The Importance Of Money And Status For Getting Into Private School

If you have a baby or toddler or are planning to have a baby, this post is for you. I've been running an interesting, real-life, real-time experiment on how hard it is to get ahead if you have below-average money and little status.

In 2017, we ended up applying to three preschools that accepted toddlers as early as two for the 2019/2020 school year. We then applied to five more preschools between SF and Honolulu that accepted toddlers after three for 2020/2021. We didn't know what we were doing so we decided to play it safe.

Private schools are always stressing diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, diversity and inclusion are theoretical goals made difficult to achieve because they are stymied by deep-rooted admission practices such as legacy admissions, bribery, and quid-pro-quo legal donations.

Applying To School Without Money, Status, Or Connections

To see if our diversity experiment would work, here's what we did:

1) On the part of the application where it asked for the parent's occupation, I wrote “writer and high school tennis coach” and my wife wrote, “stay at home parent/writer.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for a writer is roughly $62,000. An assistant high school tennis coach makes roughly $1,100 a month during the three or four-month long season.

In other words, my occupation put me at roughly 30% below the median household income for San Francisco. Further, a ~$65,000 income is not enough to comfortably afford the median rent in San Francisco either, based on spending no more than 30% of your gross income.

I figured perhaps these harder to get into preschools would be happy to take parents who weren't all techies, bankers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and doctors.

2) We knew parents and people on the boards at preschool 1 and preschool 2. Despite our connections, we didn't name drop and just left the section where it asked who we knew, blank.

3) We tried to make our application as strong as possible in other ways. We emphasized our flexible schedules and our ability to volunteer a lot in the community. We mentioned how we would help build out their respective websites with content about the school when they asked. I also emphasized my high school coaching, since it is a target high school for many of these kids.

How Did We Do Getting Into Preschools?

The Importance Of Money And Status For Getting Into Private School

We got rejected by preschool 1, a preschool located about a 17-minute drive away from our home. We liked the school because of the campus and the proximity to my tennis club. The people were nice, but we simply had no in. The admissions director said there were 80 applicants for 1 non-sibling spot.

Given I only visited the campus once, didn't have a referral letter, and so much time had passed between application and rejection, the rejection didn't sting at all. The admissions officer reached out to explain the situation about the number of applicants, and that if we wanted to stay on the wait-list, we would be at the top. I'm sure he said this to many parents.

We also got rejected by preschool 2, a Mandarin-immersion school about a 25-minute drive away. My dad thought we were crazy to apply to a preschool so far away. But we applied anyway despite the distance and the $32,000 a year in tuition because we value language. The school is relatively new, having only been founded in 2008.

Despite the distance, cost, homogeneity of socioeconomic backgrounds, the poor surrounding location, relatively short operating history, and a seemingly greater focus on running a business than a preschool, this rejection stung. We visited the school twice; I thought I had a good interview; we even had a playdate.

Their rejection hurt because they had wasted so much of our time and didn't reach out personally about the rejection like the admissions director at preschool 1 had done. Instead, the school sent out a blast e-mail and that was it. For the $100 application fee, at least they could have sent out something with a more personal touch and instructions for what to do next.

Because of these rejections, I decided to investigate and try to understand why we failed in order to help other parents or parents-to-be better prepare for the preschool/grade school admissions process.

Make no mistake about it, when it comes to private preschool, elementary, and middle schools, the school is interviewing both the parents and the child.

From the board member at preschool 2 and a couple of private grade-school parents, here are perhaps some reasons why we didn’t get in.

Related: How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School

Getting In Is All About Money And Status

When I shared with the board member at preschool 2 what I had done, he was flummoxed.

The board member asked, “Why didn't you come to me for help? I would have put in a good word. Also, given we are finishing up a multi-million dollar campus expansion, we are in heavy fundraising mode. We need families who have the financial means to pay not only the $31,240/year in tuition, but also donate $5,000 on average per year.”

I already knew preschool 2 was heavily fundraising because there was a huge banner right in the entrance that said something like, “Help us raise $1,000,000 for our school expansion!” It turned me off each time I went because it felt like I was going to a fundraiser instead of to a school.

The board member continued, “If preschool 2 is expecting a parent to pay $36,000 a year in tuition and donations after-tax, they would naturally be disinclined to admit a kid whose parents might only make $45,000 a year after-tax.”

