Applying to Private Elementary Schools

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • We'd like to send our toddler to an independent kindergarten. We're considering Head-Royce, The Academy, Redwood Day School, EB, EBI and others. That said, ~500 families showed up for the Head-Royce lower school open house last year (not all for kindergarten). But with only 2 kindergarten classes, I'm curious how competitive/selective Head-Royce is for kindergarten. Assuming it is quite competitive, are there any tips for improving one's chances? Thanks in advance for any input. 

    It's competitive, as are many of the schools listed. Many parents who visit the open house don't ultimately apply - we are a family at one of the schools you listed (not HRS) who visited open houses for all of the schools you listed (and more). We got into all three of the schools we applied to, but we didn't apply at all to HRS because we didn't feel that it would be a good fit for our child or family. 

    People will say you have a better chance with certain preschools but our child didn't go to a "feeder" preschool or an academic preschool and we have friends whose children went to those "feeder" schools who didn't get into any of the schools they applied to. Honestly, the thing that seems to make a difference - actively partnering with and participating in your child's preschool so that you get a strong recommendation, showing up and being engaged during the application process, and not applying for financial aid if you can afford the school without it (and aren't likely to receive an award anyway). It likely also helps if there is something your family can offer the school that most others can't (e.g., you have a unique skill, are somewhat famous, have access through your job to something, etc.) It's all a little distasteful, but I'm trying to be honest. I really think K admission is more about the family than the child unless your child is really brilliant or has extreme behavior problems that show up during the assessments.

    Even then, so much is out of your control - whether a lot of spaces are already taken by siblings, the gender balance of the class, etc. Worst case scenario, your child goes to public school - all of our friends who ended up in that scenario are equally as happy as we are and have spent a lot less money than we have.

  • Hello All!

    I am wondering if anyone else has run across this. I am applying to a private school. They asked for my child’s kindergarten report card. I could have emailed it directly but her previous school never gave us one. When I asked the Montessori school they first supplied a blank report card and said it was finished. Then it took me a week and a half to try to ask them to just send the school we are applying to or myself a copy of her report card. At that point the school owner said her file had been lost and normally they do not charge, but it took time to locate so I needed to pay $75. This seems like a lot. It’s more than it would cost for me to get a full college transcript. Have you been charged? How much? Or do you own or work in a school? Does this seem normal?

    thank you!

    confused mom

    Not only is this very not standard practice (no schools below college charge for sending transcripts), it's illogical.  You're not asking for extra work, you're asking for a service they provide with your usual tuition payment.  The fact that they've made extra work for themselves by losing something is irrelevant and certainly not something you owe them money for.    

    But I'm not sure where that leaves you, since you need something they have...

    Wow! That’s a lot of money. We’re not there but have experienced some nickel and diming from our childcare provider: it wasn’t that fees were assessed but how much they were, as if they are counting on that as an additional revenue stream.  

    I think that sounds ridiculous.  If they normally don't charge and it is not your fault that they lost the records, then you should not have to pay. I understand if they charge you a handling fee for the time required to generate and send the report, but that should be like $15, definitely not $75. 

    The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act says that a school can charge a fee for copying records (as long as that fee doesn't prevent you from accessing them) BUT cannot charge a fee to search for or retrieve records ( It sounds like they're charging you a fee to search for the records they lost, so you're right that it sounds fishy. FERPA only applies to schools that receive federal funding, though, so if this school doesn't, then they may be able to do whatever they want.

    This is crazy - no you should not have to pay for them losing the report card. The fee was never discussed or agreed to. I'm worried about a school that writes report cards for kindergarteners & a school that requires them for 1st graders. All ridiculous.

    It is pretty standard for schools you are applying to beyond kindergarten (both public and private) to ask for academic records from the previous school, so I don't find that part crazy. But no, you should definitely not have to pay! The fact that this is a Montessori school and that you never received a report card makes me wonder if maybe they don't typically do report cards, and they're not actually charging you for searching for it, but for completing it. If that's the case, they should have said so (and I suspect the school you're applying to would have been just fine with that for a kindergartener, assuming the recommendation forms were otherwise complete). In your shoes, I'd politely decline to pay and just point out that you should have received it at the time, and they did not send it. Whether that's because they never prepared it in the first place or did but then failed to send it to you and lost it, that's on them.

  • Hi All,

    I wonder if anyone has any experience with the following:

    We are currently applying to Kindergarten and are leaning towards public school, however we are interested in a particular independent school.

    If we apply and are accepted to both our desired public and private school but choose the public school, would the private school consider us at a later date, say late elementary school or middle school?  Or once we make a different choice, they are unlikely to consider our application again?  I know there are many hypotheticals in this equation but was curious if anyone had first-hand experience.

    If you are accepted the first time you apply, the private school will certainly consider you for enrollment at a later date. What matters most is if they have space at the grade level you are trying to enter at if you do return at a later date in hopes of admittance.

    Private school parent perspective: The bigger the school and the more professional the admissions staff, they won't hold it against you regardless of the year/level you reapply. It would be a possible "black mark" at a co-op type school if there are parent volunteers assisting with admissions, who might have long memories. However, certainly there is a lot of shuffling around at middle school entry, so that should really not be an issue anywhere.

  • Hi i'm new on this forum. My 9 year old has been assessed as gifted and ADHD (2e).  My 5 year old hasn't been assessed for either but we plan do an assessment soon.  We don't live in the Bay Area but we were looking to move there for the private schools for 2e children.  I looked through the prior posts and thank you to everyone that's shared your experiences about all the other wonderful schools there.  It's really helpful. 

