Are you a parent worried about getting your kid into a great preschool or private grade school? Ever wonder about the preschool or private grade school interview process? Or how about what type of interview questions they will ask and what type of kids get in?
After three years of navigating the preschool admissions process gauntlet, this article will address how to get into a great preschool or private grade school. I'm a parent to two young kids currently in private preschool and private grade school in San Francisco.
There are plenty of good preschools and private grade schools. Therefore, thankfully, you won't have to stress out as much about the process because admissions is easier.
However, if you're going to spend the time and application money applying, then you might as well apply to the best ones as well. After all, if your child gets in, the tuition is roughly the same.
Finding A Spot For Your Kids In A Big City
Living in a big expensive city is great. You will have plenty of opportunities to grow your wealth. You'll meet lots of interesting people and experience many new things. However, surviving and thriving in a big city is more difficult due to tremendous competition.
Given most of the highest-paying jobs are located in big cities, big cities will naturally attract the most gung-ho people from the best universities. Competing against the most competitive people can be a fun challenge. But it can also be exhausting.
Once these types of people have kids, there's sometimes a helplessness that overcomes a parent. Suddenly, a parent can't just work harder for little Johnny to get into preschool or private grade school. Little Johnny will have to figure out how to perform on his own.
If you're applying to a selective preschool or private grade school, here's a look into my experience after visiting and interviewing with seven highly competitive preschools in San Francisco. As nobodies, we got waitlisted (rejected) from five and got into two.
Let me first shed some light on the preschool or private grade school interview process. Every school requires one to get to know the parents whom they might invite into their community.
The Preschool Or Private Grade School Interview
To start, the average preschool or private grade school interview runs about 30-45 minutes long. You've got 30-45 minutes to showcase why your family wants to attend this school and how you can contribute.
When a school is private, it can pick and choose whom they let in. Just like you have the ability to pick and choose which school you want to apply to.
If you don't want to go through the preschool or private grade school admissions process, then definitely go to public school. Public schools will let anybody in, provided you are a resident of the area. Further, public school is free. Hooray!
What To Wear To The Private School Interview
I recommend parents wear semi-formal clothing. You want to look as presentable as possible without seeming stiff. Like it or not, first impressions matter.
As a man, I recommend wearing casual work shoes, nice jeans, a collared long sleeve shirt, and a blazer. A suit is too formal. You can probably get away with dress pants and a collared shirt. But the blazer really makes you look sharp.
For the ladies, I recommend similar business casual attire as well. A long dress works well or a blouse with a pair of dress pants. Comfortable work shoes are a safe bet.
Parents just need to come to the interview looking clean and presentable.
Note: After the pandemic, video interviews became the norm. It's much more efficient just doing a video parental interview and a video play date interview with your child.
Questions The Preschool Or Private Grade School Admissions Officer May Ask
After sitting through multiple interviews, here are the most common questions you will likely be asked.
Why our school? – The purpose of this question is to find out whether you've done your homework on the preschool. Since there are various ways of teaching, they want to make sure you are onboard with their methods and philosophies. Learn the history, teaching style, hours of operation, and curriculum beforehand.
Tell us a time when you were certain your little one was one way, but your partner or your little one showed you otherwise. – This question tests how flexible you are as a parent, and how easily you can adapt to new ways of learning. As parents, we have many blindspots. We often think our little one is smarter, cuter, quieter, and more agreeable than he or she really is. It's important to have a realistic view of your child.
How would you describe your son and daughter's personality? – The school wants to hear how well you know your little one. No parent is going to admit their kid is a terrible tyrant. But they can get clues if your little one is indeed hard to manage. Say what comes up first. Be natural and honest. Not every kid is ready for preschool at 2.5.
Additional Interview Questions To Get In Private Grade School
How would you describe your parenting style? – The admissions officer just wants to get more of an idea of how you parent and whether your style will mesh well with their style. Again, if the school is very structured, they may want to hear a more structured parenting style answer. If the school is very progressive and play based, then the opposite may be true.
