Navigating The Preschool Admissions Process: Getting In And $1,000 Application Fees

The preschool admissions process can be very stressful. With so may deadlines to hit, essays to write, interviews to conduct, and fees to pay, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.

This post will help you better navigate the preschool admissions process for your little one. The more you know, the greater your chance of getting into preschool.

The Preschool Admissions Process Starts Early

When my wife was pregnant in late 2016, a friend told me, “You need to apply to preschool within the first three months after he's born.

He had one kid in private elementary school and two kids in private middle school. He is also a centimillionaire. 

Absurd!” I responded.

Hey, it's up to you buddy. Getting into preschool in San Francisco is harder than getting into Princeton. Don't let your lack of preparedness hurt your son's chances for a bright future.

Damn it. Guilt sets in.

Well since you put it that way. I guess I'll get on it. Want to give us a recommendation when he goes in 2019 or 2020?

Of course I will,” my friend replied as we resumed our tennis match.

This post is an introduction into how daunting it is for families living in big cities to get their kids into preschool. It should also give some sense as to why there's so much anxiety among parents and children early on.

As someone who has questioned the necessity of paying for private grade school tuition, yet who also wants the best for his son, this post serves as a type of mental penance for going through this process. I've spent the last seven years trying to escape the grind, but somehow, I'm always getting pulled back in. 

I also hope this post brings joy to families who live in lower cost areas of the country who don't have to worry about hyper competition due to a lack of supply. Living in a big city has its perks, but helping your child get a quality education is not one of them.

It's only until kindergarten where all families are eligible for a free public education.

Beginning Of The Preschool Admissions Grind

When it comes to getting your child into a top preschool in a big city, a lot of it is 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.

The demand is so high simply because there aren't enough schools. I heard through a board member at one preschool that 100 kids applied for the four spots available to non-sibling children. Siblings get automatic acceptance.

Since our boy is our first child, we have to blaze our own trail, Financial Samurai style, in order for him to get in anywhere. But we enjoy the challenge, partly because we like the excitement that uncertainty brings. The preschool admissions process would be our latest fun challenge to conquer.

Given the average acceptance rate for the top-rated preschools is around 10%–15%, the logical conclusion is to apply to 7-10 in order to get into one.

We ended up applying to seven preschools in San Francisco and one preschool in Honolulu. Three of the applications are for 2019 when he's first eligible to attend at 2.5 years old. The remaining five applications are for 2020, when most preschools allow children to enroll.

Now that I'm reviewing this post in 2021, it's interesting how our plans changed. Even if we got into a great preschool in Fall 2020, we wouldn't have attended due to the global pandemic!

Preschool Application Fee Average Cost

An annoying part of the preschool admissions process is paying for the application fee. Even if you don't get in, you won't get your application fee back.

The average preschool application fee ranges from $50 – $150 each school. For us, we paid about $1,000 in application fees for eight schools.

Since all preschools cost more or less the same in tuition (~$1,200 – $2,800 a month depending on how many days a week), we figured we might as well apply to the top-rated ones.

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.

If our son gets rejected by all nine, then we will home school him since we have maximum flexibility. That doesn't sound like a bad idea at all actually. There are plenty of ways for kids to socialize with other kids nowadays thanks to the internet.

Why Our Chance Of Getting Into Preschool Is Slim

I don't remember the last time I felt like an idiot. Actually, maybe it was last summer when I didn't sell my House Sale Fund portfolio when it was up 13%. Yeah, that was dumb to not take profits when it surpassed my 10% blue sky target.

But with this preschool stuff, I feel lost because I realize the odds are extremely stacked against my family and there's really not much I can do to improve these odds. And to spend $1,000 on preschool applications alone leaves me with a funny feeling – like I'm a sucker.

Here are some of the reasons why I believe we've got little chance of getting our boy into a top-rated preschool. These reasons should help you appreciate what you have and question the choice of living an unconventional lifestyle.

1) We have a small network. 

As two stay at home parents who've been away from the traditional workforce for years, my wife and I don't have a large network of parents who have kids at XYZ preschool who can vouch for us. As a result, we are at a large disadvantage simply because not enough of the community knows who we are.

One can easily imagine a colleague or a manager on the board of a preschool who provides a fellow colleague an in. Many large corporations have tie-ups with preschools as a benefit to their employees. That's just the way the world works. We take care of people who we know and like. Being away from networking activities for seven years is likely going to hurt us.

I'm also stubborn and let honor and pride get in the way of gaining admissions. I could have asked a couple of my friends for references, but I didn't. As a result, we didn't get in.

2) We have low-level jobs.

On our application, I say I'm an assistant high school tennis coach (not even the head coach) and a stay at home dad. My wife says says she's a freelance writer and a stay at home mom. We don't ever say we run Financial Samurai due to our desire for privacy.

I think being a stay at home parent is an extremely important job, but we can't compete with parents who are executives at a hot startup or partners in venture capital, private equity, or investment banking. I swear all the parents who attended the open houses we went to worked in these fields.

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.

If you're an assistant high school tennis coach who makes $1,200 a month like I do, your circle of friends probably isn't going to be as desirable to the school. And yes, I spent one month's of coaching salary on preschool application fees.

But here's the main reason why I put down I'm a writer and assistant tennis coach, instead of an entrepreneur or ex-banker a lifetime ago. We want to support a school that appreciates creatives and educators. A school is about child development first, not about money and prestige. If a school is willing to accept us with our lower-income occupations, that's the family we want to join.

3) We lead unconventional lifestyles with no recognition.

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.

The only thing we do is help people achieve financial freedom sooner in order to live their best lives possible. Helping people achieve financial security is nice, especially since we do so for free, but 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.

The only reason I'd ever give up my privacy or lead a more conventional lifestyle is if I could help my son. And I'm not sure preschool is worth the price. Funny thing is, after I published my bestseller in 2022, Buy This Not That, I decided to become public to help fight back against AAPI hate.

We really cherish being able to spend as much time as possible with our son as stay at home parents. But we recognize we will be viewed as misfits given less than 1% of households have two stay at home parents.

4) We do not 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.

For example, one family founded a newspaper and sold it for $660 million in the mid-1990s. Surely the $660 million has grown to over $1 billion today. By setting up multi-million dollar endowments at several schools (preschool, middle school, high school, college), their heirs get guaranteed entrance to these schools forever. Are the heirs bad people? Of course not. They're just like everybody else, except with tremendous advantages.

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. This is the way the world works, and the rest of us have no choice but to compete with what we have.

5) We are not 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.

Unfortunately, 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. 

Perhaps 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.

Although I belong to a private tennis club where the racial demographic is quite skewed like at many private preschools, I'm not sure we want our son growing up in such a homogenous environment. As a kid growing up overseas attending international schools, I found it wonderful to be immersed in so many different cultures.

When I entered the real world, it was much easier to assimilate and grow. 

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

Preschool Admissions Process: Just Keep Trying

Navigating the preschool admissions process: tips and tricks for getting in

Whatever you do, know the odds are stacked against you. The preschool admissions process can make the grittiest person want to give up.

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.

Of course I will always have some fear of rejection. I fear the continuous rejection I've experienced will continue on with my son. And unless we move to Asia or Honolulu, it stings knowing that my son will one day be discriminated against and rejected like his old man was growing up.

But on the bright side, the difficulties I went through growing up helped make me who I am today. And frankly, I feel pretty darn good about my situation. It's healthy to sometimes get told you're not good enough so you develop a chip on your shoulder to prove your detractors wrong.

A part of me hopes we get rejected by the early start preschools we applied to for 2019 so that we can go on a great adventure and travel the world again.

How amazing would it be to relocate to Honolulu this summer and enjoy the islands until the fall of 2020 when he's eligible for a larger number of preschools at 3.5 years old? There's always a bright side in everything. 

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

Final Tips For The Preschool Admissions Process

* 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.

* It's worth building 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.

* Attend all recommended “get to know you and the school” events. These include lunches, dinners, fundraisers, etc.

* 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. Preschools want to have a good community of parents they can rely on to be good ambassadors and available volunteers.

* Attending an “elite preschool” might worsen your chances of getting into a good grade school program. Therefore, look to diversify. It's not the end all be all if you don't get into the top-rated preschool.

* 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.

* Consider parent co-op preschools, public preschool if you qualify, or for-profit education systems like Gymboree that accept everyone.

Related post: How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School – Now that we've gotten into three great schools, here are more thoughts

Your Child Will Get In Somewhere

Apologies if this post has raised your anxiety level if you are apply to preschool. I just like to write out my thoughts because I'm thorough. Thinking is free after all.

At the end of the day, we're only applying to preschool, so don't sweat it! I just thought it'd be fun to chronicle this journey. Don’t let lack of effort close options for your child. Embrace rejection when it finally comes and look on the bright side of getting rejected. Your child will ultimately get in somewhere.

The most important things we can provide our children are love, time, and attention. Besides, the internet has democratized learning and opportunity.

What Happened With Us – 2021 Update

By 2019, we got into one out of seven preschools. Fortunately, the preschool he got into was our neighborhood preschool just five minutes away. We got in because we got to know a teacher who worked there. Every week for 1.5 years, we kept bumping into him at the science museum.

We sent our son to preschool for five months before deciding to homeschool him due to the pandemic. For now, we plan to homeschool until Fall 2021. At least he got to experience some time in preschool. We're also glad to be able to spend so much time with him.

We're doing a lot of the things he would have done in preschool. For example, we do arts and crafts every day and go on field trips three times a week. It's also nice to save $2,000 a month!

We found out in March 2021 that our son got into one of the preschools we originally got waitlisted to for Fall 2020. It was just as well as we wouldn't have sent him anyway due to the pandemic.

We decided to accept this preschool's offer and enroll him in Fall 2021. The school is a language immersion school that goes through the 8th grade. We are thrilled to have gotten in and we hope our son loves the school as well. If he does, our daughter will have an easier time getting in as well.

Got Into The Impossible To Get In School

Finally, in July 2021, we found out we got into the “Harvard Of Preschools” for Fall 2021. We had originally applied to this school in 2017, three months after our son was born. Crazy right?

We will likely not forfeit our enrollment deposit at the language immersion school and accept the last-minute acceptance. It was a tough decision, especially since our daughter would automatically get into the Harvard Of Preschools too. But it's only preschool and our son's current language immersion school is excellent.

At the end of the day, I'm sure your child will get in somewhere. The preschool might not be your top choice, but so long as the teachers are caring, that's what matters most.

Update 2024

We're now applying to preschool for our daughter. She goes three times a week to one school we got in easily. But we're now applying to the school my son currently attends. It should be a straightforward process with a high chance of acceptance. But we shall see!

Why Households Need To Earn $300,000 A Year To Live In A Middle Class Lifestyle Today – it's expensive raising a family in a big city

Is Private Grade School K-12 Worth It?

What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody?

Recommendation For Parents: Get Life Insurance

For those of you with children and/or debt, it's imperative to get an affordable term life insurance policy to protect your loved ones. Take a look at Policygenius, an insurance market place that will offer affordable life insurance quotes in one place with no obligations. 

My wife and I got matching 20-year term policies during the pandemic and felt an enormous sense of relief. Our policies were mismatched in terms of duration and death benefits. Now we are aligned and feel comfort knowing that if either one of us were to pass prematurely, there will be no financial distribution in our children's lives.

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119 thoughts on “Navigating The Preschool Admissions Process: Getting In And $1,000 Application Fees”

  1. Can I just ask – which school is the “Harvard of Preschools” in the city? Would love to know out of curiosity. Also thank you for the great content over the years!

  2. Which pre schools require one to apply when the little child is just a few months old for a 2 year old program? WOuld be very curious!
    Also, do you know what the best preschools are in los angeles?
    Great article as always, glad you are writing up about your parental experiences, it’s all tied in with financials too, especially relating to private school

  3. Aasma Shopoff

    Did you find a school? We are at the Scandinavian School which is absolutely amazing in every way and flies under the radar. Many independent kindergartens love kids from the Scandinavian School because of their focus on social emotional learning.

    1. We did! But we’ve been homeschool since March 2020 due to the pandemic. Our son is having lots of fun at home and it seems like he is learning at a much faster pace.

      But the social play with other kids his age is missing.

  4. Derek McDoogle

    I found it interesting when you said that attending an “elite preschool” might worsen your chances of getting into a good grade school program. My wife and I are thinking about whether or not to take our child to preschool since she does not work. I will share this article with her so she can have a better idea of how good can be to take him to preschool.

  5. Faylinn Byrne

    I really appreciate that you mentioned that you should apply early since you will eventually have to apply to preschools. My husband and I recently had our first baby and we are trying to stay ahead of things just so we don’t run into problems later on. These tips have been really useful and we will keep them in mind when we start looking for preschools for our little girl.

  6. Thomas Jameson

    It’s good to know that making connections and networking can increase your odds of getting your kid into preschool. My daughter is almost preschool age, and my wife and I want her to have the highest chance of getting into a good preschool that she possibly can. We’ll be sure to start networking to increase her odds of acceptance.

  7. Did you ultimately make a decision / get into the preschool you wanted? We were very late to the game (our child was born in late 2016 too and figured he would be ‘behind’ a year anyways) and didn’t start contacting preschools until a few weeks ago and surprisingly enough we got 5 acceptances (to the ‘expensive’ preschools you mentioned) and 1 waitlist with a strong possibility of admission which really struck us as odd because everyone said apply as soon as your child is born. Could it be there really aren’t as many families in San Francisco with young children?

    1. Wow! Congrats! Is it possible for you to share some of your demographic information? Such as your race, your profession, and an income range?

      We got waitlisted/rejected from two schools and we got into our neighborhood preschool 5 minutes away whoo hoo!

      I was actually hoping we would get rejected to all three so we could have no baggage or less regrets moving to Hawaii. What do you plan to do?

  8. Do not despair!!! There are actually more than a couple really fantastic pre-schools in SF, my absolute favorite of which is Montessori Children’s House ( It’s a non-profit and offers lots of financial aid, so won’t break the bank, and is strongly committed to diversity, and, of course Montessori. Montessori is based on helping kids develop independently. Our kids are capable of so much more than we allow, and MCHSF has been instrumental in helping me back off as a mom and let my children do it themselves.

    Yes, there is an application process. But no, you certainly don’t have to apply before your kid is 3. And if you miss the formal application process, just call the school. They are often willing to make room, or in the very least help you navigate to an alternative.

    This process doesn’t need to be horrible. It certainly shouldn’t be. MCHSF “gets it” and attracts other parents who “get it” too. So come be with your people!

  9. FS…Why are you even considering preschool? Studies show it’s not only not necessary and your child is actually better off being with the parents until Kindergarten, and not until AGE 6.

    Be careful about your ego or trendy state-driven narratives about what’s best for your child overriding what instinctually you probably already know — you would prefer having more time to learn emotionally and intellectually from your parents if you were a toddler again.

    Read more and save yourself money and harm to your child.

  10. Since you don’t need to be in San Francisco for a job, I don’t understand why you still live there. These types of preschools are networking opportunities for parents more than anything else. If you are truly out of the rat race, this is irrelevant for you. Your child will be better served through travel and living in a more family-friendly area such as Honolulu.

  11. I have lived in Tucson, Orinda, and Truckee with kids (medium western city, affluent suburb, idyllic resort town), so I feel I have some ability to comment here. I think pre-school is largely useless and expensive competitive pre-school might actually be bad for kids. You can easily design your own at home pre school that is far superior. The idea of learning reading, writing, math before kindergarten is laughable and counter productive. Kids 5 and under need the following things: a loving home, lots of good hands on creative exploration, LOTS of books read out loud to them, lots of exposure to the outdoors and nature. Even in SF this is fairly readily at hand. Pre school is useful if you have to go to work. But don’t kid yourself into thinking its actually better for them. They are better off at home. There really is no point in learning to read before kindergarten. Don’t rob kids of their childhood!

      1. david krivan

        I really don’t see a benefit to pre school other than child care, IF you are providing a quality home environment. The idea that a four year old needs structured academics is insane. Why do they exist? Primarily child care. I just don’t think that above some basic minimum level, the quality of the preschool makes any difference at all. Both my kids learned how to read in public K and 1st grade, and both were basically off the chart at their first testing a year or two later. Why? Because they developed a love of books as non readers first. That is just one example that suggests academic pursuits at an earlier age are not beneficial. What people really should be doing is focusing on spending time with young children, reading to them a lot, and putting them in quality environments where they can explore their surroundings and engage in creative play.

          1. Preschool is certainly not a requirement. There are lots of other opportunities to socialize kids. Many libraries have drop off story hours starting at 3 years old. They sit and listen to a story then have activities. Children’s museums, nature centers, parks and rec all offer similar classes. We do a two mornings a week preschool that is through the local high school, it is a class high school students take and it costs $25 for us…for the whole year. Otherwise, I would not have our kids in preschool at all. The most important thing is reading to your kids.

            1. Wow, $25 for a year is so cheap!

              I agree preschool isn’t a requirement, and I have my hesitation the closer I get to the time he is eligible.

              He just got into one preschool. ONe of my fears is that he gets into many of the top rated ones, and then I’ll feel pressured to send him!

              I think having him go at 3.5 years old is better. We want to spend more time with him.

              At 21 months, he recited every day of the week on Feb 1, 2019. I was shocked. Had no idea………. I’m excited to be a father and raise him!

  12. Hey Steve,

    I completely understand your situation. I was also bullied as a child and it messed me up for quite some time.

    However, you can turn your life around.

    Age is just an artificial number.

    There are so many alcoholics and drug addicts that hit rock bottom – no money, no family, no education, at 30+ year old, they have come back from that pit.

    If they can do it, you can too!

    It’s only when you’re at you’re at the bottom and about to break that you have the potential to bounce up again, and bounce up high.

    I know you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the light is there.

    Don’t hold unnecessary “time limits” to yourself.

    If you can survive that level of bullying, you can survive this – just keep going.

    When you’re going through hell, just keep going.

    I promise you will find that your life has improved in short periods of time.

    If you decide to go the suicide route, I understand that too – but let me say this: you will be causing your family irrecoverable amount of pain and grief.

    They will never know why you made that decision and they will never get to help. It will be completely unfair to them.

    Think about how it will shatter your mother. Was it her fault that all those kids bullied you?

    Why make her feel the punishment?

    I will do this for you: I will provide you with free personal mentoring and help you get your life on track. I will work with you over emails and I will help you figure out the direction your life. Before you make any decision, PLEASE get in touch with me. It’s fully free and confidential – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    My email is admin [at]

    Please get in touch with me before you do anything rash.

    – Harsh Strongman

  13. Hey Sam,
    I would try calling the preschools in June and July to see if any spots are open. That is when a lot of kids move up to kindergarten and spots open up :) I happened to call our preschool in July and they told me there was a spot open and if i wanted it. I was lower down the list, but I just happened to call and they offered it up to me. Good luck!

  14. Mrs. Famnancial

    Steve, I didn’t see your comment earlier. My heart aches for you. I am hoping you reached out to some of the resources others suggested. You are worthy of love and happiness. Please give yourself a chance!!!


  15. We are applying for preschool full time for our soon to be 3 year old as we speak. We are kind of experiencing what your going through right now with the sibling rule. The first one we applied to, we got accepted but only for part time since full time is filled up. The toddlers who have older siblings at school got higher priority than us and thus got the full time slots. It was ideal for us to go to that first preschool because it was close to my in-laws house and my son already knows a few kids in there, so it would have been great for him to get in.
    About the application fees, it does feel we are getting kind of cheated of paying for these application and interview fees and at the end do not get the answer we wanted. That first one we applied for, we had to pay for $150 total for those pre-enrollment fees and all we have to show for it is getting accepted for part-time which wasn’t our preference.

  16. My goodness, I really hope Steve is OK. Steve, I just wanted to share that I hope you read all these comments and decide against taking your life. Life is long and so much changes in ways you never can imagine or envision beforehand. Did you know that the majority of people who attempt suicide but fail end up not committing suicide in the long run? From a BBC article: “Some folks are determined to die and will find another way to do it. But others are impulsive one-timers who’d go on to have very happy and productive lives,” says Ted Miller, a principal research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. “That’s especially true of a lot of kids.” You said no one’s brain is fully developed until age 26. At not even 29, that means you are still just a little one. You’ve got so much living to do and that doesn’t mean a list of to do’s it just means you need to be alive and show up for it. I promise that much of it will sort itself out without you even doing much. I really and truly wish you all the best. Please respond here and let us know you made it through your dark days.
    Sam, I’m lucky in that our son is going to the community college’s childhood development center (he’ll start in March after he turns 2). I share the values of the place, two of our friends have kids in there, and the curriculum is thoughtful and nurturing. I went to public school once I immigrated to US at age 5, until I went to an elite private college. Although I went to public school, I think I got a lot of social advantages by being in tennis, taking private lessons, having a trainer, going to junior events for tennis, and then going to some pretty fancy summer camps. I still like to say that I learned to survive in the jungle by going to public school. I wouldn’t trade the way I grew up for anything. I value the diversity I got to live daily vs the life I live now as a higher income earner where it’s very homogeneous and rather elitist. I put up with it because I am saving money to live the way I want to live and to give my family more freedom. But that doesn’t mean I share the values of my country club and yacht club colleagues. It’s totally different in the cities which is why I moved out of LA and prefer to live outside of the city but in proximity to it for access to cultural events.

  17. Hi there, Sam. I live in the East Bay, by no means as intense as SF status/stress of virtually everything, but I am agreeing with some of the other readers that it really matters more to just spend time with your kiddo and not stress so much about whether he gets into the top preschool, etc. I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old. My 3 year old is in our city-run preschool in Pleasant Hill. There was a wait list, but he got on pretty quickly. There was no application fee or interview process. We just signed up and waited. It was pretty easy. At first he went twice a week, and now he goes three times a week, 9 to noon. What you guys have going on in SF sounds like crazy-town. I think that is not the reality for most of the nation’s cities. It might just be a NYC and SF Bay phenomenon? There are studies out there, if you are really interested, I could send them to you, that the healthiest thing you can do for your child below the age of 5 is to just spend time with them, singing to them, doing outdoor activities, letting them play with sand, water, dirt, letting them climb on trees, dancing, swimming, just having fun. That is their full-time job, to play. And that is mostly what they will be doing in preschool. Kids pick up on stress. If you are stressed, they will sense it and take on your stress. While I know signing up for schools is stressful because you care about his future and want the best for him, try to also have fun and enjoy your child so that he will remember you as a loving father, not a stressed father….just my two cents!

    1. Sounds good. It’s not so much crazy down. Parents just need to be on the ball given the high demand and low supply.

      Curious, do I sound really stressed?

      I ask b/c I’m not that stressed b/c we don’t think preschool is the end all be all as we’re both stay at home parents who spend all day with him. We’d like to go on an adventure actually.

      But the process is quite thorough. So hope this post encourages other parents to stay focused.

      Are you a stay at home parent as well?

      1. You sound like any normal concerned parent who wants the very best for their child. Not overly stressed, just slightly, ha! It is good of you to encourage parents to focus. I think that is commendable.

        I am currently working full time, and my husband is the stay-at-home parent. We are working very hard to save every penny so that we can both be part time this fall. My husband is normally an adjunct college professor who is on sabbatical right now to take care of our kids. He plans to go back to part-time teaching in the fall, and then I will go part time as well, so we can both share child-care duties. We want to see our kids grow up, too! It is really the greatest gift.

        We live in a neighborhood where every school they would go to is walking distance from our house, all the way up to community college. the community college is a tag program which dumps directly into the UC system, so we will try encourage our kids to go that route and transfer to a UC! But just in case they want a private university experience, we are funding their college funds, too. I personally went to a trade school, and that worked out great for me. My husband went the other route and worked out not so great for him. Education is tricky! Who knows what kind of child yours will be! He may get into Harvard, or he may really want to enter a trade! You just really don’t know. We can do all the worrying and prep of getting them into good preschools, grade schools, high schools, but the rest is up to them.

        I love reading your articles, by the way. You are really an inspiration to me!

  18. Mr. Rimmings

    Hey Steve,

    I may come off as the asshole here but I’m not telling you not to do what you intend to do. Because all we can do is speculate and offer advice. None of us have been exactly in your shoes.

    I will also tell you this:

    I started off at a private school my first half of life and was forced to go public 6th grade on out. I was made fun of constantly; on both ends of the spectrum. I’m now 6’4” and 135 pounds soaking wet. Having not changed much over the years and was constantly the butt end of many jokes. Tall and lanky with a skin condition. I was never very competitive or coordinated but my build forced me in sports. I’ve let everyone down for as long as I can remember. Individuals, coaches, teams, parent(s) (I only had the one the other one left when I was 3). Up into college I was average barely getting by, and always compared to others. Barely measuring up. “Tall for nothing”.
    Upon graduating. I could never hold anything steady because my anxiety wouldn’t let that happen.