    We started to look into applications for private schools (most of them were mentioned on this forum) and they all want teacher recommendations.  My son sometimes struggles with school - they're on a number system and he usually gets 2's and 3's on a scale of 1 to 4.  He always knows the material back and forth when we review it at home and every tutor he's had says he's bright and he knows the material, but he's not great at completing in-class assignments or performing on tests.  We weren't too worried - we thought maybe he just needed some time to grow and mature, but when we got him assessed for ADHD a couple months ago, the Psychologist also tested him for being gifted and told us he was.  She told us that his neurodiversity is impairing his ability to excel in school.  (this is what started us on a school search and ultimately this forum).  

    His current and prior teachers are NOT going to write him favorable recommendations.  They all say he's distracted, doesn't focus, is sometimes lazy, is day dreaming.  We didn't share his diagnosis with his current teacher or ask her for accommodations (504 for example) because in our extensive communication with her this past month, we think she can be vindictive and that she's not supportive or nurturing at all. 

    Has anyone had experience applying to schools when you're unable to produce good recommendations?  I do plan to contact the admissions offices of the schools we intend to apply to, but we were hoping for some general insight and to see what your experiences have been in this situation. 

    Thanks so much.  

    Our child’s report card was not 100% glowing. Teachers have commented that our child was often distracted and needed to work on completing the assigned work. In our applications to private schools, we explained the struggles that our child had in public schools and how bored and unsupported they were. We got into multiple schools but ultimately we chose Aurora because of its small size, which is especially attractive during the pandemic, and reputation for excelling individualized education, inclusiveness  and warm support for 2e children. Teachers’ negative comments did not seem to impact our applications. But we did stress about it and made an effort to “rebut” what we thought would be negatives. We reached out to schools and asked if they would like letters from our child’s tutor/enrichment class teacher who have known them longer and better than the classroom teacher but Aurora said it wasn’t necessary. There are many kids who moved to private schools because public schools didn’t work for them, so I would not stress too much about the recommendation forms. The schools will also interview the child. We liked the fact that Aurora interviewed our child 1:1 virtually and made an effort to get to know us and our child during the application process. Our child is enjoying school for the first time in their life and is allowed increased recess time and body movement which are so helpful. They comment how much more attention they get in school and how much kinder everyone is at Aurora compared to their old school. Good luck!

    Thanks so much for your feedback! That's really helpful and encouraging.  I really appreciate it.  

    Those messages from the teachers are awful...lazy, dumb.  He is not either of those, as you know.  It's a brain difference.  Maybe check out Aurora or East Bay School for Boys, depending on what grade he's in.  Another mom told me about this, which is a great resource, (my son has ADHD, and is also 2e).

    Wouldn’t a 2E school understand his complicated profile? My children went to a private K-12 school that probably wouldn’t have taken a child with bad (totally misunderstanding your child) teacher recs or Medicore grades but a special 2E school should! You’ll explain your child in your application! 

    Most private schools are not equipped to support a child with ADD. It is not in your child's best interest to conceal or downplay the issues that go along with ADD that his current teachers have noticed. Your child could end up very frustrated, take a hit to his self esteem, and you may need to change schools again, which is disruptive and anxiety-producing for everyone. 

    My child with Inattentive ADD was so tuned out that his teachers thought he had a hearing problem. This was at a private school where he'd been since kindergarten. No one at the school knew anything about ADD and could do little to support him. We decided to apply to other private schools. We did not provide teacher recommendations. He was accepted at only one of the schools we applied to, and he was only accepted there because they already knew our family. Later, when we applied to private middle schools, his 5th grade teacher was very transparent about what they'd write in the recommendations: that our son is a bright kid but has a lot of trouble staying focussed and rarely finishes assignments. None of the schools we applied to accepted him.  So we enrolled him in our local public middle school. This turned out to be a great choice.  He had a 504 plan, though the school already had in place the kinds of supports he needed, such as extra time on tests and teaching organizational skills. The school was big and diverse, and he was squarely in the middle range of students. He was no longer that one kid in the class with a focus problem.  He continued on to public high school after that, still with a 504, but now the school expected students to advocate for themselves, not the parents. Our kid could not do this and was falling through the cracks, so we started visiting private schools again.

    At the high school level there are many more options for kids with learning difficulties (not so for younger grades). These schools specialize in supporting LD kids. For us it was a relief to work with a school that had expertise about our son's issues, and could give him tools to succeed beyond high school. We found a school that was a great fit, that challenged him academically while supporting his disability. 

    So my advice is to be open with the schools you apply to about your son's learning difficulties, so they won't be surprised when his previous teachers report focus issues. Yes, you will be at a disadvantage if you don't provide teacher recommendations. There are some very small schools that say they specialize in 2E kids that will be happy to take your money, but I would be wary.  Public school might actually be the best choice for your kid, at least until high school, because you can request extra resources and support by obtaining a 504 or IEP.  Good luck and best wishes!

    Thanks so much for the feedback and advise.  I really appreciate it.  We have been very transparent about our child's neurodiversity to the schools and they have been encouraging in an open dialogue.  I was wondering to the poster who sent their child to public and private schools, if you wouldn't mind sharing what public school district you found helpful for your child and what private school you found helpful?  

    Thanks to everyone who responded.  Everyone here is so helpful and supportive.  I really appreciate this online community. 

  • Hello,

    We are navigating the East Bay kindergarten scene for the first time. A few questions in case others have more experience! 

    OUSD:  we received waitlist placement from all 6 schools we ranked.  We chose a good mix of how in demand schools are (two top schools, with lower ranking spots, and 4 mid-range/more average rated schools).  We would really prefer not to go to the neighborhood school (only offer we got).  I read an article from OUSD yesterday that over 95% of applicants received their top three schools.  With that kind of stat, did anyone else get 0/6 this year?  Mainly just curious.  But also.., could I have done something wrong/better or just got very statistically unlucky?

    Private:  we applied to 5 private schools as well which we will hear about next week. I just read that you can actually get straight declines vs waitlisted. I guess that makes sense, but does anyone know why you would get a full decline for a “normal” 4 year old?  Is that the kind of thing you can ask specifics if it happens?  

    in either case, I’m trying not to get my expectations up too high for this year, but would love to get feedback on how to do better next year if we end up with only our neighborhood school as an option. 

    All thoughts and feedback would be appreciated!!



    I’m sorry you didn’t get into your choice school. And you spent $$$ and time on school applications! This is crazy making for sure. My spouse who grew up in a small town is often baffled by the school craziness here, as kids in their hometown all went to the same school since there was only one elementary, one middle and one high school choice.

    Re: OUSD, it is common not to get into the out of catchment school for the first around. Those who get into a select few coveted schools are very lucky. After the private school decisions are mailed out, spots start opening up at these popular schools because many choose the private option or prefer another OUSD or are waiting to get off of the charter school waitlist. Throughout the summer and into the first 1-3 weeks of school, there is a lot of movement and spots open up. Many kids start at the school they got selected and then move to a different school. In my kid’s TK class, by week 3, 3 kids moved to Monclair, Glenview, and somewhere I don’t know, because they were selected off of the waitlist. For most kids, you get off of the waitlist sometime in late spring / summer before school starts. So, where you are on the waitlist matters. A single digit or low double digit on the waitlist gives you a good chance. Waitlist 300 something will be a long shot. It is also common for kids to move schools after TK or K, so people do keep trying for their choice school. We are moving our 2nd grader to a different school in the fall and movement in lower grades is extremely common. This is a sad reality of Oakland but we remain friends with several kids who are now at different schools in Oakland, Berkeley, Lamorinda, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, which is good because they may be in the same school for middle and high as well as school break camps. 

    Especially this year, many parents are trying to maximize options because of Covid. OUSD process is long and the March selection is only the beginning. 

    For private schools, I understand luck is also a factor. They try to build a diverse class, so if you have a boy and they need more girls, you have a less chance that year. Most private schools want racial, gender ID, and to the extend possible socio-economic diversity. They also can’t overload a class with kids with special needs. They look at parents and the potential for parent contributions — money, time, connections. Many get accepted and see that they didn’t get financial aid or didn’t get enough so they turn down their acceptance. April and May are the second round of admissions cycle for private schools. So people from waitlists and late applicants do get accepted. We are holding a spot at our zoned OUSD school which is one of the popular schools with a 3 digit waitlist. We will be relinquishing our OUSD spot if we get into our top choice private school. 


    What waitlist spots are you? We’ve been on the waitlist 2x in the past 3 years and got what we wanted. I’d call the district office and get their odds on each school.

    The reason that number is so high is because most people are ok with their neighborhood school. The privileged few (including me) who weren't interested in our neighborhood school, were left to the waitlist lottery. It depends on where you are on the list whether you'll actually get there or not. (I was 56 at Montclair, and made it down to 20 something by September, and started at 112+ for the rest of the schools, so never stood a chance)

    Re OUSD: It is not common to get into a school public other than your neighborhood school right out of the gate. But if you are willing to play the long game and you are low enough on the waitlist you can stay on the list and wait it out. You may have to wait until right before school starts or within the first few weeks of school starting which not everyone has the tolerance for. I have a friend who got a call the Friday before the first day of school in Kindergarten saying that there was a spot open for her child at their first choice OUSD school. By then they had gone the private school route and didn't take it. Another friend enrolled her child at a private school for Kindergarten and about a month into the school year got a spot in a sought after OUSD school and left the private school, presumably forfeiting the tuition. There is also an appeal process where you can get into a different school, I know several people who did this and didn't get their first, second, or even third choice but got a different school that they liked better. I don't know much about the process itself but there is a short time frame in which to appeal so look into it right away.

    Re Private: Some private schools just admit or deny. They admit a certain number of students based on their estimation of how many families they think will accept, I think the technical term is the yield. But they obviously have an unofficial waiting list that they will go to if necessary. Other schools will tell you if you are on the wait list. If your child is not accepted there is nothing wrong with them, there are just so many factors involved. Siblings of students already in the school take up a lot of slots, sometimes a ridiculous number of already limited slots. They also have to make the classes diverse. Money is also a factor, some schools have blind admissions, but even so, they can tell a lot about your financial situation just from your application, your zip code, your profession etc... They can't admit too many people who have high financial aid needs.

    Thanks all!  We ended up being admitted to two private schools, and waitlisted at a third. 

    The OUSD waitlists haven’t shifted at all, except for a few where we dropped lower (I’m guessing families in the neighborhood).  I realize it’s still very early, but I have a feeling people will wait a little longer before relinquishing spots this year.  

    I think with all the uncertainty of this year, we will likely go with a private school and try OUSD again next year. 

  • Hi Fellow Parents,

    We are navigating the private elementary school admissions process in the East Bay as first timers.  We decided to apply to private schools late in the game and have generally been feeling unprepared and overwhelmed.  We have the applications mostly finished and are starting to think about next steps - the Parent Interviews and virtual student assessments.  I didn't think much about this for some of the virtual tours and Q&A sessions, but I have attended almost all of them alone.  My partner's job is not very flexible and requires him to be in person during quarantine, and if the session was at night, the only way for me to pay attention and learn anything is if he is watching our two young boys in another room.  I can't tell if I'm simply getting googling anxiety, or if the fact that I was the only present is a problem/something I should explain through the next steps of the application process?  I will do my best to make sure that he can attend any of the parent interviews, but there is a chance he will have an urgent call out and not be able to make it.  

    1) Does anyone have general advice for the parent interviews/next steps in the application process?

    2) Has anyone been in a similar situation with parent availability?  Did you explain it to the admissions teams?


    I'll repeat to you what an admissions director told me: most schools want to know that both parents are on the same page about the particulars of the school, and also about education and child-raising in general. If you state that your partner can't be present but that you are in agreement about your child's education, that should suffice.

    If a school pressures you otherwise, or indicates that they can't evaluate your child for admission without SEEING both parents, or has a complicated metric for evaluating your pre-K child that can't be mitigated by a global pandemic, you might ask yourself how good of a fit that school would be for your family. Good luck.


    Both my kids go to private schools (different schools) and my husband was never able to attend any tour, interview etc. It was impossible with his work, being abroad etc. I explained this and told the admissions team that, although my husband was not attending, he was very much committed to the whole process. It never seemed to be any problem. Good luck! 

  • Hi!

    We are a bit late in the school enrollment game. Our local OUSD public school is not working out for our kid who keeps saying school is boring and often simply refuses to go. The cost of private school is so huge that we were trying to make the public school option work. But... after 2 years at OUSD, we feel that our child's love for learning and free spirited intellectual curiosity are being suffed out by "busy work". It's sad. The older child doesn't complain about our local public school but the younger one who is in Kindergarten pitches a fight nearly every morning. 

    Are there any schools that we might be able to get into now (2 months after application deadline)? St. Paul and Park Day are very appealing to us due to proximity and what little we know about both schools, but we recognize that those are popular schools and trying to get into them for 1st grade is probably impossible...

    Does anyone have direct experience with Grand Lake Montessori's elementary school program? We know that its preschool program is well liked but we don't know what the elementary school is like.

    Many well-intentioned people comment that we should try for private school and don't assume that we won't get financial aid. Our combined household pre-tax income is $280,000, which to me sounds like it won't qualify us for any financial aid. (I know... it sounds like a lot of money but we live almost paycheck to paycheck because our monthly fixed expenses including student loan, mortage, property tax, insurance, food, gas, transportation, after school and school break childcare, utilities, etc. is over $10k a month and after we pay tax, there's very little money left for us to afford luxury like private school. So, we're really struggling with our child's seeming need for a different educational environment and how we are going to pay for it...

    Thank you. 

    Absolutely do apply. I know for sure that both Park Day and St. Paul's have accepted students after the application deadline in the last couple of years. It's also worth applying for aid to see what happens, though I agree that it is probably a long shot. GLM's elementary program is very new and quite small, but also considerably less expensive than the other two schools. No idea what it's like programmatically as it was just getting started when we were looking for schools for our child. Good luck with the search!

    Many schools in the East Bay have rolling admissions, even after the deadline has passed. If the websites aren't clear about it, the various admissions directors would probably be happy to have a conversation with you. They also would be the ones who could most likely talk through your personal financial situation (or direct you to someone who can) so you can gage whether it is worth applying for aid. It is expensive to live in the Bay Area, and I'm sure you're not the first family with a pre-tax income in the mid/upper 200s who has had these questions-- especially with two kids to consider. Good luck finding a school that works better for your children and family!

    Hello, Escuela Bilingue Internacional has been a great school for our family. I highly recommend, and they are still taking applications.

    Best of luck to you and your family :)

    Hi!  Are the El Cerrito/Richmond hills too far for you?  My oldest child (and soon my middle child) attend Crestmont School and we absolutely love it.  Crestmont has some current spots open and will still accept applications for next school year.  It's a K-8 co-operative school with small classes (about 15), age mixing, and very project-based learning that fosters kids' natural curiosity.  I could go on and on....We are pretty huge fans.  :)  

    I definitely recommend still applying for financial aid at private schools you're interested in because they do take into account those fixed costs.  Schools really vary and even vary year by year with how much aid they give.  So, if you can devote the time to it, it's certainly worth a try to apply.  Also, check out charter schools!  Some people find great fits and there are a lot of innovative charter schools in and around Oakland. 

    Best wishes!  Hope you find a great fit!

    I got an email from EBI a couple of weeks ago indicating that they are still accepting applications for kindergarten (after the deadline). I don't know about first grade, but you could certainly inquire. Since all of the east bay private schools (that we encountered anyway) use the SSS for financial aid decisions, I would go ahead and create an SSS account and have your information shared with the schools to which you think you might apply. The SSS is far more time consuming than the actual applications, and that way if you reach out to ask the schools about eligibility for financial aid with a late application, they'd have your data and be able to let you know if this is a realistic expectation or not. Good luck!

    I can't comment on the timing of your application to private schools, but we applied to a private school in Oakland with a similar financial profile as yours.  At the time we probably grossed about $10,000 less than you but had similar fixed expenses  (mortgage, student loans, before/after childcare expenses, etc) and we were offered a generous financial aid package.  It's DEFINITELY worth going through the process to find out what it would actually cost you!  Good luck finding a better fit for your kiddo!

    I don’t know if a very long commute is a possibility for you, but my kids went to GATE Academy in San Rafael, and it’s a great place for kids who want to be challenged and study really interesting topics. The curriculum is self-paced, meaning that everyone can go as deeply into the material as he or she is able. The school is year-round, so they admit kids throughout the year if they have space. They don’t have financial aid, but the tuition is a lot lower than at some other K-8 schools (and it includes the summer, so you don’t end up paying for camps). Good luck with your search!

    FWIW, I absolutely think that $280 K is within the range for applying for financial aid.  Do it!

    Hi, I work in a private school and know that many schools, including mine, do have rolling admissions past the official deadlines. My oldest child was admitted to a (different) private school many years ago in early September! As someone said below, you can definitely call admissions directors and find out if they are still accepting applications for the grade you are interested in. As for financial aid, I do think most, if not all, aid is given out at the deadline to returning and new families so getting aid as a late admit is more unlikely. As a caveat, I don't work in admissions, this info is kept quite confidential, and all schools do things a little differently. I do know that with my son I was told "we have no financial aid left" and then we did get aid the following years when we met the deadlines. Good luck finding the right place for your family! There are a lot of factors to consider and it isn't easy!

    Here’s the deal, and I worked in private school admissions for years (multiple schools).  If they have the space for your child (grade/gender) they will try to accommodate you.  If they are full, they won’t.  In terms of financial aid, your family may qualify for aid but only a tiny amount.  Most schools use a system that generates a tuition number that your family can pay.  Family circumstance is taken into account but to be honest, it’s usually for situations WAY worse than yours (let’s just say NOT white privilege, an assumption, I know). You should apply, you may get in and you may get about $5,000 in aid.  It’s worth it if there is an opening. 

    Yes, if there is space available, private schools will accept students after the application deadline. We moved to the area two years ago and missed the application deadline and were able to get both our kids in private schools. I would recommend calling around and see which schools have space for your child. Also, it does seem like a long shot to get financial aid, but I have found that once you are in the school and apply for financial aid (at least at the larger private schools) they will provide something. I would recommend talking to the schools. Also catholic schools are usually a lot less expensive than other schools.

    So sorry to hear that your children are bored at school! Regarding your question: you'll be surprised to know that many independent schools in the East Bay have Rolling Admissions that are way past their regular admissions timeline. It is absolutely worth a call to both the schools you are interested in and talk to the Admissions Department regarding this. I am sure they will both be very willing to talk to you, and if not accepting applications, should be able to guide you to schools that are. 

    And it is also worth applying for financial aid. At the most, you will not qualify and then you can decide what you'd want to do. But it is worth a try! All the best to you! 

    We were wait-listed at a private school.  The person flatly told us that all their aid for the coming year was taken already, and if we wanted to stay on the wait list then we could plan to pay full freight.  It was good to know, we just dropped off the wait list.  On the other hand, I know of the opposite happening with one friend.  So I agree, just call and ask.  

  • We are currently applying to start our son in Kindergarten to Head Royce, St Paul, Redwood Day and Park day.  We are excited about all of them.  We are both working full time and attended the tours of each school, but really did not have the time to attend any of the open houses, socials etc. Anyone know if attendance at these events is a factor for admission?

    While attending those additional events might be helpful I don't think they'll hurt your chances. One administrator told us it looks good for you because it shows you're really excited about the school and they're more likely to recognize your name when they go through the applications but at the same time I doubt it would be a strike against you for not going.

    Hi I am applying to Head-Royce this year as well!  I wondered the same and have chatted with the folks at Head-Royce.  I was assured that these events are for my husband  and I to make sure the school is a good fit for our five-year-old not vice versa.  Crossing my fingers for grade one admissions! Good Luck to you.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How Competitive is Admission into Private Schools?

Oct 2012

I'm a mom of a soon-to-be Kindergartener and I'm starting the tours and research for East Bay Private Schools. We're looking at many schools, but are most interested in The Berkeley School, Black Pine Circle, and Walden (so far).

My question, to be blunt, is ''How difficult is it to gain admission into these schools?'' We have a son, bright, sweet, enjoys preschool, and no behavioral problems - probably like most kids applying to these schools. The question of admission is on my mind because the SF Private Schools are very competitive and I wonder about the admission situation for these schools - particularly as we get excited and invested in what they are offering.

We are moving from the City, to become members of the East Bay community, and are excited about the transition ahead - but also feel clueless about some aspects of this process. Any insights and words of wisdom are welcome. Thank you!

Well, my son is already in 8th grade at Black Pine Circle - a school that has been beyond wonderful in every aspect - so I am talking about 2004-2005, but here is my experience: We looked at several schools two years before we were to start K, because we were planning to spend the year right before K living abroad. After attending an open house at BPC we fell in love with the school. We decided that this was the only school we really wanted to apply for. Logistically it was complicated, because we would be leaving the country during the in August 2003 and not returning until Sept 2004, a week before our son was to start K. So we were facing flying our 5 yr. old back for an interview in Jan or Feb. We called the school, we told them that we thought BPC was the best for us and we would not be applying to any other school, that we really liked it, and to our surprise they agreed to see our son for an interview before we left for Europe. In March 2004, along with the rest of his class, we received - by fax - the letter of acceptance. Black Pine Circle was incredibly accommodating, and I think it really helped that we were able to let them know without hesitation that if they would take us we would say YES! So if there is a particular school that is your clear favorite, and you think it is the perfect match for you and your family, do let them know. Nobody has ever confirmed this for me, but I do believe that if they know that if they offer you a spot you will say yes - everything else being equal -, it helps them decide who to offer the spot to. Very happy at BPC

Like you, I was concerned at how competitive admission to independent schools would be. So I chose 4 that I would be perfectly happy to have my child attend, and we received offers from 3 of them. Even if a school does not have a space for your child, most applicants are put on wait lists, and quite often a space opens up. Most schools are not looking for brainiacs or kids with some kind of extraordinary talent. Just happy kids who can take direction and enjoy learning. The only ''competitive'' aspect I have found is that a school will try to have a gender balance in a class, so if they have too many of one sex or the other, your child might not get an offer while they try to balance things out.

Totally depends on which private school you are talking about, but in general, I'd guess that private school admission here in the East Bay is far less competitive than in SF. There are a few private schools that get many more applications than they have openings. You can usually spot these because they have a higher octane ''screening'' process for prospective students - they are looking for 4 year olds who can already read and write a little, sit quietly at circle time, and participate in an interactive session. But the majority of local private schools are not difficult to get in to. If you want your child to go to private school, there are private schools here that want your child!

