Tuesday, May 6, 2014

9 Things I Learned from the Private Kindergarten Application Process

Our private school application journey had a steep learning curve. I've received quite a few emails, asking me to "out" the schools to which we applied in this space, which I've decided not to do. However, I'm happy to share the nuggets I've picked up in recent months. I hope they're helpful to parents facing the private school shuffle in the fall.

1. Many schools are incredibly flexible with their age cutoffs, if you want to hold your child back a grade. This is called red shirting and it's en vogue, if not required, in many private schools. I'm not sure why the trend favors giant kindergartners, but I think three factors come into play. Older kids are usually easier to manage from a practical standpoint. Kindergarten looks more like first grade now than it did thirty years ago. Some (but not all) private schools are actually concerned about kids' future sporting prowess, and they figure than giant kindergartners make giant lacrosse players in grade nine.

2. Most private schools offer no flexibility whatsoever if you want to nudge your kid into a class ahead of the age cutoff. I.e. If the rule is age five by September 1, fall birthdays shouldn't bother. (Note: I don't know if this holds true for kids who already have siblings in the school.)

3. All the schools in Massachusetts seem to cut off their class at age five by September 1. I suspect this has something to do with securing accreditation as a kindergarten, because that is the public school cutoff date in our state. But in many cases, this isn't the real cutoff. We found private schools that unabashedly cut their entering kindergarten class as early as five by April 15 and as late as September 1, with most cutting the class at age five by May or June.

4. If your child, like the Grape, has a birthday within a couple of months of the cutoff date, ASK about the birthday demographics of the incoming class. The admissions directors will be able to tell you a list of birthdays, based on the siblings of current students they have in place. They can also break the list down by sex.  It's not a full picture, but especially at schools with more than one classroom per grade, it's pretty accurate.

5. Summer girls get more leeway than summer boys, because more girls than boys do well at sitting still at age four. The schools don't seem to care if you think your girl is hyper or your boy is super mellow. They go with the birthday demographics.

6. If the school cuts its incoming class in the spring, your summer boy will not be admitted, even if you believe he is God's gift to academia and you can convince the admissions committee of that fact. Because the bottom line is, the schools want your youngster to have a peer. I.e. If they admit one very newly minted five-year-old into a class comprised of six- and almost-six-year-olds, they need to admit at least two more newly minted five-year-olds so your kid would have a true peers. Not happening.

7. Money matters. I'd be delighted to be proven wrong here, but I have yet to hear of a case of a child of a serious celebrity being dinged, or even wait listed. Private schools, for all their impressive progress in terms of racial, ethnic, and to a lesser degree, socio-economic diversity, still keep an eagle eye on their endowments. This doesn't mean that scholarship kids don't make the cut. It just means the odds go down, if there are celebrity tots in the applicant pool.

I've also heard anecdotes about schools asking parents to explain how School fits into their philanthropic priorities, and about admissions officers being caught red handed making notes on trappings of wealth such as jewelry during the parent interview.

8. Ask how many seats are available for boys and girls, because it's not the number of seats in the kindergarten. The vast majority of schools try for a fifty-fifty split by sex, and the number of current students' siblings in the entering class will affect the number of open seats for each sex.

9. No school is perfect. A school that's a great fit for one family might not mesh with yours. Educational philosophies and preferences differ. My tastes run to coed, play based programs, schools that encourage kids' natural curiosity, that offer recesses and exposure to the arts and a foreign language. I'm not big on little kids sitting at desks, excessive formality, or super long or super short school days. But that's just me.

That's my round up. Please let me know if you think I missed anything critical.


  1. It really sounds like making sure to ask about the age cutoff really is important. I've been thinking about putting my daughter into private preschool and I've just been looking for some additional information. This is a great blog for finding that information out. Thank you for sharing. http://www.brantchildrenscentre.com/full_time_kindergarten.html

    1. Thanks for reading. I think understanding the *real* age cutoff is key. Many private schools advertise a date, e.g., September 1, but if you ask to see the demographics of the class, you won't see any child with a birthday after April or May. It's a tough call for kids caught in that no man's land. Academically they might be one place and emotionally/socially, the other.
      Good luck to you!