AWNY Guide to NYC Nursery School Admissions

Written by Sally Bertouch

With Labor Day fast approaching (September 5 – terrifying really) anyone with a Yankee baby or an expat toddler might be thinking it’s just another lovely long weekend to round out the summer. But if your baby is 9-12 months old and you’d like to think about a program for nursery school, Labor Day is the weekend to do it. Most nursery schools will begin taking applications right after the holiday – and if you’re going to apply you may as well do it on time.

You might have heard stories from friends who wrote six ‘essays’ – or more – so their two year old could sing, paint and glue. Or you might be happily unaware of such boring tales. But it always sounds worse than it is – there are lots of great schools to choose from and the process is really not a big deal as long as you know how it works.

Selecting the Nursery School

Close to home works for most! But some travel too – either way the best place for the list of all the options is the Parents League and then check out each school’s website for more details on the age of acceptance (usually between 18 months and 3 years depending on the school).

The Nursery School Applications Process

Each school has their own and 90% are online the day after labor day, but some require you to call and request it. Either way a lot of the questions are basically the same for everyone. They want to understand as much as they can about your family, your child and how you think about education and parenting. It’s worth understanding the school’s philosophy before answering the questions! And if you’re serious about some of the tougher schools to get into its worth preparing the answers before the applications open so you’re ready to fill it out on the day (it doesn’t usually vary much from the year before).

NYC Nursery School Deadlines

All schools will have their own and it’s usually about month or two later – but really the best time to submit them is as soon as possible – even if they have an October deadline they may close it early if they receive too many.

Playdates and Interviews

Once you’ve made it through the “lottery” for the applications you’ll be invited to an interview and tour for the parents – all of this might sound ridiculous, but actually seeing the school and the teachers interacting with the children helps you solidify your own preferences. Your child may also be invited to a ‘playdate’ so the teachers see how they interact – it’s not to judge your child so much as to try and balance the personalities in the class, so it’s nothing to worry about. And most of the kids seem to love it – my daughter left the first one and had so much fun she asked when there would be cake (she thought it was a party!).

Nursery School Acceptance and Waitlists

You’ll hear back in February where you got in (all on the one day). If you got into more than one school obviously let the school you don’t want know as soon as possible so they can offer it to another child. And if you didn’t get in to the school of your choice, don’t panic, email them immediately and ask to stay on the waitlist. You never know.

Free Pre-K

Importantly, don’t forget the free Pre-K option available in NYC. Public Pre-K is now available for New Yorkers so if your child turns 4 before December 31st you’re eligible to start in a Pre-K program in September of that year. Not every school has them but you can learn about the Pre-K program here.

Have tips to share? Or need help?

Those are the basics but if you have any questions or additional tips, please leave them in the comments. And if you want a first-hand perspective I’m more than happy to help out – and I’m sure lots of other parents who have done it recently are too.

For information about kindergarten admissions, you can check out our guide here.

Good luck!

Sally Bertouch