The reason is that public schools have steadily gained in popularity over the last 10-15 years in Berkeley and Oakland, and that fact, coupled with the recession, has resulted in declining enrollment at most local private schools. Many of them were established in the 1970's when more parents had lost confidence in the public schools, and they continued to thrive during the tech boom even though public schools were improving, because so many families had the money to not even consider public school as an option. But things are different now. The recession has reduced the number of families that can afford private school tuition. These families have improved their local public schools via more parent participation and higher expectations, which in turn has attracted more families away from private school. Another reason is Oakland's charter schools, the best of which now have a more competitive application process than a lot of the private schools.

Most East Bay families that can afford private school now live in a neighborhood that has a pretty good public school. Many public schools even exceed nearby private schools in quality. So the private schools have to work a little harder now to keep their enrollment at the levels they need to sustain salaries and infrastructure. I think this is a trend, because of the cycle of families improving public schools and thereby attracting more families to public school. I suspect we will see more private school closures in the coming years.

This is just my opinion, as someone whose kids have attended a variety of public and private schools over the years. I have chosen private over public when I had a kid who needed something different than what he could get in public school. Everybody has their reasons. You should definitely check out the public school for your new neighborhood, because there's a chance it might be quite a bit better than some of the local provate schools. But there is certainly no reason to fret about getting into an East Bay private school if that's what you want. local mom

Anxiety about affording the ''right'' Kindergarten

Oct 2009

Our oldest child will be entering Kindergarten next fall and I've started to obsess about schools for her. I'm just not sure about our local public school--test scores are not that high (although improving) and from what I can tell, parent involvement is strong only among a small number of families. I'll probably end up applying for an intra-district transfer (WCCUSD), but the chances seem slim of getting one from what I understand. So, I'm going to research private schools, but I'm worried about long-term affordability--we could probably swing one kid, but not two, unless I go back to work full-time at a stressful job with a commute. Realistically, what kind of financial aid do private schools offer--would we get a better package with only my husband's salary? Sibling discounts? Also, is it terribly competitive to get into most decent private schools? Any insights would be much appreciated. perplexed parent

I was in your shoes several years ago. I did panic, and I decided to go the private school route. I was very impressed with the private school tours, the sense of community, the lovely environment. After three years in what is one of the best private schools in the area, I realized I had made a big mistake!

Turns out, the public schools in WCCUSD are more advanced academically, have a multitude of resources that the private schools do not have, have wonderful, supportive, well-educated, involved parents, excellent teachers (who are more educated, often, than their private school peers), and amazing kids! Four years later, I am still kicking myself that we ever went the private school route.

I would suggest you send your child to your neighborhood school. Give it a try. If it does not work out, private schools are so under-enrolled these days that you can transfer the next year. Had I known what I know now, I would never, ever start at a private school without first trying the public school.

Four kids later, we are thrilled with WCCUSD. Yes, it has been a bumpy ride, but our kids loved elementary school (and no, they did not attend Madera, Kensington, or Harding), one is thriving at Portola, and two are at El Cerrito High. Support your local neighborhood school

I just wanted to mention here that my impression year before last (my twins are now in first grade) is that schools may reject applicants on the basis of financial need. We have friends from preschool who also have twins--who applied to the exactly the same schools we did--but they applied for financial aid while we didn't. Our families are both white, and our kids perform (as far as we can tell) at the same level. However, our friends' kids were flat-out rejected at every school they applied to, while our twins were accepted at one and wait-listed for the other two. There was no explanation for their rejections (just a ''not a good fit'' type letter). I had thought that the admissions claim to be ''need blind'' but... well, I'm just sayin'... You might want to avoid the financial aid request, at least for the first year. Hated The Process

I too went through the anxiety of Kindergartenarama two years ago and am happily on the other side -which turned out for us to be in a private school in Oakland. First, I recommend creating a chart with a list down the one side of what your criteria for school are and dream so you're not just in lizard-brain trying to weigh practicalities. Keep filling it in with a score card (A-F?) for each school. Then I think the very best thing you can do with the first question about navigating your public school options is to go find out what your options really are -the rules, the school, probabilities of transfers, etc. Visit -it's not all about scores!! Second, regarding private schools, its important for you to thoroughly review what is said in print and online so you can narrow it down to where you'd want to visit. And then visit for your self and ask alot of questions, including about financial aid, sense the vibe of each place so you have your own gut reaction. Each school's answer about percentages and probabilities of getting in will be distinct. I haven't ever heard of sibling discounts:( Finally, apply for all of the ones you like -NONE you don't- say 4. With the money... you may end up being motivated to go back to work and there may just be the perfect -not as stressful position for you. So start with the ideal, see for yourself and gauge what you can really sacrafice -one way or another- to get as close to your initial dream as you can. Heather

If you are able to work but choose not to, why would you be eligible for the limited supply of financial aid over families with working parents who still can't afford tuition? Financial aid committees will ask the same question. You can always apply, but the purpose of financial aid is not to save you from a stressful job and a commute. Sorry to be harsh, but as a full time working parent with a commute and a stressful job paying full tuition, I found the notion offensive. Perhaps you should reconsider your public school options if tuition isn't comfortable. good luck

It is important to take time to think about your child and the kind of environment in which they function best (and your needs as a parent), and to look at schools with this in mind. It will be helpful if you know the size, style and spirit of the school you seek. Visit the schools you are considering -- public or private -- and see how YOU are treated as a prospective parent -- you will learn a lot by being there in person. I made a decision not to consider schools where I did not feel welcomed at the visit.

Most private schools offer financial aid and if you feel that private school is something you may want to pursue, it is worth applying and seeing what assistance you are offered. There are also very good public schools out there and even those in the same district can be quite different so keep an open mind.

