It's time to think about kindergarten admissions. Photo: Monica Sedra on Unsplash

Now that Hunter College Elementary School has closed its applications for September 2024 kindergarten entry, it’s time for New York City parents to shift their attention to the many other options for the fall. Below is a list of key dates to keep in mind as you go through the application process:

October 2023: Public charter school applications are open. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that do not cost families money to attend. You may apply to charter schools via a Common App or by going to a particular school or network’s website. Applying to charter schools does NOT affect your public or private school application process. More in the below video:

YouTube video

November 2023: Some independent private schools, such as Horace Mann in Riverdale or The Dalton School in Manhattan may require the family portion of your application as early as Nov. 17. This means they need, at the very least, your essays describing your child and family to be uploaded by that time in order for you and your child to be considered for an interview, school tour and any other follow-up procedures. More about the private school application process, including financial aid options, in the below video:

YouTube video

Nov. 30, 2023: Catholic Kindergarten applications open. Catholic schools traditionally charge lower tuition than independent private schools and also offer scholarships. They follow their own timeline and frequently accept on a rolling basis.

December 2023: The majority of independent private schools close their applications this month, though they may continue interviewing children and parents throughout January. 

The most important thing to remember about private schools is that, while most say your child must turn 5 years old by Sept. 1 of the year when they will begin kindergarten, in reality, many children with birthdays in August, July, June, May, and possibly even April and March are deemed “too young.” Some are rejected outright, while others may be invited to reapply the following year. This is not a guarantee of admission, but simply a statement that they liked your family and would appreciate the opportunity to reevaluate your candidacy down the line. In this situation, some private schools may offer your child a seat in their Pre-K instead. If you accept, there is no need to reapply for kindergarten. Your child will be automatically accepted.

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023: Public kindergarten application opens

When you launch your public Kindergarten application, you will see a hexadecimal number at the top. The first two digits of that number give you an indication of how many people are ahead of you in the public school lottery. A first digit numeral is roughly in the top 50th percentile, while beginning with a letter suggests you are in the bottom half. Your number will give you a good idea about your odds of getting into a highly desired program, where some 10,000 people may be competing for 50 to 75 incoming seats total. (And siblings of students already enrolled in the school receive priority, regardless of lottery number.)

Almost every NYC child has a zoned kindergarten (there are a handful of exceptions). This is the school where you will be assigned based on your address. If you do not wish to go to your zoned school, you may also rank the following options on your public kindergarten application:

  • Schools you are not zoned for: If you list a school you are not zoned for on your application, you will be considered for admission via lottery after all the zoned students have been accommodated.
  • Unzoned schools: These are schools that are open equally to all students in the district, all students in the borough, or all students in the city. You will be admitted based on lottery. 
  • Dual language programs: These are programs within larger schools where the standard NYC public school curriculum is taught in a second language for 50% of the day. You apply to a dual language program by listing it separately from the main school on your application. Priority is given to native speakers of the second language and zoned students. More info in the video below:
YouTube video
  • Gifted & Talented programs: There are two types of G&T programs, citywide programs, which are open to all NYC residents and usually teach the standard NYC public school curriculum one year in advance, and district programs, which are open to students residing in the district, and are “enriched,” meaning teachers have more freedom to add extra material to their curriculum. Admission is based on pre-K teacher recommendations and then the lottery. Typically, about 75% of students who are nominated for a G&T program by their teachers fail to get a seat, due to demand massively outstripping supply. There are NYC neighborhoods where 50% of the kids test in the top 10th percentile! This city is awash in gifted and talented children.

Friday, Jan. 19, 2024: Public school kindergarten application closes

You may rank up to 12 schools on your public kindergarten application. If you are perfectly happy with your zoned school, you may list only one choice and call it a day. If you would prefer a different school, make sure you list it AHEAD of your zoned school, since you will be given YOUR FIRST AVAILABLE choice. You will also be waitlisted for all the schools you ranked ahead of the one you got.

Rank in the order you truly prefer. There is nothing to be gained by thinking you can game the system. You can’t. Zoned, unzoned, dual language and Gifted & Talented schools all go on the same application. Other than your zoned school or another priority, like qualifying for free or reduced price lunch if the school has a Diversity Initiative, your placement will primarily depend on the lottery. Last year, among the families I worked with, no one with a lottery number above the 5th percentile got into a citywide G&T school. (Some with worse numbers got in off the waitlist down the line, but that was after new numbers were drawn for the second round of placement.)

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024: Private schools notify kindergarten admission

You will receive one of three responses: accepted, rejected, waitlisted. It is possible to receive more than one of each. 

Thursday, Feb. 15, 20024: Private school contracts due

If you opt to accept a private school offer, you must turn in your signed contract and financial deposit by noon. You can then either remove yourself from other private school’s waitlists, or stay on and continue to work them:

YouTube video

Wednesday, March 27, 2024: Public school kindergarten offers made

You will receive one public kindergarten offer, as well as find out which schools you have been waitlisted at and what your number is there. Waitlists move throughout the spring, the summer and even into the fall, so if you have a dream school in mind, be prepared to receive an offer even after your child has started in a different school. You may also now add yourselves to the waitlists of schools you didn’t initially rank in the first round.

If, after receiving your public school placement, you no longer wish to attend the private school you committed to, be advised that many will keep your deposit and some may even insist you still owe them a year’s worth of tuition. Read your contract carefully about opt-out dates before you sign!

April 2024: Charter schools notify acceptance

Charter schools notify acceptance on a rolling basis. If you have already registered at a public school, registering at a charter school will nullify that registration. If you register at a charter school, then get an offer to a public school you prefer, you will be able to register at that public school and nullify your charter school registration. (Though the system has many, many glitches in that regard, this is, at least, how it’s supposed to work.)

Birthday cut-offs: Unlike independent private schools, public and charter kindergartens accept all students who will turn five during the calendar year when they begin school. This means that children with late September, October, November and December birthdays are required to begin kindergarten prior to turning five years old. 

While some charters have been known to be flexible, it is almost impossible to hold your child back in public school. Since kindergarten is not required by law, you do not need to send your four-year-old to public school if you don’t believe they’re ready. However, if you come back the following year, your child will be placed straight into first grade. In addition, the most popular programs accept the majority of their students in kindergarten, so it’s much harder to snag a seat at the higher grade levels. For some schools, kindergarten is practically now or never.

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