Even if you don't apply for financial aid initially, based on history, there is a high probability you eventually will. Given you are not an underrepresented minority, your minority status does not really help diversify the school base.” he went on.

Further, what happens when you decide to have another kid? There's no way you can afford $72,000 a year in after-tax tuition alone compared to the parents who make $500,000+ a year. Schools such as ours want well-to-do parents who will provide a pipeline of continuous income for hopefully at least a decade. From a business perspective, a family with a trophy kid (4th kid) is much more attractive than a family with only one kid.

All of what my friend said made sense. I just didn't want to face the truth, especially due to the ongoing college bribery scandal and the Harvard discrimination lawsuit that has kept me perpetually perplexed about the private school system.

To get additional perspectives, I then talked to several other private school parents who knew my background. They also scratched their heads after learning about my experimentation.

One father who has since pulled his four kids out of a private school due to the cost and his divorce told me this interesting nugget, “Our school tried to have more diversity over the years. But the problem is there was a much higher dropout rate by kids who grew up in lower-income, underrepresented minority households. The kids who dropped out couldn't keep up with the course load because they either didn't have two parents, had parents who were always busy, or didn't have the financial means to get extra tutoring.

When a kid drops out, it disrupts the classroom and the entire community. Friendships are broken and administrators scramble to fill the hole. The admissions office determined that it was no longer worth their time and effort to try and attract minorities and poorer families due to their elevated dropout rate. This is why you see so much homogeneity at the private grade school level.

How To Get Your Kids Into Private School

If you want to get your kids into the best private preschools and grade schools you must make yourself look as rich and powerful as possible. The schools aren't interviewing so much the kid, as they are the parents.

Schools need to know that you won't flake on tuition. Just like how some people flake on their credit card debt, mortgage debt, auto loan debt, and student loan debt, some parents sometimes won't be able to pay their tuition either. The ability and willingness to pay are huge!

By showing that you are rich with a good amount of status based on your resume and Google search, you will increase your chances of getting your child in. By having a network of friends with relationships to the school, you get to piggyback off their goodwill and increase your odds of admission as well.

You need to be seen as a golden goose who will be able to perpetually donate money during every fundraiser. You must demonstrate that you are a great referral pipeline and will get similar types of families into the community.

Please do not believe that because you are an artist or work at a non-profit helping underprivileged children for a living, you have a greater chance of getting your kid into a private school. Private schools don't want diversity as much as they want/need money. They cannot rely on government assistance to fund their operations, therefore, it is only natural that funding plays a predominant role in admissions.

If you don't believe me? Look at Harvard University and other private universities. Harvard University has a ~$38 billion endowment. Yet they have a massive overrepresentation of kids coming from the top 1%, refuse to scrap legacy-based admissions that favor the rich, and aggressively fundraise every year.

Share of students at various Ivy League schools who come from the top one percent income levels

Recognize The Reality Of Money And Status

If you want to participate in society's games, then you must play by their rules. Have as much money, power and status as possible to give your children a leg up.

I would say for preschool, parents make up 90% of the entrance equation. For private K – 8, parents make up 70% of the entrance equation. And for private high school, the kid finally shines and makes up 70% of the admissions equation.

If you don't want to participate in society's games, then you can chuckle on the sidelines, send your kids to public school, save lots of money, and just do your own thing.

I've decided to take a hybrid approach by exploring all the kinks in the system while also doing my own thing. As a writer, I find all the head-scratchers to be fascinating.

Besides, I want to continuously bring to light how rigged our society is in every phase of life. By knowing how rigged the system is, I hope it will encourage you to do everything possible to achieve financial independence sooner. This way, you will have more options.

Got Into Preschool Three

Oh, and what about preschool three? We got in. It was the first preschool we applied to and the first choice all along. The school is only five minutes away from home so it makes drop off and pick up super convenient.

They have two teachers for a class of twelve, and quite often a third teacher or volunteer helps out as well. We particularly like that the kids go on outdoor adventures every day since the school is right next to Golden Gate Park. The school is also cheaper than preschool 2 and has been around much longer.

I learned the school we got into gets ~250 applicants a year for seven or eight non-sibling spots. So how did we get in? We applied early and serendipitously met one of the teachers while we were visiting the California Academy of Sciences with our son.