    I won’t go into some long speech telling you what you shouldn’t be doing and I’m quite sure you’ve received the hotline number ad-nausem

    But I will say this:

    Take time to disconnect. To whatever you can to get away from norm. Get away from whatever shaped you to be what your current image of yourself is. Recreate you.

    I almost opt’d out myself after my closest cousin did the deed before me.
    Then I found out that I saved myself by traveling. Going (and staying) somewhere foreign. Somewhere where I barely knew the landscape or the the language at times. Where I could be lost without feeling lost. my odd was the norm and acceptable. My small wins were huge victories. I didn’t have to give the satisfaction of me giving up to my bullies, my parents, my coaches, my teammates, ANYONE.

    Again. What’s for you is for you only. But what I have found for me is losing myself.

    Good luck.

  19. Brandon Byrne

    Steve – Those bullies are total douches. You are not. Remember – It is good that you exist.

  20. I’m so glad you told us that you are thinking of suicide. I’m sad you are hurting. We as a community would like to help. I encourage you to text 741741 or call 800-273-8255 and share your story. I hope you keep talking to us.

  21. Steve- I’m so sorry you’re feeling so much pain.

    As a daughter of immigrants, I know how hard it can be to live up to expectations. That feeling of being an extension of your family versus being your own person is very real. Understand that they do not define who you were meant to be. You have your own value and gifts that you share with the world, as much as you think you don’t.

    What’s in your bank account, your status….none of this defines your value.

    I sincerely hope that you reach out to your loved ones. If you don’t want to talk to them, please call the hotline mentioned above. Ending your pain this way is not a solution. The world is so broken and fragile in so many ways, but there is so much beauty and joy to be had and discovered. Don’t let the broken parts of the world consume you. Choose the beauty, the good, the joyful. YOU can make this choice. Don’t feel like the choice was made for you.

    I wish you all the best.

  22. Hi Steve,
    I’ve been having some issues of my own when I was young, and I really hit the bottom at the age of 32 – I had become so anxious that I was no longer able to sleep at night, and was drained of all energy. I was seriously considering taking my own life.
    I then got some counselling. After 5 years of therapy with a psychotherapist, my life got much better.

    A friendly advice: you should go consult a psychotherapist – there are some good ones out there. I would recommend a psychotherapist specialized in behavioral therapy. It’s a form of therapy that helps you get rid of some habits and replace them with more positive ones. It is easy to put in practice and you can feel the positive changes rapidly.

    Please don’t attempt to take your own life. You are still very young – you have plenty of time to turn things around. I guarantee you that behavioral therapy will help you get through this bad phase and put you back on your feet.

    Take care,

  23. Hi Steve. First and foremost, please believe that you are NOT a loser. Your heartfelt comment above shows that you are a very caring person who tries hard. I’m so sorry to hear about the bullying you experienced and that you got fired from those jobs. That is a lot of weight to bear.

    What your words show me too is that you are a person who doesn’t give up. For example, you kept applying for new jobs and trying out new jobs. That’s WAY more than a lot of people would do. You are much STRONGER than you give yourself credit for.

    Please call this hotline 1-800-273-8255 to talk through your feelings. I think the more you share your feelings, the better you’ll feel and you’ll realize you are not alone. We all experience various setbacks in life and we can all overcome them at our own pace. Stay strong!

  24. My friend,

    Don’t commit suicide.

    I was once in the place where you are now. Everything sucked, I had no friends, my future prospects looked bleak. The life ahead of me looked unbearable. The thought of moving forward into that life gave me more pain than what I was already suffering from. Never mind the crap I had gone through already. Also bullying and loneliness. I wanted to end it.

    For an entire day I sat with a knife, wondering whether I should stab myself in the heart or slit my throat.

    I didn’t for 2 reasons. First, I realised that whilst I would be removing my pain, it wouldn’t disappear. It would instead be pushed onto my family. Everyone I loved and cared for would suffer for my act. I couldn’t do that to them.

    Having seen people I know in the years since do it I’m glad I didn’t. The people that cared about them are broken. The suffering I see there is incredible. I’m glad I didn’t inflict that on my family, and I feel deep sorrow for the people that do.

    The second reason was that I realised that my life sucked because of choices I had made, and thus if I made different choices, it could become better. The main thing is that I still had a choice about it. If I killed myself, that chance would be gone forever.

    So I called my parents and asked for help. They gave it. It put a financial strain on them for a few years, but they were willing to do it if it meant that I would still be around for a while longer.

    I will echo what Financial Samurai said, call your parents. Tell them how you feel and ask for their help. They just might surprise you with how much they are willing to give.

    And realise you are still here, you can still do something about it.

    I wish you strength.

  25. I knew someone who wanted the pain he was feeling to stop.

    He thought no one really understood him, and while he intellectually knew his parents loved him – the amount of effort they poured into what they thought was good for him proved it – he didn’t FEEL it.

    He had also been been bullied, and he thought that meant there was something wrong with him at a fundamental level.

    He also thought all this was permanent and unchangeable.

    How do I know this? He told me all about it, years later, after he got some help and resolved a number of things.

    I mean, can you imagine a time in the future, say a year from now, having successfully resolved so much of the pain, and telling someone how you did it?

    Because he started the process of stopping feeling so bad feeling by contacting a hotline and telling someone how bad it was. It didn’t matter that he knew it wouldn’t help – he called anyway because he thought, there’s no reason not to at this point. So he called a hotline and talked to someone.

    Because when you call and talk to someone who hears you, they know about your situation because they help people all the time with similar situations.

    He had problems, no doubt. And some things took longer than others to resolve. And yet, he made noticeable improvements over time. Everyone in his life noticed, to the point where what had seemed impossible simply ended up being difficult.

    So when I talked to him about it, years later, he seemed actually at peace with himself. When you see that image clearly, and step into that image so you understand what that feels like, you can realize that now is the time for you to call 1-800-273-TALK now.

  26. Hi Steve,

    Don’t commit suicide. You have provided incredible wisdom to me and my family and any other readers with kids or who plan to raise a family. We are very grateful. The fact that you spent time trying to share your knowledge means that you are very thoughtful and kind. We need more people like you in this world!

    I hate that you got bullied so much starting in middle school. And I’m angry your parents did not storm into the administration office and demand change. I will NEVER tolerate bullying because I experienced many bullying and racism instances since middle school as well.

    My one difference is that I fought back, even if I had a chance of getting beaten up. I knew that if I could get one smash in it would all be worth it. I was suspended multiple times in middle school and high school, and I got in trouble with the law too. My grades and test scores were quite similar to yours, b/c I really messed up freshman year and it was hard to make it back up as the grades were cumulative. Graduating high school was supposed to be an incredibly happy time, but for me, it was filled with tremendous uncertainty b/c I messed up bad.

    Know that when your back is against the wall, there is more upside, than downside. With 1.5 years more to go until 30, so much good can still happen. You don’t have to “make it” by 30. 30 is just an artificial age. Instead, shoot to get on a better path by 30 and know that with enough time and effort, good things will gradually start happening. After all, 40s is the new 30s. Visualize a better life at age 40.

    Please speak to your family, whom I’m sure want to hear what you have to say and want to support you. And please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the FS Forum as well. It’s a safe place where people have opened up to share their fears, goals, and solutions to problems we all face. I’ll be there for you as well.

    Please let me know how your conversation with your parents and brother go.



  27. I think it depends on your eventual goal. There isn’t much learning that happens in preschool/preK but the “right” preschool can be a feeder for a desired private school. It doesn’t sound like you’re interested in that path.

    There are a lot of child development schools of thought and sometimes it feels like there is too much choice. There are Montessori, immersion, IB, and even schools that require you to be electronically unplugged, etc. I would suggest touring them. One of our kids is happy no matter where he is. The other needs structure. We started at a place that had a lot of free play and one of our kids wasn’t happy. Now we are at a place that has a good balance of free play and structure to make both happy. I would choose the school based on your kid’s personality. Otherwise, drop off is hell. For other people, I would also suggest choosing a school that works for your job (proximity, extended care, etc) but that’s probably less of an issue for you.

    1. Currently we would love to send him to a language immersion school.

      Can you elaborate on the drop off being a help portion? What do you mean? Your care will fight to get out of the car because he doesn’t want to go if this personality does not fit the school style?

