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Not Getting In

January 29, 2013

By Sarah Vander Schaaff

Decisions won’t be announced until mid to late February, but Emma feels certain that her daughter won’t get into any of the schools to which they’ve applied. There are more than four times as many applicants as there are slots; she doesn’t “know anyone”; and she hasn’t waged a letter writing campaign of persuasion. So Emma is thinking about next fall and what her daughter might do if she is not in school.

Her daughter is two. Emma, who asked not to be identified by her real name, lives in West LA.

In speaking with her on the phone this week, this LA mother said that a few months ago she thought, “You find a nice little preschool and just go.”

After touring nine schools, she and her husband realized some would be a better fit than others.

They didn’t feel comfortable, they decided, sending their daughter to a nondenominational preschool that lead children in prayer before lunch.

And they couldn’t justify paying more than $800 a month to send their daughter to a two-year-old class that met six hours a week and required the presence of a caregiver at each session for the entire year. Emma works full time.

Other preschools offered “parent and me” classes, she said, for prospective families. Unofficially, it seemed the classes were a way to show one’s interest in the school, but Emma discovered that attending didn’t guarantee that families got the slots they’d hoped for. And the classes weren’t cheap: some cost about $100 per weekly session and run the course of the school year.

Emma and her husband have submitted applications for their daughter to three preschools. She’s concluded that when it comes to getting in, “The odds are not in our favor.”

The feeling began early in the process when one school application asked, ‘How did you hear about us?’.

It turned out a friend of a friend, who happened to be an up-and-coming actor, was their connection. They weren’t close, so Emma asked the mutual acquaintance to check with the actor to make sure listing his name would be ok.

It was. But when her husband dropped off the application, a well-meaning admissions director said, “It would really be better if they wrote you a letter.”

That, Emma said, was not going to happen.

She was sick for the official tour of another school. Sometime during the interview she realized her mistake. The preschool was connected with a private elementary school, an expensive path for education they’d not intended to pursue.

Had she known of that expectation, she said, “I wouldn’t have applied.”

As for the third school, she said, “There are only 12 slots in the class and two of them are taken.”

When she factors in sibling acceptance, she doesn’t have much hope.

“You think, I try to be an agreeable person and we’re educated and trying to give our daughter a good life…but everyone is doing the same thing.”

Some, she admits, are doing more than the “same thing,” whether it’s playing to the Hollywood connections, the ability to volunteer or fundraise, or a thank-you note and letter writing campaign to set one’s child apart.

“We were a little late to the party,” she said. That fact was clear, she said, when she went to apply for a preschool that didn’t even accept applications. It only had a waiting list. Most of the kids on it were babies.

“The kids aren’t even a year,” she said.

Emma looks back at her young days in Colorado. She didn’t go to preschool and she turned out ok. Of course, there is a new preschool opening up soon—maybe they can get into that. And she’s heard that if you stay in touch, spots can open up….

And sometimes she and her husband toss around the idea that three years of preschool at $1,400 a month adds up to $42,000. Would that money be, “better saved for college?”

It will be a few years before their daughter has to apply for that.

Emma promises to keep us posted.

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