The teacher also had a son, a couple of months older, and took care of him during the mornings while his wife worked. We ran into him and his son over 20 times over the course of a year and developed a cordial relationship.

It feels great knowing that we got in because of our parental involvement, and not because of our job titles or perceived wealth. All the teacher knew was that he saw me and my wife bring our boy every Tuesday and Sunday mornings at the museum during member hour.

He correctly deduced that if we were both so involved in child-raising, that we would be equally involved with the school community.

Related: Forfeit The Enrollment Deposit To Go To A Better School?

At the end of the day, I don't believe it really matters where your child goes to preschool, so long as it has a safe and nurturing environment that's relatively close by. It's easy to stress about the competitiveness of getting in somewhere, but everybody eventually gets in somewhere that's good enough.

Note: Part of the reason why we did this experiment was because we wanted to move to Hawaii. If we got rejected everywhere, then we would have one less reason to stay in San Francisco. We also welcome the challenge of homeschooling since we have the time.

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About The Author

50 thoughts on “The Importance Of Money And Status For Getting Into Private School”

  1. Sam, why do you care so much about private preschool, but at the same time also don’t believe in private universities? I believe your previous postings mention that college is even unnecessary for some people, with which I agree. If you don’t think private universities or even college is necessary, why send your kid to a private preschool?

    1. I do care a lot about private preschools, because there is no universal preschool system rolled out everywhere yet (only NYC and a couple other places). Therefore, working families are more forced to pay for childcare and private preschool, especially if there are no families close by to help. Whereas going to a private college is NOT forced at all.

      If you have kids, can you share how you care for them if you have to go to work?

      If one is smart enough to get some grants and/or wealthy enough to afford private university, then go for it. There are a ton of fantastic private universities. But if one is not smart enough to get free grant money and cannot comfortably afford private school (income = 5X or greater annual tuition), then forget about it. Public schools are great and much more affordable.


  2. My wife and I will soon be embarking on this same journey in either the City, or Marin County, as we intend to move to the area next year around the time our son will be turning 2. We are well aware that we have to start early and are trying to research options from afar, which is not as easy as it should be in this modern age, btw. I am familiar with School “number 2,” as it is on our current list of schools we are interested in.

    I would be very curious to know your thoughts on the other mandarin immersion program you mentioned that you believe is better, but does not start until after age 3? I am also curious to know if your first choice that you got into was a language immersion school as well?

    Thanks for a really great and insightful post on this topic. At the end of the day, for my wife and I, our most important endeavor really is parenting and trying to make sure we do our best work of all in that arena.

  3. I’m fairly confident that money or prestige is not a huge factor in preschool or private schools in Hawaii, at least not to the extent as the mainland. But that’s not to say that in these schools you won’t be surrounded by wealth and privilege. Certainly the vibe and culture at these expensive institutions can differ compared to “lesser” alternatives. Of course you know that most parents with money in Hawaii wants their kids to go the private schools and some get pretty competitive about it. There are certain preschools that are considered “feeders” to the elite private schools and it certainly can be competitive to get in those preschools. However, it’s not absolutely necessary. Certainly some play that game, maybe more now than before, but plenty go to regular preschools, public elementary then public high, or transfer to private school. Is it all worth it? IMO no, in the end a lot of it doesn’t really matter. Often times it seems parents are rather ignorant or narrow-minded when it comes to schools. Sometimes it seems more like a status symbol than anything else, or an attempt to reflect their parenting skills. Potentially private school is parents way to avoid regret or what-ifs later in life, that they did everything “right” for their kid. IMO, there’s a weak, maybe even sometimes negative, correlation between educational prestige and life outcomes, not just career or financial, but other aspects in life.

  4. Sande Parrott

    This whole subject is completely foreign to our family experience. We are in the midwest with good schools but most do not attend ivy league colleges and pre-school was in the church basement. My one son attended college and was in the Air Force and got his masters on the GI bill in cyber-security. My other chose not to go to college and started his own company. My grandfather was a coal miner and my father a hard working blue collar worker. They taught providing for your family what ever it took and lending a hand to those around you. To us pre-school doesn’t determine success family values do. I am sure your son will do well no matter where he goes to school.

  5. Very familiar with ‘School#2’… have family that attend there. The tuition is absurd, but I can tell you that the education is definitely phenomenal. It does feel like a fundraiser at times. Great place to network for adults too, so if you think the parents are being interviewed… well, turn it into your advantage. A lot of founders, VCs, entertainment moguls that you’ve all heard of have children at this school (I’m referring to MULTI 3-comma families). Have seen many of them walking around during the school’s annual events.

      1. GOooTaiwan!!

        Definitely outliers there for sure. During a recent fundraising, I think based on the amount raised and the # of families donated, the average was around $70k/yr. Of course, that is skewed high by the 1 or 2 families that donated $1mm+. Talking with other parents doing unofficial research, the median seams to be somewhere between $10-$20k.

        1. I will happily take the $20,000 – $50,000 a year saved by not going there and spend a wonderful 3 months in Taipei for a full Mandarin immersion every year and have lots of money left over.

          1. GooooTaiwan!!

            Funny you mention that. That is exactly what many of the families do. Several of the classmates have taken 6mos – 1yr off and moved to Taiwan/China (and other parts) for the ‘full’ experience. The school encourages that and even tries to help. You have to realize, $50k to most of these families is a drop in the bucket. While abroad, they reunite with former teachers and other classmates in a totally different environment. It’s pretty neat actually. A lot of them write blogs about it, and it’s fascinating read to see their experiences and apply their education. The parents seem to get the most kick out of it. Back on point, yes it’s expensive. Yes, it’s absurd. But if you can afford it, why not??

  6. Money Ronin

    I agrees most schools care about financial support or time commitment.

    Our kids go to a modestly priced (~12$K/year) Catholic elementary school, which is about $12,000/year more than I had expected to pay since my wife and I both went to mediocre public schools from K-12.

    My wife works full-time from home and I am semi-retired also working from home. I am constantly amazed at the parental involvement and availability at this school. There are also relatively few kids who are in the after school care program. It’s a small, old school. The parking lot doubles as the playground (no playground equipment). There is no gym. They just installed AC last year. The science department has no microscopes so we are fundraising this year.

    There seems to be an abundance of non-working or self-employed spouses at our school, but not a lot of apparent super wealthy people–no big donors. People drive modest cars with the occasional Mercedes and Tesla. I think most families have chosen to give up some income in exchange for providing their kids a better education through time commitment.

  7. Coming from the dregs of society I never even knew these institutions existed until my kids were grown. My son had to make do with the preschool in the basement classroom at a local Lutheran church in Minnesota. He’s 19 now and better than halfway through a computer science degree with a focus on things that I cannot repeat since I don’t know what they mean. Despite the rough treatment I think he’s gonna be Ok.

  8. Coming from the dregs of society I never even knew these institutions existed until my kids were grown. My son had to make do with the preschool in the basement classroom at a local Lutheran church in Minnesota. He’s 19 now and better than halfway through a computer science degree with a focus on things that I cannot repeat since I don’t know what they mean. Despite the rough treatment I think he’s gonna be Ok.

  9. Both my boys went to a private high school (cost $50K per year for both). We have a perfectly fine public school but I don’t believe the public school is as academically challenging as the private school. So, we made the investment and enrolled them in the private school. My older son now goes to an elite private university (cost is $75K per year with room and board). He could have gone to the top-ranked public university but again, we decided that the private university will provide a better learning environment. The public university accepts more than 10,000 freshmen every year, which means class sizes are really big (some class sizes are in the hundreds). Where my son goes, his classes are no more than 30-40 students. He has a couple of classes that have less than 20 kids in them. So, at the end of the day, if you can afford it, private schools are the way to go.

  10. Congrats on getting your kid to a preschool that’s convenient for you guys. We are practically on the same situation in regards to that. Our 3 yo just started preschool a couple months and really likes it after a rough first few weeks of crying and hating to go there. The preschool is convenient for us too since it is a couple of blocks away from my in-laws house so they can pick him up if we are running late after work.
    I think doesn’t matter a whole lot whether you get in a ‘top’ preschool. As long as your kid enjoys the experience with classmates and teachers with the preparedness to enter kindergarten then it should be fine.

  11. The scary thing is. The kids who are able to get into top universities without any advantage are ridiculously smart and talented.

    My ex who grew up dirt poor in the rural south, eating can food everyday in a broken family with an alcoholic mother was able to double major and get straight A’s in a top university. She has true photographic memory.

    Same with my Russian immigrant friend. Ridiculous smarts and stamina and capacity to work non stop. Poor immigrant who got into the best university.

    If you squeeze your way into Harvard through tutoring, coaching, and connections you gonna be in for a rude awakening when you meet your peers in class.

  12. Sam- IMO you need to leave SF. We are educating our 3 kids in the public schools in central California coast area, and they are outstanding. There are no waiting lists for Montessori schools or otherwise. Most all of the teachers they have are UC educated and excellent.
    A public school education in the right area can be far better than private. Getting in to any of the top UC schools is exceedingly difficult and carries far more respect than any IVY school back East, I believe.
    I attending UCLA for undergrad, and Northwestern Univ. in Chicago for grad school, and I can tell you UCLA was much more competitive.
    Its good your thinking ahead. We want the best for our kids, but that doesn’t always mean private school.

    1. Agreed – Get out of the city. No waitlist at the Montessori schools in the suburbs and the facilities and teachers are way better. Central Coast and even North San Diego county would be much better options for you.

      I was a city guy for ten years before I finally capitulated. Technology has made the suburbs way more livable and the city more and more obsolete every year.

  13. We choose the town we live in to be our private school in effect. Our taxes are not low, not San Fran, but we did shop around in the area (NYC Suburbs) to find a town with a good school district where the rich send their kids to the public school. We will supplement his education ourselves.

  14. Sam – I agree with you, money and status are a massive determinant of school and university admissions.

    But let me tell you this: my family had neither and there is no sweeter feeling in the world than knowing I was able to get into one of the private universities on your list above on my own merit (in addition to being a foreign applicant AND a first generation immigrant in my home country).

    I moved mountains, scored 770 on my GMAT with a perfect verbal score and got it done.

    Sadly, now that I have both money and status of an investment banker, I know my children will never know what it feels like to overcome those odds.

    As for me, I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

  15. If you have no money or status you can’t get a head playing other peoples games. Following their rules and social norms will always keep you behind. Best you can do is go your own way; maybe it works and then they want to be like you. It’s just like trying to hang with the cool kids in school. If you are not already one of them; you are NEVER going to be one of them.

  16. This leg up on getting into the right private school is way over-rated. One family I know had all three kids go through public schools and public university for undergrad. Where did each 3 brothers go for grad school? #1 Harvard Business School for an MBA plus a Master in Engineering at Cornell #2 Duke Medical School #3 MIT Sloan School of Management for an MBA. In the end, the only school that matters is the last one you graduate from.

    Sam, as a Taiwanese American, I’m sure you know plenty of other families that have similar situations.

  17. 50 years ago, my then 5 year old son “failed” to get into the private school of our choice because he was too “timid”. My MIL pointed us to another private school which was better suited. He then gained entrance easily at 7 to my husband’s old prep school (we are from the UK). At 11, we moved and he went to the local public village school, which he loved and where all the local children went. Then onto the local comprehensive schools. Coming to Orange County, California, he went to the public high school. On graduating, he didn’t want to go to college, and joined the US Navy as an enlisted man. After 4 years, he had done well, completed serval apprentice courses and was promoted. On leaving, he picked up a job easily at McDonnel Douglas, who paid his college fees at UC Irvine. He went to school by day and graveyard by night, living at home. He has no college tuition fees and was able to move to Los Gatos and buy a house. There are many pathways to success.
    Our youngest went through the public school system, went also to UCI, living at home, did her junior year in the UK, returning to get her masters later. Again no student loans. She married in the UK and her sons, having passed the appropriate exams, go to excellent public grammar schools.
    Meanwhile, I taught for many years at a private school. On retiring, I am substituting in our local public school district. I am impressed with the quality of schools and teachers. Who are all credentialed. The schools are all kept up to date.
    If you live in an excellent school district, send your children there. Better for them to come out with minimal student loans. As Sam has pointed out, home involvement is crucial and there is so much for learning on the internet.

  18. Why isn’t public school with a hired private tutor more popular? It seems like it would be the best of both worlds.

    1. We found that doing the public school plus tutoring route eats into too much after-school time and reduces sports and enrichment options. It does save a lot of money however.

      We have some good friends who pulled from private middle school and are now doing public and supplementing where needed. They figure they are saving $20K+ per year even with the significant extra tutoring (math, Mandarin and music lessons that were previously all part of the private school curriculum). But their child really does have many fewer hours in the week to do other things.

  19. Irish2four7

    I feel like there are so many things to unpack from this experience…

    You have hinted on this journey in several other posts so I’m glad it finally worked out for you. I’m curious if the 3rd school which was your real potential first choice wasn’t the only acceptance would the outcome have been different.

    I also find it interesting that you are saying you got in on merit and showing investment in your child. I’m assuming based on the 20 meetings with the teacher at the other school names were exchanged – perhaps that had more to do with it than you think. Surely in this case it wasn’t a money sign but it’s still along the lines of who you know. Hard to say if the teacher had a voice in the selection but if they did I would think those meetings would have been a potential leg up.

    I completely agree (an yet struggle with my own kids – they are lined up to go to private school due to the poor public schools in my area, but I may change that) that where you start doesn’t necessarily reflect on where you will end up. There have been numerous success stories (assuming you can agree to what success is) from people from all back grounds – public, private, home school and even “no school”. I think it’s an individual drive that helps you to move forward. I will agree having a support system should help but at the end of the day unless you are cheating; you are the one making the grade.

    Last point – despite all of the various posts about private being no better or worse than public and potentially a less optimal cash use; you still elected the “name drop” PRINCETON in your response to one of the early comments. I found that ironic. The OP asked if you knew the Hawaiian school and your response was essentially it’s so good that even someone from an IVY background would select it. I have to be honest I laughed about that a bit.

    Did your own experiment fail for a second time? You could have said my niece goes there and let that stand on it’s own. She is working on her PHD and clearly knows the value and time and effort needed. She selected the school and likes it. But oddly enough you supported the statement with a private school reference. Classic.

    Anyway, I hope you don’t take this as a negative response. I rarely post but I read your blog daily and I’m grateful for all the information provided from you and the other commenters. I just felt that this one when referring to all the previous was a funny conclusion.

    My whole young life my father told me, if you want to be a millionaire hang out with millionaires. If you want to be a bum hang out with bums. It’s who you know, And how you spend your time that is important.

    I’ll say he was also a proponent of saying “Work hard for the next 4 years or work hard for the rest of your life”. Interestingly enough he started saying this in elementary school, then for middle, high school and finally college.

    I guess the moral is work hard and surround yourself with successful people and you can’t fail.

    Good luck to you and your family on the transition to preschool.

    1. I love the psycho analysis! Please keep it coming! I actually told my cousin and her parents to save their money. I think she could’ve got a full scholarship to play sports at a non-Ivy League school. In the end, she is getting her PhD at school which did not require an Ivy League undergraduate degree. I wanted to give Bill some perspective.

      We would have seriously considered going to preschool 1, because it is two days a week and much cheaper. But we prefer 3 due its much closer proximity. Also, we welcome more than 2 days of childcare now.

      Preschool number two, we wanted to see if we could get in. If we did, I would probably would not go due to the $32,000 tuition plus the 25 minute commute. There is a better Mandarin immersion school that is closer by, but they don’t start accepting students until 3 1/2 years old. We though this would be a good test case to understand the processes.

      Can you share more details about yourself and where are you are sending your children so we can analyze you as well? I think you mentioned you make $315,000 a year and live in a $600,000 townhouse in Northern Virginia. Is sending your kids to private school a wise decision given your salary? How much is tuition in your part of the woods? Thx

      1. Irish2four7

        First let me say, thanks for the response. I realize you read all of these but didn’t think you would respond so quickly. Analyzing what others do in a situation is always fun – after all its always easier to say what you would do in a situation than it is to actually do it.

        As far as me – I went to public school in a great area in NY. I didn’t realize at the time it was so well ranked. When you are a kid I think whatever you are doing just feels normal.

        My kids are both under 4 and currently go to preschool for roughly $45k combined. Yes I know this is insane but I’m really happy with their learning and the care. I would prefer to not go to private after this as paying a similar value or more for another 13-15 years is not ideal. However, at the present time where I live the public schools are not well rated – yes there are some okay public schools in NOVA but not many.

        I’m currently lining up two plans of action. 1. Bite the bullet and use our various private school friends as references and go private. Or 2. Relocate to another area or state to take advantage of better public schools. I’m still evaluating number 2 but keeping 1 in progress just in case.

        I find it comical with the response by others that $315k net is not enough. Sure I would gladly make more and I’m working on trying but I thought that I was doing okay.

        Private schools in mind are between $10-35k, there are other more expensive but at some point it’s just crazy. I’ll likely do public and support with outside learning if it doesn’t work.

        I’ll say as far a public vs private in this area. I have friends with young kids in both. And as an example: the one in public school is fine and seems like a great kid progressing on his own curve age 8. The ones in private age 6-8 speak 3 languages and are very disciplined.

        Who knows what I’ll do. But your post has again lit a fire on me to get this worked out.

    2. If you really do live in Northern Virginia, then the public scores are great there.

      Making only $315,000 a year and sending your kids to private school is an unwise decision. You’re gonna end up one of those very stressed out parents I will have to work for a very long time.

      Then when your kid gets into a regular all the college, you are going to rue the day you spent so much money on private grade school.

      Don’t let peer pressure make you do something foolish with your

      1. Andy – Why is it unwise to send kids to private on “only” $315K per year. On only $250K, we are still able to net $90K per year with $45K in preschool tuition. I’d rather send my kids to private school then dump another $45K on top of our Fed inflated money pile every year then slum it at the crumbling “good” public school with the rest of the kids whose parents don’t care about them.

        If we made $315K, I wouldn’t even consider a “good” public school. We’d buy in the lower property value/property tax locations and send to private.

  20. Hi Sam,

    I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you or your readers know anything about Manoa University in Hawaii. My daughter wants to transfer her junior year from Alaska to Manoa. Her degree is in marine biology and her reasoning is that she will get more experience in tropical waters to go along with her northern pacific waters experience. I’ve googled everything I can but was hoping someone could give me first hand knowledge as well.

    Again, I apologize this is off topic. As your doing with your son I’m just trying to make a informed decision.

    Thanks, Bill

    1. Great program for marine biology! Perhaps one of the best.

      My cousin is there for her PhD in linguistics after attending Princeton. So the school is definitely good enough.

      1. The factors for selecting graduate schools are quite unique in the sense that most graduate students seek out certain professors doing very specific research to earn their Graduate degrees. So the Hawaiian University mentioned may be mediocre school with a world-renowned linguistics Professor making it a superb selection for your cousin, but a mediocre selection for an Undergraduate searching out a Marine Bio degree.

        I guess my point is, just because an Ivy-league Undergrad in an unrelated field chose the school for graduate-level work, does not necessarily translate to “definitely good enough” for Undergrad work in an unrelated department.

        I appreciate your posts and interest in reader comments, but struggled to follow the logic in the correlation between the willingness of an Ivy-league Undergrad selecting the school for Graduate work and the school as a whole. And as far as I know, no Graduate program in the country requires an Ivy-league Undergrad education, but maybe that was your point.

        1. I love your focus on me mentioning Princeton. It really does show the power of its reputation. Very insightful feedback from you and the other reader. Gives me ideas on how to comment, post, and speak in the future. Also reminds me to keep stealth until needed.

          University of Hawaii at Manoa offers two Marine Biology And Biological Oceanography Degree programs. Two thumbs up.

          Feel free to do a thorough analysis on the University of Hawaii if you would like to help Bill. Thx

          1. Thank you both for your reply. I too caught the Princeton reference which in my mind is a huge plus! Hawaii to me is like Alaska to most. I just don’t know what’s good or bad.

            To Jeff,

            I appreciate your comment, makes me think. My daughter isn’t going to be the next president. She hopes to be a good marine scientist. I was trying to make sure the school wasn’t just a party school and she would learn something while she was there.

            Thanks again for the reply,


          2. Princeton certainly carries reputation “power,” but I only brought it up because of the potential dangers of that “star power.” Confirmed by Bill’s latest response below who views your cousin’s very specific path to graduate-level work at Manoa as a “huge plus” for his own child. I’m sorry, but it’s not.

            Just to reiterate, I think we can all agree that there is no meaningful correlation between an Undergrad from an Ivy League selecting a Graduate school and that same school’s Undergraduate reputation in an unrelated department. And even if there is a correlation, it likely dissipates significantly once other factors are controlled for.