      1. If they don’t like the school, you literally can’t extricate yourself. They cling to your clothes and just cry. That can be part of any transition period but it should get better as they become accustomed to the new place unless they resent being there. That’s why all daycares and preschools aren’t created equal. As adults, we don’t like all the people we interact with. The same really applies to kids.

  28. As a parent with a child slightly older than Sam’s, what I would say is that daycare/preschool adds a lot. Kids like being around kids their own age. They like interacting, learning and socializing with their peers. Homeschooling by itself doesn’t replace preschool, it’s more likely homeschooling plus a bunch of activities and classes that also cost money.

    The money part. Although Sam can probably easily pay for the daycare cost without working, the logical way to look at it is Sam can work on this site, or consult and make significantly more per hour than the cost of preschool. In this case, it’s not like Sam is paying more to jump the line or more to get better quality. Sam is just paying for care at whichever place he likes that has a spot.

    Going back to the applications, of course you want your kids to go to the best options. This isn’t college with published rankings, but more like yelp with peer rankings and what you like. At the same cost, of course you want to choose the best, but the other question is, do the other schools that you don’t like as much also require you to visit and apply, and may not potentially have a spot either? If that is the case that preschool spots are limited and Sam needs a preschool spot to work, then why readers being so hard on Sam?

  29. Safety is the most important thing when it comes to selecting preschools. This is based on a video from an educator in China where preschool competition is much more fierce. They teach 2 year old kids to program there.

  30. Asian Couple in Vancouver

    Thanks for the post Sam. I havent seen any other posters mention this, we hope to save on daycare costs and preschool costs by having the grandparents take care of the kids. MIL and FIL retired early. MIL is great with our 12 month old daughter and they go to library events or meet ups with other parents found on Facebook group for socialization. My wife will also soon be back on maternity leave for 1 year for our second child so our mother-in-law won’t be solo for too long. Luckily my parents and an aunt and her family also live in the area and they give our mother-in-law a break and help with the groceries and cooking.

    We got married and had our first kid soon after graduate school with plans for 3 (wife) to 4 (me lol) more so we’re quite young in our careers and unfortunately we can’t afford private pre school or elementary school. We luckily live in a good school area, so our plan is to have grandparents help take care of each of the kids until kindergarten, send all the kids to public, and save up for private high school and college. If we had the money we would definitely try for private preschools, just to guarantee them a spot from K-Grade 12 at the prestigious private schools around here.

  31. I live in Canberra, Australia, population 400-500k. Here you need to register your child at birth for private school. Doing so gives you options. If you get into a good public school then you don’t have to take up the private school place. For daycare you need to get on the waiting list pretty much when the child is conceived… There can be up to a 3 year waiting list…

  32. Considering both of you have the time and flexibility of being stay at home parents. I’m genuinely curious what pre-school offers that you can’t do yourself? Socially, I’d imagine there are plenty of clubs/classes your child could partake in and academically, I don’t see how you can do much better than 1 on 1 teaching time. The subjects your child does well in, you can continue to build to more complex topics and the areas he struggles in, you can take your time to ensure he fully understands them. Compared to a class room setting where you tend to progress along the path of the average learner and those who learn faster are left bored and those who struggle are left to figure it out on their own time.

    1. I think it’s helpful to provide a classroom setting to three times a week before kindergarten starts. Also, it gives us a break from full-time parenthood after 2 1/2 years.

      Are you a stay at home parent? If so, how did you deal with preschool?

  33. This + house prices is exactly why we left the Bay Area when our first child was born. We now live in one of the 20 wealthiest counties in the country. I went to half a dozen pre-schools to interview THEM, took my kid for a visit to a couple, and was done with the process in a couple of weeks. The experience was good so we’ll just second kid to the same place.

      1. If we could have comfortably afforded a nice house, it would have made the decision harder. We were on about $320k at the time, so your linked post is directionally correct, but for $4k/month in house payments we would have been living in a shoe box.

        The other main factor was the culture you’re describing in this post. Interviewing for preschool, high pressure on kids in elementary to keep up with peers who get hours of after school tutoring, kids stepping in front of the CalTrains due to stress, etc. etc.

        It’s great the east Asian and Indian cultures value education so highly, but it’s created this ratchet for more and more education and education status that only goes in one direction in SV. Sure, it would be easy for us as adults to drop out of that, but a kid in school is influenced more by their peers than parents.

        We ended up moving to an East Coast suburb, paying $120/ sq. ft. for a house, and really no regrets. I do miss hiking in the redwoods though.

        1. Cool. Yeah, I’ve read and heard a lot of disatisfaction towards Asian cultures who emphasize the importance of education more than anything else. But I’m not sure What the solution is.

          I want to work on communication skills and interpersonal skills for my son the most since we don’t remember hardly anything in school. I also want to give him the gift of being bilingual or trilingual since our family speaks three languages.

          I honestly feel that I am too unconventional and relaxed as a parent because of my path. I do wonder whether being so chill about education on the importance of a fancy college will hurt my boy down the road. Therefore, I a lot Time to be that on the ball parent In order to have options.

  34. You sound like my husband. The tone in which you perceive your disadvantages shows you really think of these as disadvantages. As a reader, I dont see them as disadvantages at all, different yes, but not a disadvantage. There are so many, many ways to be successful in life, and yes I have kids.

    1. Are you fighting with your husband? What are some of the outlook differences between you and him?

      When there is a 95% rejection rate, you’ve got to get realistic about your situation. Otherwise, you’re just going to be bitterly disappointed all the time if you expect to always win.

      What did you guys end up doing with your kids for preschool? And what strategies and wisdom can you impart on the rest of us?

      I think it’s gonna be fun to chronicle the results. When you have to stay at home parents can homeschool and you have your own business, I feel the downside to getting rejected everywhere is limited. And in fact, there is a huge positive to getting rejected, so we can go travel or move to Hawaii.

      1. we disagree on this and private school :) I agree you got to be realistic, but it hit a nerve when you say “small network” as a disadvantage. I am an introvert, and yes my network is small, but I dont connect that to my sons ability to get into a good preschool. It is what it is. I accept myself and find a good fit regardless.

        We ended up jumping a few daycares/preschools before we got into one that we and the kids liked, waitlisted for over a year. The first school you get into, even if you perceive it to be great, will likely not be the final one!

  35. Both of my kids went to a great preschool, my daughter is still there and will go to KG in August. They have academic program that prepares her for school, but more importantly teaches her the socialization skills that are so important for the transition to school…eating & packing away lunch, going to the bathroom alone, standing in line, sitting in a group and focusing on the teacher etc. I truly believe the socialization aspect is more important than the academics at this age. In America we are very focused on how our kids compare to others, this is not the case in other countries. I just read a book called The Happiest Kids In The World, it compares the US & UK to the Dutch system where kids aren’t expected to be reading until ages 6-7. This book really made me check my behaviour as a parent.

    My daughter’s preschool tuition is $1010 per month for 5 days, it seems like an absolute bargain compared to SF! You should rent a place up here and send him to preschool 3 days a week…the Napa Valley is a beautiful place to be and very family friendly!!

    1. Seems pretty cheap! I wonder about the Dutch though. Yes, they are always considered one of the happiest countries in the world. But I haven’t heard much productivity out of that wonderful country in a couple decades.

  36. Terri Leighton

    HI Sam,

    Our neighbor had told us about a parent co-op preschool that we took advantage of for both our boys and it has been a highlight of our early years with our children. My husband and I were able to take advantage since both our schedules working for network tv gave us funky flip flopped hours where we were able to share our required days with the co-op. Some great advantages were:

    Number one being able to share in their early learning experiences and to really get a handle on how they both differently handle the learning process that has helped us now that the boys are in middle school. One boy handles challenges and stresses totally differently than our other boy. When our 8th grader currently has difficulties we have learned a few tricks of the trade to get him back on track instinctively.

    We met so many other wonderful parents that we still have stayed up to date with as our boys have grown. One is still my second son’s best friend in 5th grade!

    You learn so much from other parents that have been either going through the same struggles so you don’t feel so alone or have older kids that have been through the same issues. There is also always someone that is going through something worse than you to help you keep things into perspective.

    The cost savings is considerable!!!

    You never get this time back and it does go fast. Our co-op was one day on and one day off but there are all different kinds of schedules you can arrange.

