There are thousands of schools in the city, and it’s your job to narrow that list down to less than 20! Below are some of the most important factors to consider in order to find the schools that make the most sense for your family. As you look through this list, I encourage you to do two things:
Keep an open mind! My husband and I went into our search believing there were only two schools that would best fit our child, mostly based on the feedback of other parents. A year later, we realized that there were at least eight other schools that we didn’t consider that would be terrific for our son. We ended up choosing one of those eight, and we never would have reached that conclusion had we not broadened our perspectives and pushed past preconceived notions that were holding us back. (We thought we wanted a nearby traditional and secular school, and we ended up at a Quaker progressive school across town… and we couldn’t be happier, because it’s the best fit for our son. Go figure!)
Align with other stakeholders. There are other adults in your household(s) who have opinions about what’s important in a school for your child(ren). As you look through this list, initiate an ongoing dialogue with these other adults so you’re all on the same page about what factors matter most to you and why. Your opinions may shift halfway through the process (that’s totally okay, by the way, since you’re keeping an open mind), so as your preferences change, it’s important that you express those ideas with your partners in this process.
Key factors in creating your school list:
Distance from home/work: Does a quick commute matter to you? If the school is far away, does it offer bussing? Even if you can manage the long commute, do you prefer for your child to stay nearby, like most nyc students?
Campus/facilities: Does it have a large campus? If so, there are likely more extensive amenities and facilities, but it will be further from home.
Transportation to school: How will your child get to school? How long will that commute take each day?
Main entry years: Your chances are often higher when you apply during an entry year, as there will be (more) seats available. Kindergarten (5 years old by September 1st) is a main entry year for most Manhattan independent schools, but it varies significantly for Brooklyn independent schools. For public schools, it's most often Pre-K (4 years old in the calendar year that the student starts school).
Oldest grade in school: Will you have to do this process all over again for middle and/or high school, or is it a K-12 program? With a shorter program, the school will have resources available to help your family apply to your next school.
School size: This can impact the available amenities, attention given to students, diversity of students, and the energy at the school
Student-to-faculty ratio and class size: These factors will impact the amount of opportunities available within the classroom, as well as the level of individualized attention given to each student.
Gender: Is it co-ed or single sex? Single sex schools are often attributed to creating an environment that encourages increased focus among its student population.
Diversity: There are so many benefits to a diverse community. For example, by hearing a variety of perspectives and opinions, students think more critically about their own viewpoints, create new outlooks, become more creative, grow kinder and more inclusive of others, be better prepared for life after grade school, understand how they can contribute to a more equitable society, etc.
Mission and Philosophy
Traditional, progressive or somewhere in between: A traditonal school is teacher led with a strong focus on instruction. A progressive school is child-led where the learning is driven by the needs and interests of the student. Most often, you'll find a traditional environment in a public school, and a progressive environment in many -- but not all! -- independent schools. Charter schools are often in the middle, with a slightly larger class size but a more personalized educational path.
Religious affiliation, if any: The most common religions that you'll find associated with an NYC private school are Roman Catholic, Jewish and Christian.
Curriculum and Enrichments
Language: Does the school introduce a particular language at a certain age?
In-School Enrichment (art, music, technology, etc.): At some schools, science is considered an enrichment in elementary school. Write all of these "extras" down.
Afterschool: What are the hours, and what's offered if anything? Will you need to supplement with extra care in order to meet your family's childcare needs?
Tuition & Financial Aid (only relevant for private and independent schools)
Annual cost without financial aid: For the 2021-2022 school year, I have see fees for kindergarten range from $25k - $60k per year, and they average around $53k.
Financial aid program: Financial aid programs typically provide assistance to about 20% of their student populations. For the schools you're applying to, what are the processes and deadlines?
Word of Mouth
Feedback from other families: What do you hear from parents at the playground or friends at the coffee shop? If all you hear are crickets, ask your preschool Executive Director or the new school's admissions office to connect you to someone in their community.
Feedback from your preschool Executive Director: He or she should have a good understanding of the schools you're considering and which one(s) may be a good fit for your child(ren).
In-Person tours: Things that I look for include the bulletin boards (which reflects the work being done and the care given to the school environment), the warmth of the building and faculty, and the layout and organization of the classrooms. Is it clean? Are there windows? Are the materials organized with thoughtfulness and intention? Do the kids seem happy and engaged? How about the teachers? Any red flags?
Info sessions: What are some highlights that speak to you? You'll want to note these for your thank you note, and also to avoid mixing up schools.
Parent interviews: What questions did you ask, and what did you find out? Leave your notes here, so you know what else you need to ask in the future.
Virtual research: Visit the school's website and social media accounts. Search for it on InsideSchools and Niche to see its ratings and reviews.
Any Specific Needs
Special Education: Many students who require special education services take advantage of the offerings provided by the DOE at local public schools. More information about these services can be found here. The application process for these programs is the same as for all public schools, as all DOE public schools are required to provide these benefits to students that need them.