How do you take in feedback from the teachers? – The more hoity toity the preschool, the more hardcore parents there are. But no teacher or administrator wants to deal with difficult tiger parents who are rigid in their ways. Preschools want to see the parents as parents who will work together in the development of the child and take constructive criticism positively.
How would you like to be involved in the community? A preschool loves parental involvement. The more you can volunteer, the better. I would say at the preschool level, 80% of the reason your child will be accepted is because of you, the parents, if your little one is a normal child. The more you can demonstrate the work you do around the community, the better.
A Numbers Game For Getting Into Private Grade School
Getting into a highly selective preschool or private grade school is a numbers game. You must understand the acceptance rates, and apply based on those rates.
For example, if the average preschool or private grade school acceptance rate is 15%, then you should probably apply to 6 – 7 schools to get into at least one. Take the estimated acceptance rate and multiply it by the number of schools to equal 100%.
If you follow this application count formula, you will highly likely get into at least one school. Even if you get waitlisted, there's a good chance a spot will open up down the road because family situations are always changing. Families sometimes move for work, face affordability issues, go through divorces, and so forth.
Your goal is to apply to as many good schools as possible and keep your name in as many wait pools as possible.
You will increase your chances of getting into a particular school based on your interview skills, commitment, follow through, and potentially whether you ask for financial aid or not.
Preparing For The Preschool Play Date Interview
Getting through the parental interview process is one thing. Getting your toddler to behave and interact during a play date interview is another thing. This is where parents get the most anxious.
Play dates are also usually 30 – 45 minutes long. The play date is usually around six months before your toddler will first be eligible to attend school. The preschool knows there is plenty of time for development from the play date until school starts.
However, if you feel your child is developmentally behind, you may want to wait and apply to a Pre-K for age 4 instead of age 3, or focus on schools that have mixed-age classrooms.
Kids should dress in casual fun clothes that are clean. If your kid is sick, do not send your kid to the play date!
What To Expect During The Play Date
Most preschools will have a play date interview where your child will be invited to play with other children on campus. The purpose of the play date interview is to test out how your child functions in a classroom or play setting. The teachers or administrations will typically set out a bunch of toys and observe how the invited kids react.
Some schools host play dates solely for prospective students in an empty classroom or during hours when the school is closed. Others observe how prospective students behave when invited to join a classroom that is in session.
Pre-COVID, usually only one parent is allowed into the play date room for spacing purposes. During the play date interview, there is typically free time first where your child gets to do whatever he or she wishes in the setting. You want your child to be friendly, interact well with other students and teachers, stack blocks, and not have a tantrum.
After free time is over, a teacher will sometimes invite the kids to sit together in a circle for roughly 10-15 minutes. During circle time, the teacher will probably read a book or sing a song. The children may also be asked to say their name, favorite color, etc.
According to the admissions director I spoke to, roughly 40% of the kids sit in the circle the whole time.
The main keys for a good play date interview are:
- Sitting patiently and listening to a teacher read or sing for 10-15 minutes during circle time
- Showing good behavior and able to parallel play or play with other kids
- Demonstrates the ability to interact properly when shown an item
- Displays creativity
- Good parenting skills
- Articulating why the preschool and the community is right for you
- How you can contribute to the community and school
To prepare for the play date interview, simply spend as much time reading and playing with your kids as possible. Practice going to story time at the library. Visit playgrounds so they get used to being around other children. And talk to your kids about the play date in advance to help them know what to expect.
The admissions officers are not only observing the kids, but they are also observing the parents. So the more you prepare, the better.
When To Use Connections For Getting Into Private Grade School
If you so happen to know someone on the board of a preschool or private grade school, you may consider asking for a letter of recommendation. The stronger your relationship with the board member, the stronger the letter of recommendation. Poorly written letters of recommendation carry no weight. They are like mercy letters which immediately get discredited. Therefore, be careful when asking.
A board member or esteemed alumni will be willing to write you a letter if you also demonstrate their particular school is the one for you. The last thing they want to do is go to bat for you and have you reject the admissions offer. That looks terrible on everybody.
The board member or esteemed parent alum is putting their reputation on the line for you. They want to find families that exemplify the core values of the school.