    I remember how bittersweet it was when our last finally went off to kindergarten on his own. (also schools like the fact that you volunteered in a co-operative – shows that you are still willing to go the extra mile)

    I looked up to see if there were any co-ops in your area and came up with this link:

    I hope this helps!

  37. That’s a crazy situation to be in, I would not want to be competing on behalf of my kids at such an early age! What do other families do if there is such a high rejection rate, yet a large number of people that can afford to pay tuition? I presume that a large number of families have two parents working full time that are unable to homeschool. I live in the north bay and have no experience of this insane process.

    Interestingly I read this article from the WP this morning, the pressure starts with parents of preschoolers and goes all the way on to college and beyond. I like to think that I’ll not submit, but who knows what the reality will be.

    1. What did you end up doing with your kids?

      All I want are options.

      I’m happy to live the unconventional, vagabond, entrepreneurial lifestyle. But I’m also curious to see about the conventional and whether we can get in.

  38. I did an expensive and competitive preschool for my son but it doubled as a daycare since I work full time. I found that the primary benefit of preschool was the socialization for the kids and parents. I still had to teach my child to read and do math at home because he didn’t have the attention span to learn well in a group environment at that age. He went on some great field trips and learned lots of songs and got exposed to different sports and another language. He also made some great friends who he’s still close with now in elementary school, and I know their parents well from volunteering and school events. He had lots of play dates that were sourced from preschool, and it felt like there was a birthday party every weekend. Since our community is pretty small, we run into each other in school and sports programs, etc., and it feels like many of the kids will remain friends through high school, but that’s probably not true and things will change as people move or develop specific interests and make new friends.

  39. On top of your suggestions to increase your odds at admission, we did one thing that I didn’t realize was out of the norm at the time. Instead of doing the open house circuit, we called the school and asked to do a site visit at their convenience. During the site visit just my husband and I met with the administration and saw classrooms in action. That visit was purely one-sided at the time in my view, we wanted to see if the place would be a good fit for our son. However, in hindsight it also exposed the administration (the people on the admissions committee) to us and let them know they were going to be dealing with generally useful and rational humans interested in raising a generally useful human and not self-entitled tools who would make their lives painful. While we are in flyover country this school routinely gets four to six times the number of applications for their space allowances. Early educators aren’t paid well and doing business with likable people does enter the equation.

    1. Cool. I think every preschool we applied to requires mandatory site visits, before and/or after. We’ve gone to 4, and waiting for the other 5 after getting word or not.

      We wouldn’t send our son to the preschool without a site visit and spending at least an hour or two. Got to get a good feel first.

  40. Living in Austin Texas we have found the wait getting into some of these schools for our daughter was a 2 or 3 year wait. What helped getting in was attending school functions, opening houses and making an effort to be a part of the community before we were even accepted. It’s not enough to just complete an application. Getting accepted into a top tier school makes it easier to move around to another school for kindergarten, Montessori or another school. It’s a stepping stone and any new school you apply to later looks at the previous school history and can give the benefit of the doubt that your child has already been through a process for one of these top tier schools. Being self employed, I beg you to check out Acton Academy in addition to the Eagle and Parent blog, it has upended and changed our concepts of what an eduction is and can be. Parents are moving across the country and around the world to attend these sochriatic schools.

    1. Very cool. Will check those sites out.

      I totally agree about getting involved in the community. We are stay at home parents, so we WANT to be immersed in the community and do a lot of volunteer work with the school and such.

  41. Count me in among those who are not really surprised by the info in this post. I am not really shocked or feel critical to your decision to spend the money you did on the applications (wait till your son starts applying for college with the ease of the Common Application…you’ll double or more the preschool amount…).

    I am surprised by one comment (“if he doesn’t get in, we will home school him”). In my experience, pre-school isn’t about learning very much. Since my wife and I both worked full time when the kids were pre school age (well, we still work full time…), we looked at pre-school as a way to get the kids into a place where they (and we) could socialize. Almost all of our best friends to this day are parents of the kids our oldest went to preschool with (he’s a junior in college now). Those friendships have meant the world to us. So, consider a preschool with parents that will likely have the same values as you, because that will be most comfortable for you and your wife, and potentially facilitate friendships that will enrich you in ways not monetary.

    Also, the other kids in the preschool you choose (and chooses you I guess) will be your sons de facto “friends”. Thus, if you don’t mesh with the parents, it can be awkward, because play dates for 3-5 year olds don’t happen at the kid’s insistence, but rather parent’s planning. If you don’t fit in (for whatever reason), it can be awkward.

    As others have said, I wouldn’t stress about the academic rigor of the pre-school. Your son will learn to read etc when he is ready, not on the pre-school timetable.

    1. I agree about the importance of opening up to socialization, hence one of the reasons why we’ve applied to preschool.

      What would you say is the alternative to preschool if a child does not get in, if not homeschool?

      There are a lot of dads and moms groups and meetups for playdays 2-3X a week.

  42. What exactly defines a “top” preschool? SAT scores? Nobel laureate alumni? Or, it’s where everybody goes–more like a trendy restaurant?

    If the latter–and I can’t imagine hard data that makes things clearer than this–then I think there would be an opportunity to find the best fit for yourselves, rather than following the herd. Close to home? Similar ethics / spirituality? (in Dublin, they call this the “ethos” of the school) Flexibility / range of experience? (i.e. student-led) It would be like having a favorite restaurant being some out of the way, hole in the wall. Only, with your family’s future at stake.

    And further, how often does such opinion change? If often, then that’s another sign this may be a fad, with little lasting consequence. If never, then it’s just another way for some privileged group to reinforce and limit its ranks. What is the balance between genuine merit and just another form of conspicuous consumption?

    Dublin is just as crazy in one respect: there are frequently waiting lists for creches. (a cross between day care and preschool) But proximity is just as important as curriculum for a city with a lot of people using public transport and/or biking. There are tons of choices, generally following a Montessori practice, but with a variety of available approaches. This means things are competitive enough that there is no application fee. Costs are in line, because they are often not publicly supported. (although that, too, is an option if the creche wants to follow the requirements) But the decision here seems much more based on your own criteria, rather than some general consensus of “the best.” There is no experience or trial to pit one versus another, to determine such a thing.

    1. Low student teacher ratio, proximity, where the kids go after, online reviews, history, etc.

      Again, the price is roughly the same the matter of the rating, so why not apply to the better ones.

      What did you end up doing for your kids?

      1. We found a non-profit International Baccalaureate school, so our son is technically in pre-K rather than preschool. He goes 1/2 day, with tuition about $5k. (full day will go up to $8k) We had 2 IB schools (the other part of Nord Anglia, a for-profit company) and 2 small Montessori schools that we chose among–they all had openings for us. None of them had application fees.

        If our son was not performing as well as he does, (he tested as reading at a 2nd grade level last April) we would be looking at a local, free public school.

  43. Wow, Sam. That’s such a tough process, unlike anything we see out here in the burbs.

    As part of our upcoming move, we were just doing the public school vs. private school debate for our kids. Definitely a tough call, but we went with the public school option a bit further from jobs — it makes a difference that we have four (4 kids x 12 years x $___ adds up!). But, with one child living in the city, it makes total sense to focus on high-end private schools for FS Jr.

    All I can offer is to put your best foot forward and diversify applications. Apply to 10 schools and then pick among those you’re accepted to. I’ve always been pretty disappointed by the process when getting “rejected” for private schools at the elementary or below, but it’s just a reality. Once you find your school / community, the #1 factor in success is the combined teacher / parent combo, which you’ll thrive due to staying at home.

    Good luck!!


      1. We’ve been doing Montessori and have been very happy with those programs. Currently paying around $14,000 a year for pre-K, I suspect we’ll find something similar but haven’t lined it up yet.

        If you haven’t considered Montessori schools (focused on self-directed learning), I highly recommend looking into it as an option…!

  44. In the context of thinking you are a pretty good guy and well-intentioned, you are a numbers person – do you have any proof that an upscale preschool is the best choice for your child? Or is it just the best choice for you, which is what it seems to me. Who you are and the way you act day to day is how you add value your child’s later life.

    1. Yes. There is scientific correlation between the amount of care and love one gives a child and how they do academically and how much are they become as adults.

      We figure we might as well give our son the most love and care as possible and let nature take it’s course.

      1. You don’t have it Sam. You know hyper pre school is not the same as care. It may be the opposite for all you know and your claim of correlation does not hold up.

        Beyond that, it is a common error to assume intentional acts make the difference when it is really te repeated unintentional acts that we are typically not aware of that really make the difference.

