Last year, I wrote a deeply astonished yet brutally factual article about New York City’s cutthroat Kindergarten admission process. Since then, however, I had not come into direct contact with anyone immersed in the applications and interviews—until now. Seniors, a lot of this may sound very familiar.
My little cousin Siena is just one and a half years old, so she is applying to Nursery School. Yes, applying to Nursery School. And the process is just about as severe as the Kindergarten process, except the kids are younger and have less distinct personal qualities that might help them to be admitted to the city’s most selective schools. My uncle Gil is currently cranking out Nursery School application essays, faster—I am repulsed to say—than me with my college application essays. Typical essay questions center on the structure of the child’s day, the type of education the parents are looking for, and the activities and attributes that make each toddler “unique.” “There are specific buzzwords you have to hit,” says Gil. “’Creativity,’ ‘uniqueness,’ ‘passion,’ ‘love of learning,’ these are all things the schools want to hear.”
As Gil finds more and more ways to describe his daughter, my Aunt Sari busily shuttles Siena to and from gymnastics, music class, art class and others. “They definitely look for well-rounded kids,” she confirms. Gil and Sari have a key advantage, though: it just so happens that a very close friend of Sari’s is Dana Haddad, possibly the best private school educational consultant in the city. She helps hundreds of families a year and operates similarly to a college counselor, except for the fact that she sometimes works with children as young as 10 months of age. Her usual going rate is $500 an hour, $15,000 to see a family through the entire process; thankfully, she doesn’t charge my aunt and uncle.
Despite the pressure and expectations, Siena is a typical toddler, and wonderfully oblivious to the fact that she is applying to nine schools (more than I am applying to for college). There are only small signs of sessions with Dana: when asked a question, Siena replies with a sharp “yes,” and knows a few words in other languages. Like most kids when they first learn to walk, she struts around on her tippy-toes; a habit that should be broken with heavier boots that Dana advised Sari to buy. Apparently, it will look better in the interviews if Siena walks more properly. I’m sure that Siena will get into at least one of her first choices—just like college, it’s all about who you know, and Gil and Sari have some good connections. For now, however, as I type away furiously at college applications, Siena watches intently as her hero Elmo embarks on new adventures.