Asking for a letter of recommendation uses up social capital. Therefore, you must consider carefully when to use your credits and with whom. Further, if your child gets into the school, will you feel good knowing you got in due to your connections?
I didn't feel good about asking for help, even when I was offered, so I didn't. I wanted to let the schools reject us or accept us solely for who we are. If we got into a school using connections, we would forever wonder whether it was because of the referrer's power or because of us. Further, I would feel indebted to the person, which seldom feels great.
As parents who are also proponents of homeschooling, we were happy to accept whatever the admissions outcome. As a writer, I was also very excited to chronicle my journey in order to help other parents make a decision.
Final Points For Helping Your Child Get Into Private Grade School
Is your head spinning yet? Let's keep going. Here are some final tips for helping get your kid into preschool or private grade school.
- Long-term commitment. Some schools start in preschool and go up to 8th grade or through 12th grade. If you can demonstrate that you plan to be committed to the area for the long term, fantastic. Schools love this because they want continuity and a stable stream of income.
- Having realistic expectations / partnering with the community. You are putting your trust and money in the school and teachers. The school values a partnership with the parents. The more you can show you can be that partner, the better. One way is to demonstrate how you've supported other projects in the community through volunteering or donations.
- Attend all recommended “get to know you and the school” events.These include lunches, dinners, fundraisers, etc. The schools want to see that the parents truly care about the school. Attendance is a reflection of how much volunteering and participation if your family actually gets in.
- Multiple kids. Rightly or wrongly, having multiple kids should increase your chances of getting your children into your desired preschool or grade school. More children mean a stronger likelihood of future revenue. If you only have one child, you can make it known to the administrators of your desire to have more.
- Know the toughest grades to get into. The most difficult years to get into preschool or private grade school are Pre-K 3, kindergarten, 6th grade (start of middle school), and 9th grade (start of high school). Therefore, you may want to apply not during these grades to increase your chances.
- Donate to school fundraisers. Like it or not, showing financial support for private grade schools is important. Since the school is private, it relies on donations from parents.
Parents Matter Greatly For Getting Into Private School
It takes an on-the-ball parent to navigate the preschool or private grade school application process. Parents must follow deadline instructions and fill out application forms that rival college applications. Essays will be written! So brush up on your writing and story-telling skills.
I estimate roughly 85% of your child's chances of getting into preschool or kindergarten is based on you, the parents. The percentage drops down to about 50% when applying to private middle school and under 25% when applying to private high school. In other words, your child's academics and extracurricular activities carry a greater weighting as they get older.
If you can demonstrate you are a loving family who is really committed to your child and to the community, you will increase your chances of getting in. Involvement in your child's future is critical. And involvement takes time.
Preschools and private grade schools would rather not be viewed as daycare repositories. Parental involvement may be one of the biggest differentiators between private and public schools. Remember, the cost of raising many children is not just the money. It's also the time.
What If My Child Doesn't Get In To Preschool or Private Grade School?
Despite applying to a number of schools, your child may still not get in during the normal admissions cycle. There is also a growing deemphasis on merit, which could unfairly penalize your kid. If your child doesn't get in, don't worry. A spot will eventually open up somewhere. You may just need to provide more childcare in the meantime.
However, to hedge against not getting into any preschool or private grade school, apply to public schools as well. Public schools can't deny you admission. Therefore, your child will always be guaranteed a spot if you apply. If you live in a area with highly-rated public schools, even better.
At the end of the day, you just want a preschool or grade school that is safe, caring, close by, and has a teaching system that fits your lifestyle and financials. I’ve made the argument that if you make at least 5X the annual tuition cost per child, you can afford private grade school.
Sending your child to a particular school is a leap of faith. You won't really know whether they will enjoy their experience there for at least 3-6 months. Thus, you can opt to stay on the waitlist for the schools you didn't get into. This way if your child isn't happy, you'll have options to switch schools if a spot opens up. And you can always apply to other schools as well.
Sometimes it takes actually trying out a school to really figure out what type of teaching style and environment works best for your child.
Good luck! If you are diligent, opportunities will open up. I truly believe every child will get in somewhere good. Parents just need to be on the ball regarding the application process.
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