        1. Have what? I Know I only make $1200 a month as an assistant tennis coach, but it takes time to build up my pay. Although, we did win the championship last year, which is the first time in school history so that should count for something.

          We applied to a lot of progress of preschools that are play based. Not sure how “hyper” they are considered.

          1. You do not have the correlation you claim — upscale preschool does not equate with care.

            Read about the players on World Champion Little League teams for some insight.

  45. Joseph Beckenbach

    You “want the best” for your child, yet seem (to me) to be unconsciously buying into “the more elite/expensive, the better”. You and your wife might have decided that directly, but I feel this article doesn’t demonstrate that.

    When in Silicon Valley with our very young children, we had similar ratios of expenses as yours. My wife and I decided that “the best” for each of our pre-K children was at home. Part of it was having one grandparent around occasionally, part was an extremely active and safe neighborhood we helped keep that way, and part was recognizing that (at least for our ancestors and ourselves) quality of help in early education didn’t seem to change what paths (and doors) were open to us later in life.

    A potential job description for you, in case you feel you absolutely *must* play games with the status-minded (and their minds? ;-) — “family-office portfolio manager”. That’s not even bending the truth, unless you handle the household investments at the kitchen table. :-)

    1. Heh, Sam send me $1 for an Etsy business my kid will start and you are an angel investor located in the SF area with investments across the nation.

      I’ll buy you a Starbucks coffee the next time you are east coast and you’ll have 500% returns…

      You can obviously and honestly state you are highly successful as an entrepreneur and leave it as that rather than assistant coach without gaming the system at all.

      1. Here’s my hope for why I say I’m a writer and assistant tennis coach:

        The school that admits us based on this background is the type of school we want to attend and support.

        School is about child development first and foremost, not about prestige, power, and money. As a teacher myself, I just want to teach and not get deep into the politics of money and power.

    2. Again, it’s like looking up a restaurant on Yelp before going to eat. If I’m going to pay $70 for a dinner, I might as well try out the five star rated restaurants rather than the two star rated restaurants for the same price.

      Cost is not an issue for us. It’s actually the last of our concerns fortunately. We’re focused on the quality of teaching, quality of care, proximity, flexibility of schedule, and where the kids go after.

      I really think 2 to 3 days a week would be great for preschool. But I know running a preschool is a business and many programs have mandatory five days a week.

      What were some of the activities you did for your child to help with socialization at age 2 to 5? Was one of you or both of you stay at home parents? Thanks

  46. All I can say is Wow.

    I didn’t realize how cutthroat preschool admission can be in the big cities and so glad that I didn’t have to go through the process. Like you I would probably have been guilted into it.

    It is wild at how expensive it is and in the grand scheme of things preschool has absolutely no bearing on how successful a child is going to be later on.

    I personally feel it is not until middle school and high school that what you do in academics really makes a difference in your future and at that point may explore the best options for your kids.

    Best of luck Sam with the process. It is impressive that you did not reveal that you are Financial Samurai in the applications which probably would have given you a huge leg up.

    1. I agree regarding middle school and high school being much more important. At this stage, it’s all about love and attention. And who can give more love and attention then to stay at home parents right? That’s why I’m torn sending my kid off to preschool at age 2 1/2 for more than three days a week.

      I like this one school that has a two day a week program. But it only has four spots for non-sibling applications when over 100 apply.

      There are schools that are five days a week, but I think that’s too much for a 2 1/2-year-old boy. We want to spend time with him!

  47. I grew up in Baltimore city. My parents knew that public schools were out of the question if they wanted me to have a future of non-incarceration or to not be killed. But they did send me to public pre-school, since even kids in Baltimore don’t have enough dexterity to shoot a gun at that age. But they’re close

  48. Tripplefiguy

    Very insightful article. I don’t have experience from a big city perspective but can attest to this situation in a fairly small coastal town. We are on the waiting list right now for the one ideal preschool our town has. They allow entry beginning at age 1 as kind of a “pre” preschool. Idk if we’ll get our kid in that early but still an option if only for a couple days a week. Price is less that half of your prices per month. I think the situation with trying to get in is a little similar because there simply arn’t very many preschools here relative to the population of children. We went and visited/got him on the waiting list a month after he was born and had 4 people ahead of us.

    I don’t think there’s much to worry about yourself. You could always just say you are a finance writer without mentioning FS. I wouldn’t. I did have a question for you Sam relating to the privacy issue. How do you manage your privacy with your connection to FS and your family/relatives and friends? Do you just not tell anyone you have a blog?

    Also, as far as if the upper eshelon preschools rejecting you based on race or what have you, why would you want your son to attend there anyways if that is how they do business? Just my thoughts.

    1. Age of one sounds more like daycare? Good luck getting in.

      Given there is a 95% rejection rate, there’s no point telling people who will likely reject you and then you have lost some privacy to strangers.

  49. Hi Sam,

    I was in your shoes about two years ago! Currently, my son is in senior preschool level at a private preschool in SF. He’s turning 5 next month. I have decided to place him in public school going forward. I moved to millbrae two years ago so that he would be able to attend public school from K-high school since the school district is pretty good here. They assign schools based on the street you live on. Thought the application process for public school in millbrae is not as bad as when I helped him apply to private preschool in SF, it is still a bit of paperwork. I’m currently filling out the forms and compiling all the documents needed.

    Good luck! Hope your son gets into a good school. I feel your “struggle”. :)

      1. We bought in millbrae two years ago. The ultimate reason was for the school district. I heard Burlingame has a good school district as well.

  50. Home school is the way to go! All the same access to information, but without the brainwashing! Teaching math, reading, and writing is the easy part. After that, the further learning will be up to you as the parent.

    1. Homeschool is a definite back up plan since we can both do it. We just want options. I’m just doing the math I am looking at the acceptance rates, it’s a necessity to apply it to this many schools.

  51. I am not a parent yet but this post is a bit silly. How a child does in pre-school as little bearing on how they do in high school or beyond. You can likely just send them to any old pre-school and you would be fine. Sure there might be huge differences but not ones that will affect their future significantly. Kids catch up with their peers eventually, and if there is any difference in kindergarten, they will catch up within the year and then everyone will be equal again.

    Go for what you want, but don’t stress too much if you don’t get your top pick. And please don’t feel guilty. This is another example of keeping up with the Joneses. If anything, I’m sure these schools propagate the notion that your child “must” be at their school to succeed in life which is ridiculous.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, it just infuriates me when the “must go private school” thing makes it all the way to pre-K.

    1. Thanks for your perspective as a non-parent. I’m sorry this post has infuriated you. What are some other things that infuriate you and maybe we could discuss?

      I don’t know, but for some reason very little makes me angry anymore. Maybe it’s just the freedom we have and more the go with the flow attitude. Since we are financially independent and have a business we can teach our son, we’re really not sweating it.

      However, if the cost of preschool is the same no matter the quality, what would be the reasons not to apply to the best rated preschools? I’m hoping someone can answer this question for me.

      As a non-parent, do you have any other advice for parents? What were some of the things your parents did to you that was good and positive and some of the things that were negative? What are the some of the things you wish your parents could’ve done more?

      Check out this post:

      1. Sam, I agree with you that if the cost of preschool is the same no matter the quality, why would you NOT apply to the best ones? Getting into “any old preschool” could be the fallback “Plan B”, or, actually, home school (with group excursions/structured play dates) is probably the best “Plan A”. ;)

        I do think proximity should be a high level selection criteria for a school. One of the biggest complaints my hubby has against his parents is that they made him attend a public high school that was much further away from their house than the one all his neighborhood friends attended. He was the first one on the bus in the morning and the last one off the bus in the afternoon for the hour long school bus commute. Although the more distant school was brand new, the only things he remembers is how much he hated that bus ride, how much he missed his neighborhood friends, and how disappointed he was that his parents never expended the effort to fill out the paperwork needed to transfer him to the nearer school (which his younger brother ended up attending once the school boundary lines changed).

        Over the years I’ve given his parents the benefit of the doubt that they simply wanted him to attend a brand new high school in a higher social economic area; he always told me they were too lazy to make the effort needed to obtain a school transfer for him. After many, many, MANY years, I’ve come to the conclusion that his reasoning was most likely correct. To this day he still thinks his parents never had his best interests at heart. It is a sad thing to go through life thinking your parents don’t love you.

