Nursery University

Yesterday while sitting in the car waiting for Lil, a San Francisco preschool ad on the radio reminded me of the documentary film, “Nursery University”.  I watched this film about four years ago.  So last night, I decided to watch it again. The film follows five families as they maneuver a daunting application process for preschool in New York. I enjoyed watching the film because it highlighted both parents’ and the educators’ point of views. It also showed what parents were willing to do when it came to providing their children with the best education. Even if it meant paying up to $20,000 per semester for preschool. I personally would not pay 20k for preschool.

I don’t want to give away too much about the film but here are some moments I found interesting.

The Preschool Admissions Consultant

One scene in the film shows you a room filled with anxious moms attending a preschool admissions seminar. The speaker introduces a “go to” book when it comes to picking a preschool. A mother interrupts her and asks her to explain to them what her role was in the admissions process. The lady politely answers by saying that she’s a preschool admissions consultant who would help them navigate their way to the right preschool.  She reassures the group that if they fail to get their child into the school (which she added was likely), she would basically be their shoulder to cry on. Same mother asks what her fee was and the lady replies, “$4000.” What?!!! The mother politely thanks the speaker and walks out. I would’ve done the same thing.

Word of Advice

At one of the pre-admissions meetings, one director advised parents two things that would get them into the school. “First, your appearance. Second, the applicant (child).”

Take One Please or Better Luck Next Time

Another interesting moment was trying to get an application form which was available right after Labor Day. Due to the large amount of applicants, parents weren’t allowed to get an application form in person. Everything would be conducted by phone. Let’s just say, patience, perseverance and luck played a big role here.


They also showed one of the schools inviting the applicants to have a playdate at the school. The goal was to observe the children as they participated in free play and interact with the staff. After the families left, they would evaluate the children individually and decide who deserved an interview.

The Road to Success

One parent felt that getting his daughter early into what he referred to as “feeder schools” would lead them to getting in a prestigious elementary, high school and the ivies.

Big Envelope vs. small envelope

Once a family submitted an application, an interview followed and then a notice was sent in the mail. I thought it was ridiculous how long and grueling the whole process was to simply enroll your child in a preschool. You definitely felt for the parents who got the small envelopes which were rejections.

How Much?

One mother went as far to donate money, so she could secure a spot in the school but that effort failed.

The film brought back memories of our own struggles with getting Lil into her home public elementary school. Due to overpopulated California public schools, we had to go through a lottery system. Unfortunately, her name didn’t get picked and she was added to a waiting list. We enrolled her in a private school for kindergarten and reapplied to the public school for 1st grade. Unfortunately, we lost our spot in the waiting list and she had to attend another public school, 20 minutes away from home for a year.  We’re happy that Lil’s in her home school now.

In just a couple weeks, Emmy will start a part-time enrichment preschool program. It’s a three hour drop-off program. I’m so excited for her! It will be a  great opportunity for her to make new friends, explore and learn without mommy shadowing her. Thankfully, the whole process of picking a preschool program and enrolling has been quite smooth and easy for us.

I’m personally not looking forward to the Kindergarten application process again but am optimistic that some good changes will be in place when that time comes.  I think when it comes to picking a preschool for a child, it’s important to consider that the school introduces learning in a structured yet nurturing, happy, fun, and safe environment.

One of the school director’s from the film nicely stated what really matters, “Minus the hype. To see real growth and real progress and development in your child, that’s the good stuff.”




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