissions staff at schools you prefer and at which your child was waitlisted. Families move and change their minds all the way up through the September start, and space can open up in late summer or even in the following year. Stay friendly and gracious, even if you feel rejected. Your child’s education is a long-term project, and who knows whose paths you may cross again.
_You can follow this link to find more of Judy Batalion's thoughts on the wacky, wonderful world of private preschool admissions, and you can also read general advice about applying to private school._