How To Increase Your Chances Of Getting Into A Top Preschool

Congratulations for your little one! Getting into preschool can be a daunting experience because the demand in many big cities far exceeds the supply. Given parents, especially new parents, are willing to do anything for their children, the cost of preschool doesn't come cheap either.

In big cities like San Francisco and New York, the median monthly cost of preschool can range from $1,500 – $3,000, depending on how many days of attendance. 

In addition to the high cost of preschool, the acceptance rates for the top preschools are usually at 5% or less. There are often few spots for non-sibling kids. Therefore, if you have an only child or are trying to get your first kid into preschool, expect the acceptance rate to be lower.

Who Gets Into The Top Preschools

When it comes to getting your child into a top preschool in a big city, it's all about who you know, rather than your child's abilities. After all, your little one isn't going to cure malaria at two or three years old.

We applied to eight preschools in San Francisco and one preschool in Honolulu. Three of the applications are for for when he's first eligible to attend at 2.5 years old. The remaining five applications are for when most preschools allow children to enroll at 3.5 years old.

Each application fee cost us between $80 – $150, or $1,000 total.

Since all preschools cost more or less the same in tuition, we figured we might as well apply to the top-rated ones. You should do the same.

A similar logic goes, if you’re looking to go out to dinner, surely you’d rather go to a 5-star restaurant if the price is the same as a 3-star restaurant.

The following five reasons help families get into the top preschools.

1) Families with large networks. If you have a large network of parents who have kids at XYZ preschool who can vouch for you, then you will fare better. Many large corporations have tie-ups with preschools as a benefit to their employees.

2) If you have a high-level, high-paying job. Parents who are executives at a hot startup or partners in venture capital, private equity, or investment banking all have an advantage.

Society does not appreciate creatives as much as they appreciate high powered money making occupations. If society did, it wouldn't push our artists, writers, poets, and teachers out of the city. 

From the school's perspective, they want parents who can be ambassadors of the school in their large networks and also be financial backers down the road. If you work in private equity, you will naturally have lots of rich friends who will have children and donate big bucks down the road.

3) If you have some positive fame. It's funny. I dislike fame. But you better believe that if I was famous in a good way, my son would have a huge leg up getting into schools. Do you really think any college would reject Malia Obama even if she had terrible grades and test scores? Of course not. Alas, we are nobodies.

A school would rather have parents working conventional jobs at well-known companies. It's part of the cachet, even if the employer is known to feature fake news and manipulate your private data.

4) If you come from a wealthy legacy family. I know many people in San Francisco who live in multi-million dollar mansions, but who have occupations that cannot afford such luxurious lifestyles. What's going on is that multi-generational family money has allowed them to live a life of leisure.

By setting up multi-million dollar endowments at several schools (preschool, middle school, high school, college), wealthy legacy families get to provide their heirs guaranteed entrance to these schools forever.

We know that kids of legacy donors have a 70%+ acceptance rate at Harvard versus <6% for the overall admissions rate. We also know that many schools of similar stature conduct similar practices for the wealthy and powerful.

5) Be part of the majority Schools without racial bias would generally reflect the overall racial makeup of the city e.g. a preschool should have a similar demographic makeup as San Francisco: 48% White, 33% Asian, 6% Black, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 0.5% Native American, 6.6% Other, and 4.7% Bi-racial or Multi-racial.

However, based on the data we've read and what we've observed after visiting several preschools, about 75% of the student population is White versus 48% for the entire San Francisco population. A ~27% difference is statistically significant, which means something is up. 

The huge discrepancy is because of legacy and family connections, which has carried on for generations. After all, these preschools are private, and it's natural to take care of their own. Further, there is definitely a preference for people who look like you and come from the same circle.

See: How The Rich Get Richer: Competing In A Rigged Game

How To Increase Your Chances Of Getting Into A Top Preschool

How to increase your chances of getting into a top preschool program

Whatever you do, know the odds are stacked against you. You can either give up, or you can keep on going. I've always chosen the latter. As a parent now, I've got no other choice but to stay on the ball.

If you're a parent in a big city applying to a top preschool, let me leave you with some following thoughts:

1) Get on the ball and apply early since you will eventually have to apply. Make sure you meet every deadline and send follow up letters to show your continued interest. Schools want to hear about the progress of your little one. The latest you can usually apply is the fall before your kid is planning on attending.

2) Develop relationships with parents who have kids attending your target preschools or board members of your target preschools. Worst case, you'll make some friends or know you don't want to be part of their community.

3) 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.

4) Create a picture collage and tell your story. Don't just upload one picture in the application, make a collage of pictures that show progression over time. Despite the desire for high-powered occupations, it's worth telling a unique story about why your family fits the school and what you plan to do to help out.

5) Attending an “elite preschool” might worsen your chances of getting into a good grade school program. The “elite grade school” can't accept everyone from XYZ preschool, therefore, look to diversify. It's not the end all be all if you don't get into the top-rated preschool.

6) Focus on the bigger picture. So long as the preschool has a good reputation, has a good teacher:student ratio, and has involved parents, it should be good enough. Don't underestimate the value of proximity either.

At the end of the day, you're only applying to preschool, so don't sweat it! Your child will get in somewhere, and everything will be OK.

Just don’t let laziness close options for your child. Be very diligent about hitting deadlines, attending all events, and writing a thorough application with follow if you truly found your target preschool.

The most important things we can provide our children are love, time, and attention. Besides, the internet has democratized learning and opportunity. There are plenty of kids who go to Harvard University and end up doing the exact same thing as everybody else!

If you want to really ensure the success of your child's future, you would quit your job to spend as much time with them as possible. Further, you'd start your own business so you can teach your little one the ropes as he or she gets older.

When you have your own business, you can hire your children, sell equity, earn a salary, and be less dependent on others.

Good luck!

See more Family Finance posts here on Financial Samurai. Here's my more recent post on how to get into a great preschool.

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