Something funny happened on our long and intricate preschool admissions journey. A school we had applied to in 2017 reached out and said they have a spot for our son this fall. Now we have to decide whether to forego an enrollment deposit at another school or stay the course.
We jokingly refer to this school as the “Harvard Of Preschools.” Even one of our wealthiest friends, who regularly donates six figures a year to his children’s schools, advised us not to bother applying
“It’s impossible to get in. Save your time,” he told me years ago.
Not being one not to try, we applied anyway when our son was only three months old.
A year ago, we got word from the Harvard of Preschools that we had been waitlisted. 80 families had applied for just one non-sibling spot. Oh well. I should have listened to my friend.
The admissions director said we were at the top of the waitlist, but I suspected he was just being nice.
Then recently, the Head of School e-mailed us and said a spot opened up for us this September because a family was leaving. Guess my friend was wrong!
At some point in your child’s education journey, they too may also come off a waitlist from a “better school” after you have paid an enrollment deposit for another school. Therefore, I thought it might be useful to describe our thought process to help you decide.
Whether To Forego The Enrollment Deposit For A Better School
Time is of the essence when making such a decision. Let’s go through the main considerations to help you make a better decision.
1) Consider The Deposit Amount And Deadline
Like canceling a vacation, there are usually deadlines where you can must cancel by a certain date to get a certain percentage of your deposit back. The closer you are to the enrollment date, the less of your deposit you will get back. This is only fair as schools are businesses too.
If we decide to enroll at the Harvard of Preschools, we would forego at least our $425 enrollment deposit. But where we kind of handcuffed ourselves is we’ve also prepaid 60% of the annual tuition, or $20,160.
We did so because we didn’t want to pay some extra surcharge, wanted one less bill to think about, and were confident we wanted to enroll. Prepaying 60% of the annual tuition was one of three options.
If you’re still holding out hope for another school, pay the minimum tuition up front, not the maximum! Even if you aren’t holding out hope, you should probably still pay the minimum upfront for the first year. You just never know what might come up.
2) The Awkwardness Of Rescinding
Getting your enrollment deposit back may be the least of your worries.
Having to tell the school’s admissions director you will no longer be attending just because your kid got into a better school is difficult to do. It feels selfish and greedy. Therefore, you probably don’t reveal the true reason.
On the other hand, telling the school you will no longer be attending due to financial, medical, or job-transfer-related reasons is comparatively easier. You’ve got to do what you can to survive.
The more time you spend getting to know the personnel at the school and other families, the harder it will be to rescind as well.
It took us two tries to get into our son’s current preschool. We met various school personnel four times over two admissions cycles (two info sessions, play date, parental interview). Further, we have met several families over playdates since we learn about our admissions earlier this year.
There may also may be a stigma attached to our son’s future school applications. Will other parents and admissions officers find out? Probably. Will the current school he plans to attend find it offensive if we reapply for kindergarten or later? Perhaps.
Not showing loyalty to an organization who accepted you when others didn’t feels wrong.
3) Second-Guessing Your Decision
Too much choice is stressful. Burning your boats so there’s only one way forward is one of the best motivators to succeed.
We were all set to attend this wonderful bi-lingual school that goes from Pre-K 3 through the 8th grade. If our son loves the school, we wouldn’t have to worry about applying to kindergarten or middle school for the next 10 years. We were excited and happy!
Now, we are thrown a curveball where we’re second-guessing whether attending a bi-lingual school is the right choice. What if learning in a second language stunt’s his overall education? What if he doesn’t get along with his classmates?
At the same time, we now wonder whether he’d love attending the “Harvard of Preschools.” Maybe we’d meet more interesting parents with great future hookups. Perhaps he’ll have more fun learning in just English because it will be easier. English is already tough enough.
Finally, what if we decide to switch schools and he ends up hating his new school? What a disaster! We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory!
Choosing a school is a leap of faith. Do as much due diligence as possible and then make a choice. If a better option comes along, it’s worth doing more due diligence. The enrollment deposit is hard to lose. However, it is probably the least of your worries.
4) The Allure Of Auto-Admission For Siblings
What’s unique about preschool admissions is that if one child gets in, all other siblings automatically get in if the family is in good standing. Good standing means paying your bills on time and not causing a ruckus.
On our Zoom call, the Head of School explicitly said that if our son enrolls, our 19-month-old daughter would automatically get in for Pre-K 2. She dangled the carrot!
And if our son did not enroll, we’d have to resubmit an application for her. Ouch. She whipped out her big stick.
The Head of School was focused on filling this one highly coveted spot for the 2021-2022 school year and that was it. We didn’t feel any love from her for our daughter.
Auto-admissions for siblings are generally the case for private elementary and middle schools as well. However, it’s not the case with private high schools or colleges. As a private high school tennis teacher for three years, I saw many kids not get in despite having siblings at the school. There are just too many applicants for too few spots.
To quantify, I’d give siblings a 30% – 50% greater chance than non-siblings for getting into a private high school. For college, I’d give siblings a 10% – 20% greater chance of getting into a private college over non-siblings. But for preschools, the chance of a sibling getting in over non-siblings is over 95%.
