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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Kindergarten Private School Admissions

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

Many parents are interested in looking for independent school for their children, and would like to understand the process. For those looking for a more personalized or different approach, independent school can offer features, which will vary by school. Some features to look for, depending on your interests:

  • advanced math pathways for children who are ready, such as Algebra I in 8th grade or math groups by level, 

  • Inquiry-based learning or project-based learning, which offer a hands on approach to education,

  • a foreign language, either immersion or daily classes, 

  • smaller class sizes or two teachers per class, and

  • enrichment classes during the school day, such as arts or tinkering.

A Process for Mutual Selection

Think of the independent school process as dating, where you both see if there is a fit. I tell my clients to look for a school where your child will prosper. I share my son’s process, in which starting from early elementary school, many people told us he would end up at one particular school that opened focusing on his strengths. When the time came to apply to this school, we also looked at some other schools, and my son loved a completely different school, which he now attends, and asked me not to even apply to the presumed choice. He is now so happy, as is his younger sister, and I am grateful that I listened to my children and my own gut in comparing the options. 

As you roll through the process, keep in mind that most independent schools have agreed to a common notification and decision date, which is around when SFUSD also notifies for round 1 assignments. You will have a week to decide, at which time, you must put down a deposit. Around May, you will be on the hook for a full year’s tuition. Because of this policy, I urge families not to use independent schools as a backup for public school, because you will need to make this call before SFUSD issues round 2 decisions. Instead, tour independent schools and decide if you would like them unto themselves, and if instead, you prefer public school, look for a public school backup.  

  • Tour and open house. Tours are mandatory, and the open houses are highly recommended. Most open houses for elementary school do not include your child, but there are exceptions, so read the details. Typically, these events open for registration around Labor Day weekend.

  • Parent essays. Applications kick off with a series of essays for the parents to write. Typically, schools will ask about your child and also about what type of school you are looking for. They may also ask about your family, what types of activities you like to do together, and how you might volunteer at the school. These essays help schools assess fit. Tailor your answer to each school, and show the school why you like features of this particular program.

  • Parent interview. Most independent schools interview the parent(s) to get a sense for your fit with their program. Questions are similar to your essays, and should feel like a conversation. Remember that admissions teams are hired for their ability to communicate with prospective children. Don’t take a wonderful conversation as an indication of whether your child will be admitted, as it is typically too early for them to do so, and many a disappointed parent has received wait pools after a wonderful interview.

  • Student visit or play date. Your prospective kindergartener will typically spend an hour or two at each school you apply to. Most schools will have a group event so that they can see how children separate from their parents, interact with each other, and react to group dynamics. 

  • Student assessment. Most schools also assess each child for academic readiness. For kindergarten applicants, schools typically ask them to write their names, draw some common shapes like a triangle or circle, and draw a person. They may also ask them to write the alphabet. They do not expect children to be reading.

  • School records. If your preschool gives written reviews at the parent teacher conferences, these would be included. For instance, our preschool gave us paragraphs describing our children’s social-emotional progress.

  • Recommendations. A teacher or preschool director’s recommendation is required and submitted directly to the school, typically online through the admissions portal. Many use a common form to make it less work. Urge your child’s director or director to keep a copy in case it is lost. I often asked if we could sit down to discuss the recommendation before it is written, so that I could understand how the school views my child. For those preschool directors experienced with admissions, they may also recommend a particular top choice or two, and offer to place a call for you; take their advice seriously! Write a thank you note afterwards, as a thoughtful recommendation adds extra time to their work day. 

  • Financial aid. Financial aid is need based, but need is a subjective decision. Create a budget with all your essentials. Be realistic in the number that you list as what you can afford to pay; need blind does not mean they will ignore your financials. For instance, you can clearly afford whatever you are now paying for preschool. While fancy vacations are not essential, most schools expect you to continue paying for groceries, rent or mortgage, medical expenses, and childcare or tuition for your child’s siblings. Several schools told us that they do not consider home equity for a first home, but do for vacation homes, rental properties, and expensive collectibles. Many schools use the same portal (NAIS), and even those that don’t will ask for the same information. Plan to file your taxes early! Start collecting receipts now.


Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.

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