Although difficult, it is not impossible to transfer out of WCCSD -- I know several families who have successfully done so. However, they generally found out that their child was accepted to the other school district after the school-year started. Depending on your child, a school transfer at that point could be stressful (for example, my child was shy and therefore I did not want to consider a mid-year transfer). It is free to apply for an intra-distict transfer, so if you think it may work for you, file the paperwork and decide about it IF your child happens to get accepted.

In my experience, becoming aware of the right learning environment for our child was something that evolved through the elementary years. We were able to find a mid-size public school that worked well for our child initially, and after moving to El Cerrito, we found a small community-oriented cooperative elementary, Crestmont, where my child thrived. if you work through the process, and don't put ''all your eggs in one basket'' it will get sorted out and you will find the right school for your child.

Most of all, don't get discouraged -- the months before kindergarten can be an anxious time for parents, but if you know the type of learning environment you are seeking for your child, you will find it. -- Been There

Deciding on school is a very stressful experience. A couple of things about private schools. It is not as much competitive as it is about finding the right match for you and your family. In your area there a lot of private schools to consider. I would recommend exploring those and, if you find any that you feel are a match, applying for financial aid. Many schools including ours offer significant financial aid for those who need it.

My kids are at Windrush School in El Cerrito. It has been an excellent match for our family. A great community of families, a very strong academic program and an extremely caring and nurturing environment for the kids - they put a lot of emphasis on the social and emotional needs of the kids to enable them to succeed academically and in the world as citizens. It is on the small size which makes the transition to kindergarten very smooth for the kids. They say that the two most challenging transitions for people are to kindergarten and to college. I felt that having that level of attention in that first year was really important.

Private schools are offering tours, I encourage you to sign up for those and the information days/nights to see what is out there. Good luck with your search. I know it is not an easy time. Anon

Basing your decision on whether or not to attend a school because of test scores is very short sighted.

My children got a fantastic education at a W. County elementary school with average test scores because they had caring teachers and the school staff were very compassionate and committed to helping each child.

All that money that we saved by doing public school went into a college savings fund, paid for family vacations, and enrichment during the school year and summers.

Plus our kids had the experience of meeting children from all walks of life--rich and poor, regular ed and special ed. These are invaluable ''real world'' experiences that will serve them well later in life.

Also, some schools with very high test scores can be difficult to handle because helicopter parents gravitate toward them and generally drive themselves and the school staff nuts with their worries and anxieties.

There are some very good reasons to attend private schools but why not try the ''free'' option first, see if it works for you, and if it's not a good fit, you can apply to a private school later.

Dear Perplexed Parent, I was super stressed also about the big kindergarten decision. We decided not to go to our public school although we really couldn't afford much else. We applied to three private schools. Our number one choice St. Paul's not only let us in but also gave us the best financial aid package out of the three schools. Last year our second child started at the same school and much to our relief we received enough financial aid for both children to make it work for our family. St. Paul's really seems to do everything it can to keep families together. I think about 30% of the school is on some sort of financial aid. We LOVE the school and really couldn't be happier!!!! I would recommend that you look at all the schools you are interested in and go through the financial aid process. Good luck with everything, Mom of three

Well, at the risk of sounding glib, the best way to alleviate anxiety about affording school is just to choose public school!

You didn't mention which school you are zoned to. There seems to be a fair amount of fear in the West County area about public schools that are not Kensington or Madera. I say that without an ounce of judgment because last year I definitely shared that fear.

This year, that fear is gone because my son and a bunch of his friends from the neighborhood are very happy at Mira Vista. We know families that are happy at Riverside, Harding, Washington, Olinda, Stewart and Ellerhorst. I don't know any families at Fairmont right now but from what I've heard it's a small, close-knit community with some great teachers. There are some great things happening at schools with so-so test scores.

WCCUSD kindy is still just a half day. Before school began I saw this as a drawback but now I see it as a plus. Kids get all afternoon, at home or at aftercare, to unwind and play. And when you do public school you're more likely to be able to afford fun enrichment classes!

Best of luck to you. public school mom

How many kindergartens should we apply to?

Sept 2006

I know this is kind of a crass question but in facing the private school application process for kindergarten in Fall of '07, I can't help but wonder how many schools people typically apply to and/or recommend applying to? How competitive is this process anyway?? My husband and I are already a bit aghast at the prospect of private school (We seriously cannot figure out how anybody pays for it! How would we? Who knows?)and truly hope to get a decent Oakland public school in the lottery (not necessarily one of the supposed ''best''). But we feel like we need to have a back-up in case that doesn't come through. At the same time, we don't want to spend a small fortune on application fees, nor get totally caught up in the school crazies. Any advice on how to approach the private school application process from more of a ''only as a back-up'' approach? Is such a thing possible? Also, everyone says that financial aid is available, even for more ''affluent'' people, but what does that really mean? We certainly are not affluent by Bay Area standards, but we could never claim to be poor either (thank goodness). Lastly, has anyone elected to have their child sit out kindergarten in lieu of attending either a poor public school or unaffordable private school? Thanks so much
Feeling quite flummoxed

I have a son in private school and a daughter in public school-- feel pretty experienced in both sides of the equation. Regarding the application process--my advice is to only apply to those schools you would really consider. If that's only two schools--as it was in our case--only apply to two. Remember that your child will be ''assessed'' at each school you apply to-- and while this is made as non-stressful as possible it's certainly not easy for any 4 or 5 year old to do repeatedly. I think there is a great myth about how competitive it all is. While there are certainly a few schools that are VERY hard to get into without legacy or sibling advantage, there are also lots of schools thathave lots of spaces! And they are often the best schools!

