This Is How to Find the Best Private Schools in NYC

private school kids

Since the pandemic, some private schools have seen an increase in applicants, especially those schools offering in-person learning, while other schools have seen a decrease as residents leave the city or face financial challenges. Parents may find new opportunities for their children to top Manhattan private schools during this time. 

For Brooklyn parents, the population explosion in previous years that has come with Brooklyn becoming a global brand has meant that many local private schools have admissions rates resembling elite colleges. Many private schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn require that 3 and 4-year-olds take standardized ERB tests, which has spawned its own industry of test-taking and school interview preparation for tiny tots.

Manhattan and Brooklyn private school admissions had become so insane that many schools were rationing out application forms to a small number of lucky lottery winners, since they would otherwise be deluged by the flood of applications. Again, the pandemic may have changed application rates. Regardless, the application process can feel rather daunting to the parent who is neither a hedge fund titan nor a media luminary.

Whether you’re well versed in the peculiarities of the NYC and Brooklyn private school scene or you’re fresh off the boat, finding the best private school for your child is a process that rewards persistence and gumption. The good news is that there are now more options than ever before, with several new local private schools starting just in the past five years.

How to Get Your Child into a Top Private School in Manhattan and Brooklyn

Follow these tips for finding the best school for your child:

Choose Your Entry Point

Some private schools in Brooklyn and NYC have pre-K programs starting at age 3 or 4, while others start with kindergarten. While it is possible to transfer in later, those are primary entry points. So, it is important to decide if you would like a program that runs from preschool and up or starts at kindergarten.

Unfortunately, at many popular schools, the preschool slots are mostly set aside for siblings and legacies. Ask the admissions director and they will generally be pretty honest about how many actual slots are available for those without a previous tie to the school.

Private Schools in Brooklyn with Pre-K Programs

Private Schools in Manhattan with Pre-K Programs

Do Your Research

Once your child reaches 2 years old, it’s time to start looking at private schools that you think will be the right fit for you and your family. Each school is different. Each has a different ethos and mission. What’s right for you might not be right for someone else. Therefore, it’s important you attend as many open houses and information sessions as possible. Virtual tours and meetings are likely a possibility. 

Most private schools host open houses several times a month, so it’s easy for both parents to attend. Online open houses may provide more accessibility to both parents as well. The open house will include a presentation and tour of the school. It’s a good opportunity to see first-hand if the school will work for you or not. Next to purchasing a home, 13 or 15 years of independent school tuition might be the largest investment you ever make. So be informed.

Read Next | Preschools – When Do You Apply?

Ask Questions

Many parents looking for the best Manhattan and Brooklyn private schools may feel that they and their little one are under so much scrutiny that they neglect to ask questions. But if there are certain issues that are important to you, then you have a right to know. How many of the teachers at the school have advanced degrees? What methods of math and reading instruction do they use? What kind of communications can you expect from my teachers?

A parent who asks reasonable questions is one who is taking the process seriously and is genuinely curious about how the school differentiates itself.

Those Pesky Letters

Some parents may be advised that they need to provide a sheaf of reference letters to support the written application they have put together for their 3- or 4-year-old child. While this appears risible on its face, letters from alumni or bold-faced names may sway decisions at some of Manhattan’s elite schools, but only if the writer truly knows your child and has something of substance to say.

Another letter is the so-called “first choice” letter in which a family informs their favorite school that they will accept if admitted. Beware of sending more than one “first choice” letter, however, because Brooklyn admissions directors reputedly engage in a process of “brokering” to try and maximize their acceptance rates and find a home for as many kids as they can.

Don’t Bluff

If your youngster has shown a precocious aptitude for music, math, visual arts or some other gift, don’t be shy about talking about it, or even backing it up with some samples. But don’t make the mistake of hyping the talents of a child who is still developing, since the admissions director may scrutinize these areas more carefully in the assessment process.

Substance Over Status 

In the hyper-competitive whirl of New York it is all too easy to get sucked into obsessing about getting your child into the “right school.”Parents should focus on whether the school is right for the child and family. The research and assessment process should be looked at as a chance to have a real conversation about what your expectations and values are.

What Is the Best Private School in Manhattan for Your Child?

These are some questions to consider to find a private school that is the best fit for your child:

  • How rigorous of an academic program are you looking for?
  • What level of parent communication and involvement do you expect?
  • Where do you fall on the spectrum of “traditional” vs. “progressive” styles of instruction?
  • Does your child have a clear passion for music, sports, performing, or visual arts?
  • How important are character and values as part of the school experience?
  • Does your child learn in large groups or does she or he need more tailored support?

By asking the right questions, you are more likely to find the best private schools where your child will be happy, well-rounded and successful.

So, take the time to see what feels like the best fit for your family.

And you may be surprised that the school that is perfect for you is not the one with the feverish application lottery and miniscule acceptance rate. You may end up applying to one school or applying to ten or more.

What if your child doesn’t get accepted into your top Manhattan private school choices? 

Don’t panic! Many other private schools may have places left in your child’s age range and provide an outstanding start to your child’s educational journey. As your child moves into higher grades you may have a much clearer view where their aptitudes and interests lie and transfer later to a school that is the perfect fit.

So be curious, enjoy the journey, and rest assured that one way or another your family will find the school that is just right for your child!

international school class
Read Next | A Guide to Choosing an International School for Your Child

Zoe Marmot is the Director of Marketing & Admissions at MUSE Academy.

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