Getting In: The ABCs of School Admission in NYC

Make text smaller Make text larger


By Sarah Greene Learn the facts about nursery school admissions in the city. 1. Mark Your Calendars Call it Black Tuesday. The Tuesday after Labor Day is when a number of private nursery schools give out their applications. Miss it and you won't be able to get an application to those schools for the year, so do your research in the prior months. And for that special Tuesday itself, we recommend starting at 9 a.m. and recruiting a trustworthy family member or friend to help you work the phones and computers, keeping in mind that the popular nursery schools may give out their applications by noon. "Staying organized and on top of those dates and deadlines is really critical," explained Roxana Reid, educational consultant and founder of Smart City Kids. Special Tip: Find out beforehand whether a school distributes applications online or over the phone. Also, schools that nominally distribute applications throughout the fall may stop once they've given out the number they can handle-a good reason to reach out to them sooner rather than later. 2. Do Your Research Even before parents read about, talk about or visit any schools, Gabriella Rowe, head of the Mandell School, recommends coming up with "Must Have," "Would Be Great But Not Critical" and "Who Cares?" lists to differentiate the qualities you're looking for in your child's education. The lists may evolve, but they're a good way to remember what's truly important to you as you go through the process. Consider buying Victoria Goldman's The Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools. Likewise, the Parents League ( offers a schools guide, personal consulting and seminars. If you seek additional advisory services, organizations like Smart City Kids ( offer private sessions and small group workshops. It's recommended that parents contact approximately 10 schools to get eight applications. 3. Weigh Private and Public Tuition at some New York City private nursery schools can range between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. For that reason, many families use public Pre-K programs, which are free but only offered the year before kindergarten. Unlike with kindergarten, the city doesn't guarantee you a spot in Pre-K. (Visit the Department of Education website,, for more information.) A number of children's activity centers offer "preschool alternative" programs, which don't have elaborate admissions but offer similar activities. 4. Learn Educational Philosophies When considering nursery schools, factors like location, tuition and general reputation are typical starting points. But parents should also be mindful of a school's educational philosophy and how that plays out in the classroom. "If people stay focused on the goals and philosophy of the school and go with their gut as far as feeling comfortable in a particular setting, I believe they'll end up at the right place," said Sharon Shorofsky Mack, director of education at the JCP Downtown. 5. Bond With the School Director Ask yourself: Is this someone whose opinion and instincts I trust? Since she is the leader of the school community, you may need to have a close and cooperative relationship with her, especially if any emotional or developmental challenges come to the fore, which is quite common in the nursery school years. 6. Write a First-Choice Letter Because of the competition for limited spots, many parents feel compelled to send a "first-choice letter" to their most desired school. This basically acknowledges that if a specific school were to select your child, you would accept the given slot. Other parents prefer to phrase the letter in less binding terms, noting particular reasons a certain school is a good match for them. While ISAAGNY (The Independent School Admission Association of Greater New York) officially discourages first-choice letters, the truth is that many schools enjoy hearing positive feedback. Special Tip: If you're concerned that the school you favor may not appreciate a letter, we strongly encourage you to use the school tour to get clarification on whether they would prefer to hear from you near the end of the admissions season. 7. Be Yourself It's impossible to completely avoid the hype surrounding nursery school admissions in the city. But try not to be alarmed by stories of a dozen rejection letters. Most of all, focus on schools that feel like a truly good fit for your family and your child. For information on schools and admissions in New York City, visit

Make text smaller Make text larger




Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters