Inside the insanely competitive world of elite New York City preschools

Parents will pay thousands of dollars and apply years in advance for acceptance into one of the prestigious NYC preschools.

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Parents will pay thousands of dollars and apply years in advance for acceptance into one of the prestigious NYC preschools.
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Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

  • Preschools in New York City are no joke – some parents hire preschool consultants and apply years in advance in the hopes that they can get their kid into a preschool that could cost as much as a college.
  • Many parents think that getting their kids into one of the “Baby Ivies” will help them get into one of the top private schools for kindergarten through senior year – then off to a top university.
  • Here’s a glance into the insanely competitive world of the most prestigious NYC preschools.

It is not easy to get into the schools known as the”Baby Ivies.”No, I’m not talking about a set of elite secondary prep schools. I am talking about a process that sometimes starts in utero – the process of getting into a prestigious preschool.

In New York City, some parents will gladly spend thousands of dollars to have a preschool consultant help streamline the process of getting their children into a preschool that costs $20,000 a year or more, like Horace Mann’s full-time nursery school for three-year-olds that costs over $48,o00a year.

I’m not one to rest on my laurels (especially because I began my education as a three-year-old), but I went to the 92nd Street Y Nursery School, which New York Magazine once deemed “the Harvard of nursery schools.”

I remember my time at the Y fondly – I learned about archaeology when we dug for fossils in the sandbox, architecture when we played with blocks, and micro and macro economics when we played Candyland.

Times have changed since my parents applied to the 92nd Street Y Nursery School some 28 years ago. The price has skyrocketed to$36,000 a yearfor a full day, but it is still very much in demand, as are other competitive preschools, including The Episcopal School,Westside Montessori School, Rodeph Sholom, and The Washington Market School.

Business Insider spoke with experts to find out what it takes to get into one of the uber-competitive New York City preschools and why parents will pay top dollar.

The application process

Parents pay $500 for an introduction meeting and $250 for every additional hour to work withEmily Shapiro, a New York City-based preschool consultant. Shapiro was a New York City preschool director for 15 years before starting her consulting practice, so she understands the application process, the specifics of each school, and the process of helping students and their parents throughout the process of applying.

The hardest part of the process is getting your hands on an application, Shapiro said. Some schools have a lottery system to get an application, which means that parents must submit an entry the day after Labor Day and hope for the best.

“The application varies tremendously from school to school. Some have an essay, some just meet with the kids and parents, and some will have extensive essays about why you are interested in this school, and essays about your child, family, and values,” Shapiro said.

“People find it hard because most of the prestigious schools start with 2-year-olds, and you have a 1-year-old in your house and have to describe your child’s interests,” Shapiro said.

“A lot of people benefit from support with writing the essays- Iwill not write essays for them, but I will brainstorm when they are having trouble coming up with ideas and I will read the essays and help edit them-and I have people who want detailed hand-holding all the way through if they are too anxious or they don’t have time,” Shapiro said.

How much hand-holding? One person emailed her a photo to approve of the outfit her daughter would wear for her preschool playgroup interview.

Of course, it is helpful to have connections at the school – which many of the parents do – but there are no guarantees, and people can get in without connections or donations, Shapiro said.

The educational experience

One of the driving forces behind parents’ desire to get their kids into an elite preschools is exmissions– or how the preschool can help their kids get into desirable schools after graduating. Of course, the quality of the education and experience at the preschool is another factor.

“The relationship between preschool and elementary school matters to a certain degree. They aren’t dictating whom to take but the preschools write elaborate reports that get sent to the schools as part of the kindergarten process,” Shapiro said.

According to Shapiro, “One advantage of any of the ‘known’ schools is that they know how to write the applications.” If a school is looking at two kids who are similar, and the school loves them both, the strong recommendation from a preschool who has recommended good students in the past might tip the balance, she said.

Many parents think that getting their kids into a prestigious nursery school will help them get into one of the top private schools for kindergarten through senior year-then off to a top college.

“It feels like that is necessary to give our kids the option of success. There is a seed of reality in that, but it’s not totally that way,” Shapiro said. “Even the most prestigious elementary schools let people in from a wide range of nursery schools. There is a limit to how many Dalton grads Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are going to take.”

Kids can get a great experience at any preschool, but what sets these prestigious preschools apart is the amount of programming and extracurriculars,Christina Simon, co-author of “Beyond the Brochure: An Insider’s Guide to Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles,” said. Some preschools teach extracurriculars likeyoga,chess, and cooking, because they have the resources to offer them. The caliber of teachers also differs from school to school.

For parents who are applying, Shapiro has some advice for reducing the preschool panic.

“I have yet to work with someone who did everything they asked and didn’t end up in a school they were happy with. I’d love to take credit for that, but I have a suspicion that that’s just the way it is,” Shapiro said. “If you applied to eight to 10 schools and acted appropriately, I think you are going to get something.”