When deciding whether to give up the enrollment deposit for a better school, you must also consider the future of your other children. The earlier it is on their education journey, the more worth it it is to forfeit the enrollment deposit for a better school. It ensures more of your children will be guaranteed a better education for a longer period of time.
5) A More Suitable Curriculum
What’s nice about the Harvard of Preschools is that it has a more suitable curriculum for our family. Their two-year-olds go twice a week for three hours each time. Their three-year-olds go three times a week for three hours each time. And their four-year-olds go five days a week for three hours each time.
Now that we’ve had our son for over four years, we see the merits of this gradual curriculum buildup.
Throwing a two-year-old into preschool five days a week for 6-9 hours a day felt like too much. That’s what we did for five months. Then we pulled him in March 2020 once the pandemic began. As two stay-at-home parents, we like the new school’s flexibility more.
It would be really nice if our daughter could attend the new preschool next fall (2022) with a two-days-a-week curriculum. If she does not get into the new preschool, she would have a choice of attending the bi-lingual school 5-days-a-week starting in 2023 as one of the oldest three-year-olds.
At the same time, we are OK with not having our daughter attend preschool until age 4. Since she is likely our last child, we want to spend as much time with her as possible. Already, we feel a little guilty not spending as much time with her as we did with our son.
We all learn in different ways. Therefore, a better curriculum could really make a huge difference in your child’s ability to maximize their learning potential. Giving up an enrollment deposit for a better curriculum could make sense.
Not Forfeiting The Enrollment Deposit
After much deliberation, my wife and I have decided to stay the course!
We will kindly reject the Harvard of Preschools and stick with the bi-lingual school. The thing is, his current school is also considered excellent. It is a grade school some graduates of the new preschool end up attending.
We will also reapply to the Harvard of Preschools for our daughter for Fall 2022 enrollment. The cost will be $100 and some time.
We think it would be fun to be a part of two preschool communities. This way, we will never be left wondering what it would be like going to either school.
They are two different crowds. I like meeting new people, especially since I don’t have an installed network of co-workers to banter with.
Further, we would actually save between $10,000 – $20,000 a year if we go the Harvard of Preschools. They charge less every year given school is only two half-days, three half-days, or five half-days a week.
If our daughter doesn’t get in, we will enroll her in the bi-lingual preschool in fall 2023. As a sibling, she automatically has a spot if we are in good standing.
Although school will be five days a week from 8:30am – 3:30pm, we suspect she will be ready because she will be three years, eight months old by August 2023.
We noticed that at around 3.75 years old, our son really started wanting to engage with other children. Before age 3, he was very happy with solo play. Therefore, perhaps our daughter will follow a similar route.
Finally, we decided it didn’t make sense for our son to attend the new preschool because we would then have to reapply to kindergarten this fall for next year.
Attending the bi-lingual school for preschool is a great way to “try before we buy.” If our son doesn’t do well in a language immersion class setting, we can always apply to a different school.
Choosing A School Is A Leap Of Faith
Despite all the fancy marketing material, high rankings, and positive feedback, there’s no guarantee a school will be the right fit. We must do as much due diligence as possible and make the best decision with the information given.
Giving up an enrollment deposit should be the least of your concerns. Trying to find the right educational fit for your children is priority number one.
When we started on our children’s educational journey in San Francisco, several people told me something reassuring. They said, “Everybody gets in somewhere. Everything tends to work out in the end.”
Places like San Francisco and New York are hyper-competitive cities where the most gung-ho people come to build their fortunes. Therefore, as a household where neither parent works or holds a position of status, I was worried whether anybody would ever take a chance on us.
Thankfully, three preschools have, including one of the hardest ones to get into. To be frank, it feels great to get accepted by a school that even a centimillionaire said was impossible to get into.
Therefore, I no longer have any insecurities about being a nobody family in a big city anymore. If you feel your family doesn’t have enough status, I wouldn’t worry either.
The Desire To Be Somebody Again
Before I had kids, I enjoyed being a nobody. All I selfishly cared about was being free with my wife. However, after having kids, I began to think about their future. I began to worry how being a nobody could negatively affect them.
Would my kids feel as mortified by our lack of status as I did as a 13-year-old being driven somewhere public in my dad’s paint-less 1976 Datsun? Perhaps. Would being nobodies hinder them from opportunity? Probably in subtle ways.
I was considering being a somebody again until we got the preschool acceptances this year. Having a minimum amount of status matters. But now, I’m not so sure it matters.
At the end of the day, so long as your child is learning in a safe and nurturing environment, that’s what matters the most.
I’m sure there are multiple schools out there that are a great fit for your child. Go with the best school for your money. Once you’ve made the decision, don’t look back.
Readers, have you ever had to give up your child’s enrollment deposit because you changed schools? How did you go about letting the school know you were changing schools? Would you give up an enrollment deposit to go to a potentially better preschool or elementary school? Or would you only do so for college?
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