            Sorry Bill, I have no first-hand knowledge of the school; other than I have heard positive things about the University from people who have applied and went there through different programs. And as far as the party school concern, there are approx. 15,000 students at Manoa, I can guarantee your daughter can find at least ten thousand students that aren’t there to party, a few of which will likely be in the Marine Bio program.

            Best of luck.

  21. Fascinating insights. It’s crazy that competitiveness to get into some schools starts as early as preschool in some big cities. I’ve heard New York City is one of the worst and hardest to get into. Even the best public schools are hard to get into there apparently.

    I remember my parents stressing out about keeping me in a certain public school where I grew up when we moved to a different home about 5 minutes away. There were a lot of differences in the quality of elementary schools from one neighborhood to the next and our new home was just outside of the zone of my previous school by only one or two streets or something.

    They thought they could petition and keep me in the same school but were denied. I hated having to change schools but things worked out okay in the end. I can’t imagine them trying to get me into a private elementary school back then since public was hard enough. Maybe they could have afforded it if I was accepted with a big financial aid package, but I doubt their application would have even made it through the first rounds because they had low income and no connections.

  22. Congrats on getting into a nice preschool. Of course, money and status are incredibly important if you want to play the game by the rule. Everything you wrote totally makes sense. Poor/middle-class kids can go to public school. We’re very happy with our public school, but there are some issues too. Class size is pretty big. 35 kids in one class. One teacher and 1/2 assistant.

  23. We sent our son to ALL public schools including college. Now he is in medical school. I believe individual efforts and discipline are the key to personal success. Thanks for the article!

    1. dc – That’s the line the rich and powerful want you to believe. Keep your nose down, work hard, everything will be fine. Reality is everyone is smart and works hard. The people who get ahead are the ones who play the game the best, not work the hardest.

  24. We send our kids to public schools. But, this was a very interesting and informative article. Thanks!

  25. Boristspider

    This post is a public service! You’ve exposed the unspoken truth about this system. I sent my kids to private school for grade school (midwestern city, much lower cost and stress level) but public high school. They both have gotten into very competitive colleges and are studying in their fields of choice. The only thing you don’t get from a good public school is the sense of entitlement that comes from a private school.

    1. Christine Minasian

      Having had 3 different private school experiences…they can each be a bit different- some more religious, for some yes, it’s all about the money and donations. It can get pretty exhausting. Kids needs to excel/grow on their own and if mommy & daddy keep paving the way- good luck in life! It’s a huge disservice to the kid. I’m glad these people are serving time! Hopefully the “favors” will slow down in the colleges.

  26. Congratulations on getting in with your first choice school.

    It still floods me how competitive preschool is these days. I think a child’s eventual success is more based on the individual rather than if he or she went to a prestigious school. For the majority of my education I went through public schooling and also in a state not known for high powered schools. I did move to California and go to a private high school that was very prestigious and competitive for grades 10-12 but felt like I would have gotten where I was regardless.

    I am impressed you didn’t name drop or even mention your website on these applications. I would be curious if that would have gotten you a 100% acceptance rate. But getting in this way I think will give you even more pride that your son got in on merits rather than who you know.

    1. Thanks. It was a tossup between preschool one and preschool three, but in the end, the one we got into is probably our best choice due to the proximity and amount of care we can have (5 days versus 2 at the other school).

      It really is a godsend that the preschool is only five minutes away. It just makes everything so much more convenient.

      I don’t know what mentioning Financial Samurai would have done to be frank. Most people have never heard of a site even after 10 years and probably over 40 million visits. I gotta check. On the one hand, I could help bring a tremendous amount of demand and publicity to the school to boost business, which is what preschool number two desperately wanted. And then I guess I could carry a big stick and negatively review the school as well, which would hurt their business. Who knows.

      Preschool number two just gave me a really bad taste in my mouth because of their incessant focus on fundraising. I didn’t feel like a preschool. It felt like a fundraising machine.

    2. Xray – “Success” is highly correlated to how much money your parents make. Researchers concluded that richer families can send their kids to better preschools and provide more costly enriching activities for their kids during critical developmental years of 1-5. If you don’t go to high cost preschools, it’s highly unlikely that you will be successful professionally or socially as an adult. Any deficits a child has at age 5 compound over the rest of their lives.

      This is the reason preschool is so competitive and costly.

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