Best of the Forum: Preschool Applications and Waitlists


In lots of preschool-related posts, people mention preschool waitlists. A friend recently signed up on a waitlist while still pregnant. Is this extreme, or is it necessary in order to get into a good preschool? I thought I would have more time before thinking about this decision, but now I feel a little unprepared. When is a good time to start applying and touring if I want to make sure my kids can get in once they reach preschool age? Or am I a little late already? (My kids are already 15 months old.)


I signed up for my son’s preschool, Crescent Park, the September he was 2 years old. He went there the following September, when he was 3. I know that they have a waitlist for September this year, but if you sign up now for the year after, you would get in for sure. I was specifically interested in a Reggio Emilia preschool for our son, and since there aren’t that many, they fill up quickly. I think signing up the year before your child will attend typically works for all but the most popular schools (i.e., Bing and GeoKids). I think Ventana is full for September, but you could sign up now for the year after; same with Edgewood House. I saw plenty of other non-Reggio schools that had openings, and you did not have to sign up a year in advance.


I tried to sign my kids up for Bing before they were born, but Bing doesn’t allow that. If you are interested in Bing, you want to sign up ASAP.


My daughter’s fantastic play-based preschool, Palo Alto Friends Nursery School, takes call-in registrations the October before the year you wish your child to start. (Children must be 3 by October 1st of the year they start school.) That is for priority on the waitlist after the alumni families. Usually there are spots open after that call-in date for 3s, especially for the afternoon class. This year the 4s class filled up quickly because all this year’s 3s got priority to add a.m. or p.m. to their schedule (which many families did). I think you could start thinking about what kind of program you wish your son to attend then look at schools near you and see what their application and waitlist policies are.


All the rumors about preschool waitlists scared me, too, but I don’t think they’re really true. We started looking for my 2-year-old in January, hoping he would start the following September, and every single preschool we applied to at that time (including some popular ones) had a place for him if we wanted it. From my experience, starting to look the winter/spring before you want your child to start is fine.


I’m currently in the process of searching and am finding more openings than I’d anticipated. It seems the natural transition/enrollment time is August/September, when a lot of kindergarteners “graduate” and openings become available. The early springtime is a great time to start making those contacts. The preschools that have waitlists will always have waitlists, but there are many other wonderful options in the Bay Area.


I think it depends on what you are looking for. The excellent part-time preschool that my kids went to, Grace Lutheran Preschool, does not have a waiting list at all, and you apply the spring before you want go (i.e., starting in March, they take applications for 3- and 4-year-olds for the following September).


It may be true if you are looking for full-time daycare/preschool or for some schools that give priority to others first (e.g., Bing gives priority to people affiliated with Stanford, then neighborhood people, First Congo to current families and church members). There are always exceptions, but if you find one you really like, it can’t hurt to get on a list early. I put our name on both lists when my child was only a few months old and still did not get into the 2s at First Congo.


I know the waitlists are bad in San Francisco. But we moved to Palo Alto last May, and I applied to preschools in July. If there is one in particular you want to go to, definitely apply as early as possible. I didn’t try Bing or First Congo, but there are many great preschools in Palo Alto. I got spots for my twins at every school I applied to.


I didn’t send my child to full-fledged preschool until she was almost 4. Her family daycare just did such a great job with preschool-like things, and I really loved the family setting. She’s in kindergarten this year, and I’m really happy with my decision. I think what you’ll find is that even with a waitlist there is a lot of transition in the summer around here. It is not a sedentary population. If you are set on a particular school, though, it might make sense to put your name down a full year in advance.



I will need a full-time daycare/preschool for my 22-month-old son when I return to work in August. I am on two waitlists for preschools in Palo Alto. Is this enough? How many waitlists do full-time employed parents typically join in order to ensure their child gets a spot? I’m worried that by the time the preschools notify me, it will be too late to find another quality place.


Were the centers able to give you an idea of where you stood on the waitlist? When I started looking at centers in Mountain View, only one out of seven had a waitlist. You can always do a few more tours and see where you get a good feel. Schools usually aren’t as crowded once the child turns 2, compared to the infant center.


Some waitlists can be very long. Actually, neither of my children ever got off one waitlist before kindergarten. At another center, even though my child was No. 2 on a waitlist, we did not get a spot before kindergarten because siblings of current students enrolled. My second child was offered a spot at another preschool. You just never know how things will turn out, so I would get on at least two more waitlists.


I have found that calling the school on a regular basis as the time approaches really helps.


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