The Cutthroat Admissions World Of? Preschool?

Detailed resumes, biographical DVDs, polished essays and nervous waiting. Fortunately, there's 'Sesame Street' to pass the nervous hours while waiting expectantly for an acceptance letter. This isn't college admissions, or even elite high school admissions. It's preschool, where the competition in several large cities has grown to absurd levels.

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The Preschool Admissions Game

Parents have increasingly recognized the importance of preschool for their children as a way of developing readiness for kindergarten and elementary school. As more and more parents seek spots for their kids, though, the availability of open slots hasn't kept up with demand. Parents in small cities may have little trouble finding a place for their children, but parents in large cities can get swept up in a fierce battle that causes frustration, anxiety and bitterness on all sides.

In cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, there are sometimes dozens of applicants for each available seat in a preschool class. In order to compete with their peers, parents are enrolling their 2-year-olds in activities in order to build their resumes. They'll also create DVDs that attempt to portray their children as highly desirable for the school. When parents want an extra boost, they may hire an admissions consultant who will help groom the child's application, including polishing an essay and advising the parents on all aspects of the process.

Because there's such a short period of time between birth and preschool, this game starts early. In San Francisco, parents report beginning the application process while their children are still in utero. That can involve getting on waiting lists, moving to desirable locations in the city and other steps that they hope will give them an edge for their yet-to-be-born child.

Revolt of the Admissions Departments

As with college admissions departments, preschool admissions departments aren't always keen on the over-the-top approach some parents take. Many have gone on record admitting that they don't watch the DVDs and they shudder at the thought of a resume for a 2-year-old. They want to see children who are allowed to be children, not those who are overscheduled from the moment of birth. Still, they must choose between often indistinguishable toddlers, which means parents must find a way to stand out.

The Need for Preschool

The lengths parents go to in order to get their children into preschool may seem laughable. But the need for preschool is serious. Students who attend preschool enter kindergarten ahead of their peers. They are stronger readers, know their numbers better and are generally more well-rounded from the start of their formal education. Preschool attendance has also been linked to success later in life, including later school performance, career stability and earning potential.

For parents who don't want to play the admissions game, there are alternatives. Children can be homeschooled instead of enrolled at a formal school, though this requires significant labor and time from the parents and can lack the socialization opportunities of a classroom. Parents can band together and form a preschool co-op. While forming an official co-op can involve extensive and intimidating red tape, an informal co-op can be formed through word-of-mouth networking and shared teamwork. As the prospect of applying to preschool becomes increasingly formidable, parents may find that other options that can still provide the benefits of early education are worth the effort.

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