I would also strongly encourage you to consider the public school option. You can always change your mind down the line if it doesn't work out! We love our daughter's school and in some ways regret not sending our son in the beginning. Good luck! Both public and private

I don't know specifically about OUSD but most school districts typically tell you of your school assignment late in the summer, possibly even days or a few weeks before the first day of school. Whereas with private schools you are notified of acceptance in March, and then have just one week to accept and put in a deposit to hold that space. So ask yourself whether it would be worth losing your deposit to hold a space at a private school you like. There will likely be openings at a few private schools once you know your public school, but I think that would be too late to get financial aid for the year. Our daughter goes to Walden in Berkeley which is a teacher collective where the costs are kept down by being a collective and by parents doing work hours at the school for tuition reduction- still it's expensive but less than most of the others. The larger schools do offer more aid to middle income families. BTW our family loves Walden; and yet it has been very hard to pay for, we have accumulated a lot of credit card debt and not taken major vacations for years to do it, mostly it has been worth it, but not easy. We only applied to 2 and got in both; I think the # of apps. to do would depend on the perceived prestigiousness of the schools you are applying to. anon

Like you, my husband and I considered private school as a backup only. Frankly, the financial aspect was daunting (who wants a second mortgage to pay for 9 months of school for a gulp kindergartner?).

My advice is to visit as many private AND public schools as you can before deciding which one to apply to. Each school has very distinct personalities and philosophies and it's true that you need to find the one or ones that fit your child's needs. After visiting only 3, I discovered that nothing can compare to an actual visit. Seeing the classrooms and playgrounds, viewing the resources and even at times experiencing the teachers with their students gives a parent a strong feeling for whether or not the school is a good fit.

While I can't speak for all private schools, it was explained to me at one that we visited, that all applications are first reviewed and students accepted or waitlisted. Only after the students have been identified does the school then look at financial aid applications. Anything from $1000 and up was available according to need and fund availability.

The application process for both public and private schools is crazy. Assessments and questionnaires, self-portraits and educational backgrounds -- it's like I was entering college again -- and for a 5 year old? It seemed insane.

In the end, the lottery treated us unkindly and we did not get placed into any of the 7 Oakland public schools we had listed. We were accepted to and are now attending Redwood Day School. While the cost is high and believe me, it's a stretch each month, my daughter is ecstatic. The resources available to parents, students, and faculty is tremendous and the philosophy is echoed with every teacher at the school. It's like having a first child -- the process is painful, but in the end, after the decision is made, you make the best of the situation. Public or private is not the issue. Finding the right school for your little one is the priority and there are plenty of options to choose from. No doubt, it will be school crazies (particularly for the first time parents) -- but whatever you and your husband decide will be the right decision for you.

Been There, Done That

How does the school application process work?

June 2006

Hi, there, I know it is kind of early but I cannot not worrying--our child is going to go to kindergarten next year and it seems we have a big project coming to research the school. I would like to ask a couple beginner's questions:
1. how many schools do people usually apply (I assume he may have to go to a private school as local public school is not of the satisfactory quality)?
2. any idea the ratio of applicant vs admitees for the private schools around east bay? what are the standards for schools to admit their students? what if a child is rejected by all the schools?
I know these may be silly but it seems a highly stressful procedure--so many what-ifs. Any response would be deeply appreciated. Thank you. anon

The whole process of applying to private schools for kindergarten is surprisingly stressful. The ratios of applicants to those admitted varies by school -- some are just more sought after than others. I looked at 8 schools within a certain geographic area -- I was simply not willing to drive too far or on certain traffic filled highways. I ended up applying to 4 of the 8 schools I toured. I had one clear first choice school, but felt like the others were all good choices for our family should we not get the first choice. I felt reasonably sure we'd get into at least one of the four. I tried to keep an open mind throughout the process and I also took it pretty seriously. The competition is fierce at certain schools. As it turned out, we did get our first choice. Frankly, I've never heard of a child not getting in anyhere -- if you only apply to one or two you risk that, I suppose, though I also know people who only applied to one and got in. We felt like our public school was not an option and did not want September to roll around without a school and that caused us to apply to more rather than fewer.

My advice would be tour as many as you have time for -- they are very different from each other and your preconceived ideas my turn out to be inaccurate. The good news is that we have some truly wonderful private schools in the east bay. Good luck anon

From what I recall and have seen since we went through this process 7 years ago- people usually apply to 3-5 schools, and there are usually 3-5 times as many applicants as there are slots. It makes it feel competitive, but if you look at the math there are really enough spots to go around. Don't freak out- most likely there will be a good match at one school- they'll pick you and you'll pick them Good luck!

I don't know how many private schools you should apply to, but I recommend that you talk to parents in your community who have children at a variety of public schools and get their views on those schools. There may actually be public schools in your city that do meet your and your child's needs. Get direct information; not heresay from families that don't have kids there. Get phone numbers for friends of your friends with public school kids and call and ask the parents for the strengths and challenges of their kid's school. Then pick a couple of public schools in your city and do the enrollment paperwok for those (It's free!). If nothing else, these can be your fallback schools, and you will have educated yourself with first-hand information in the mean time. Also, one never knows when they may no longer be able to afford private school and need transfer their children to a public school. It is good to have the information, just in case - Mom


When are kindergarten open houses?

Aug 2006

Hi! I have a 4 year old son who will start Kindergarten in Fall 2007, was wondering if anyone knew about any open-houses (both private and public) that will be happening anytime soon? Any help or direction is appreciated. THANKS! Lorena

Google search for your district - Oakland or Berkeley or whatever - then go on the site, jot down numbers and start making calls. Some of the schools announce their Open Houses on the BPN, some don't. You'll need to do the research to find out for sure. It's a journey and you're just starting out. Unfortunately, you've got to start by calling and keeping a list.. Been there.

For BUSD they usually have opprotunities for day time visits and scheduled evening open houses early in the calendar year. However, to be sure of the dates and times, you should call the BUSD Enrollment Office (I think). They are at (510) 644-6504 anon