        So yes, put in whatever effort you need to now in applying to those top rated preschools. Because you just never know what might happen, and you certainly don’t want your son to end up 30 years from now thinking you didn’t love him just because you never submitted some stupid paperwork.

        1. That is kind of sad about how your husband feels about his parents. But at the end of the day, how did your husband turn out? Where did he go to college and what does he do for a living? If he’s doing OK, and then maybe it was all worth it.

          1. Despite (?) his parents, my hubby turned out to be a wonderful, compassionate human being with a big heart. He started a union job at age 17, so made way more money (at the time) compared to his high school peers. Thus he didn’t much see the need to go to college, although not getting a college degree has been one of his biggest regrets. Hubby stuck with his union job for 33 years (to qualify for a pension), retiring “early” a month before turning 50 after suffering a heart attack about a year earlier.

            About three years after we married, I went back to school for a BS in Computer Science from a nearby UC campus. I ended up working as a system / software engineer for a local aerospace company for almost 29 years, retiring “early” at age 55 (with both a 401(k) and a pension).

            The one thing he does thank his Dad for is being the greatest contributing factor behind his stubborn determination to last 33 years in his union job, most of which was spent working six nights per week.

    2. Non-parents who give advice to parents house to be one of the silliest things ever.

      What makes you think you know anything about parenting? You haven’t even gone through the preschool application process so why do you feel compelled to give advice?

      Did you stay at the Holiday Inn last night or something and suddenly think you know everything?

  52. The amount and quality of time you spend with your kid has far more impact in terms of learning than any pre-school classes.

    “For very high scores on the shared environments (1.5 SD’s above the mean), there is no appreciable achievement disparity between children who had attended preschool and those who had not.”!po=68.3673

    So for parents of high socioeconomic status that provided high cognitive stimulus for their kids the effects of pre-school was essentially 0.

    That pretty much describes your family doesn’t it? Jumping on the asian tiger parent treadmill seems counterproductive…especially for someone that is FI with passive income that doesn’t have to be geographically anchored.

    Now if your kid was going to grow up in a insular environment where social prestige is tied to which preschool through high school they went to then maybe it’s worth worrying about. But that doesn’t seem like your family.

    1. This is great to know. Another reason why I’m not worried given we both spend so much time with him.

      If the cost of preschool is the same no matter the quality, what would be the reasons not to apply to the best rated preschools?

      1. There is still a spread in dollar cost between schools that might be minor to those that are FI but significant to other families. Also, there is an issue in terms of proximity and travel time.

        Why wouldn’t you apply to the best rated schools? There’s a difference in teaching styles between Montessori, Waldorf, religious, traditional, etc.

        We looked at Waldorf and said no even though it was highly rated by some and picked a lower rated Montessori due to proximity and low teacher turnover rate. We liked another highly rated school but the teacher turnover rate was huge which implied to me that there was systemic management issues.

        The super elite schools were about 20 mins away but impractical due to cost and time.

        School rating is very subjective in many cases.

  53. My city (94080, your neighbor) has a well regarded and affordable city run preschool. It has a 4 year waiting list. Our frugality and budget prevented us from even considering private so we waited. And waited. As a result, my two kids “only” got about 1.5 years on average in preschool.

    But that’s fine. The important thing is that they had a foundation for reading, math and most importantly – getting used to the school environment and schedule – so they hit the ground running in Kindergarten. In general, they are doing great at an above average (but not award winning) public elementary school in our district.

    That being said, I do have friends with the competitive parenting mindset who make me feel guilty about “above average.” These well intentioned folks go as far as renting small apartments in Millbrae or Palo Alto to be part of those districts. And every time my kid acts up or doesn’t perform in school, I start to think: should I’ve sent them to private school? a charter school? Should I sell my house so I can trade a mediocre Bay Area district for a top performing district in say, Sacramento?

    The anxiety over parenting in the Bay Area is real. Along with the extreme cost of living, it’s hard to settle down and have a family, even if you’re as financially secure as the Financial Samurai.

    1. That is one long wait list! Parents have to apply before they know they’re even having a child?

      Because I went to public school, I feel fine that the matter what route we take after preschool things will turn out fine.

      I think it’s important for parents to just get on the ball and understand the process because it can be quite arduous.

      I also feel pretty sanguine because worst case, our son has me and his mother to learn from. We want to teach him, and there is an online business to teach him practical knowledge as well when he grows up.

      In a way, I feel like when I did when I was consulting and didn’t need the money, or when I was going to business school and didn’t need to go to business school part time. I think this will be an interesting journey and I’m excited to see where it takes us.

      I really just like to write about my experiences and reflect down the road.

      I’m sure you guys will do just fine!

      1. Yes. Preschool applications are a racket. It they were honest and upfront about the odds hen id be less upset about how much I’ve spent on application fees with no spots to show for it. We have been waitlisted which is basically no mans land. I think it’s criminal to take families money knowing you will not be offering a spot to most of them. I’m totally over it.

  54. I remember when my sister found out she was moving to the Bay Area she was freaking out about finding a preschool for her son. You speak so many truths in this post for parents who live in big cities and the surrounding areas like the Bay Area. She was smart to apply as soon as she found out she’d be moving and got her son on the waitlist at a few schools. By the time she relocated a spot opened up so she was lucky. It wasn’t her top choice school but it was on her preferred list.

    I know parents who live in Manhattan who’ve gone through exactly the same thing as you Sam, so you’re definitely not alone. I think it’s worse in Manhattan but I can’t say for sure from my own experience.

    You’ve done a lot of research and done a lot of prep work to try and get your son into one of your top choices, so even if it doesn’t work out at least you won’t have any regrets. If you didn’t apply to any and waited until the last minute and couldn’t get in to any of them then you’d probably always wonder, what if…

    In any case I’m sure things will work out just fine no matter what happens. Best of luck!

    1. Yes, Manhattan seems even more competitive.

      Great to hear about your sister. I really think good things happen when parents are on the ball. You don’t want to miss opportunities out of not being thorough.

      I’ve seen this happen so many times!

  55. Wow, this is so stressful! I’m a little stunned you turned around and decided to apply to private pre-school after that how-a-private-school-will-cost-you-$1M post, but I guess this might be the best option in SF if you don’t want to move.

    All colleagues of mine send their kid to private pre-school here as well. At $60k, that’s the cost of college! We will probably move to a city where there is a good public school system (and no income tax!) so hopefully, we won’t have to deal with this. I went to a great college without expensive school so I think my kid can do the same if we go somewhere with a really good public or magnet school.

    Thanks for giving your perspective on it all! I’m interested to see how it turns out. Maybe the non-tech/professional/finance careers you guys put down will be seen as diversity in their eyes?

    1. There is a program called Free School For All in SF, but I don’t think we qualify for subsidy grants, nor would we want to take up subsidy space for other families more in need. But I’m more than happy to check them out if anybody wants to make some suggestions.

      $60K for preschool? Never heard of that. Which city? Manhattan? Preschool prices for our schools range from around $8,800/year for two days a week all the way to $31K/year for 5 days a week for dual language immersion.

      We prefer just 2-3 days a week since we want to spend time with him.

      1. Pre-K is preschool right? Horace Mann costs about there (tuition + activities fees + donations, etc), but I did mean to type just school though, my bad!

        1. Yep. I see it costs $36K – $51K! Damn! The $51K SF equivalent is $31K.

          The strategy many parents employ is to get their kids in early, even though they know the cost is extremely high so that they can just attend the school through 12th grade.

          There are different common entry points (rushes) e.g. Kindergarten, 6th grade, 9th grade.. so if you can go way early, or go off cycle and have the flexibility, this helps.

  56. Christine Minasian

    I am at a complete loss for words….
    Sam….you are better than this! Look what you achieved in your life and you didn’t go to an elite PRE-SCHOOL or University!!!!

    I need to go have a drink now….my anxiety is off the charts for you.

    1. Hope the drink tasted good!

      Most preschools are private or co-ops in the city or simply cost money. We don’t qualify for tuition subsidies, nor do we feel good accepting subsidies. They aren’t for us.

      If the cost of preschool is roughly the same, depending on days needed, what would the reason be to not apply to the top schools?

      It’s Kindergarten – 12th grade where we have the right to public options. Preschool, not so much.

      Happy to hear suggestions and solutions. I really don’t have much anxiety over this process. I thought it’d be interesting to highlight how rigorous it can be, and then share our success/failure rate later. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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