I came to preschool admissions advisement as an early childhood educator and a mom, with an interest in supporting families so strong that I eventually went back for a second masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. To me, preschool admissions is about the children, and about the parents. I know this is true of most nursery school directors and admissions directors as well. I often find myself reassuring parents of young children that the school staff are primarily early childhood educators, and that they really do care about children.
An impression seems to have arisen that nursery schools are primarily businesses, and somewhat cynical ones at that. A recent article in a much-read newspaper crossed my path, the theme of which was how to get into a particular, very prestigious nursery school. The premise seemed to be that because of its prestige, everyone should want to "get their child in" to that particular school. And the recommendations for how to get in largely hinged on having connections and exerting various kinds of pressure and influence. Here's the thing: a school will offer your child a spot if the school thinks your child will thrive there and be a helpful addition to the class they are putting together. And if, after placing siblings and possibly legacy children, they have a spot for a child with your child's gender, birth month, general temperament. Also, any nursery school will want to accept families they feel will be positive members of the parent community, and pleasant to work with.
There is so much wrong with the cynical, power-based approach. It is harmful to families. I speak with parents who are financially comfortable enough to pay the steep full tuitions at New York City nursery schools, and to plan to continue paying the even steeper tuitions at ongoing independent (ie. "private" schools), yet suffer from the belief that certain schools are not worth their applying to because they can't make large enough donations or don't know powerful enough people. If I think the school might be a good community for them, I encourage these families to apply--and more often than not, they get in. The other problem with the cynical approach is that it is wrong; it just doesn't work that way. Nursery school directors do not appreciate feeling that a family is trying to buy their professional judgment, or to use influence with their boards to twist their arms. If they feel you are trying to do that, there's a good chance they will decide you are not people they want to be partnering with for the next two or three years, or more if you have younger children.
Emily Shapiro advises New York City parents who are navigating the nursery and independent school admissions process, through her business, Emily Shapiro Consulting.