The frenzy over getting children into elite New York preschools is well documented. Parents sweat, barter and bribe to get their 4-year-olds into prestigious early education programs. Toddlers take achievement tests and participate in observed playgroups to prove their potential.
Yes, these private schools offer remarkable resources. Their student-teacher ratios are excellent. Faculty members in many cases have advanced academic degrees. Most important, many of the early education programs are a direct pipeline into equally reputable elementary, middle and high schools.
Other things contribute to the prekindergarten mania. There are the less easily quantifiable social advantages: Hosting play dates for the children of the city’s most rich and powerful can provide access to the rarefied air breathed by New York’s elite.
Mostly, there’s the implicit belief that a premier prekindergarten program guarantees an early leg up in a nearly 14-year battle to gain admission to the country’s most competitive colleges.
If getting into college requires a high school degree, getting into an elite college (or so we have come to believe) is made easier by an elite high school degree.
In New York, those elite high schools come in two main categories: public and private.
Stuyvesant High School and Riverdale Country School send comparable portions of their graduating classes to elite colleges. One is free and the other costs $43,600 annually. So what’s the draw? Why are parents doing standardized test prep with their 3-year-olds?
One answer: certainty. All nine of the city’s prestigious specialized public high schools begin in ninth grade; there is no early entry route. But for a price, anxious parents can secure their children spots at one of the city’s top private high schools before they have even learned to read.
And while competition to secure a seat in a public prekindergarten program is fierce (roughly two-thirds of the estimated 41,000 applicants earned seats for the coming academic year), it’s even more cutthroat among private-school applicants.
New York’s elite private schools are usually quiet about their admissions statistics. But in 2011, Trinity, one of the city’s most competitive schools,revealed that the acceptance rate to its kindergarten class for children without any family connection (siblings already enrolled, parents who are alumni or faculty) was 2.4 percent, a lower acceptance rate than the overall one for Harvard.
Trinity has no prekindergarten program but accepts more than half of students in its graduating class in kindergarten (around 55 students are added to the class in ninth grade).
Horace Mann, an elite preparatory school in the Bronx, offers even earlier education. Children can apply to its “Nursery Threes” nursery school with a tuition of $41,150 for full days of school. Students then can move on to prekindergarten, kindergarten and beyond without needing to reapply.
The prekindergarten class of Riverdale Country School, the most expensive of New York’s private preschools, has an annual tuition of $43,600 and admits 16 students. An additional 44 are added in kindergarten. Riverdale lets in new students twice more, but with limited availability, accepting applications for both sixth grade (15 new spots) and ninth grade (65). SUITE