Preschool waitlists - are they a scam?

Has anyone had luck moving off of a waitlist for any preschools? 

It seems like a complete black hole when you sign up for a waitlist. In my experience, I pay a fee (usually $75 - 100, not trivial) and never hear back about availability. This seems like really poor customer service bordering on extortion. 

For my older child I have probably paid >$300 and never got any response. For my younger child I've already paid $175 in waitlist fees. Just wondering whether I should pay for more or just give up. Are some schools more trustworthy / accountable than others?

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My kids successfully have gotten off waitlists at Duck’s Nest, Temple Sinai, Smiles, and numerous Piedmont Rec schools. I’d recommend contacting the schools as each one I spoke to told me where we stood on the waitlist. 

I don't have helpful advice but I just wanted to offer solidarity that when I was in your shoes, it totally felt like a scam and we also never heard back from several schools we were wait listed for our kids. When I pushed to ask where we were on waitlists, I got some pretty cagey responses that amounted to "It's a very complicated formula and we can't tell you." I also pushed back on trying to get refunded from one school that clearly never had space for our kids to begin with but took our money and was essentially ghosted.

I loathed it but am not sure until some journalist does an expose on the Great Bay Area Preschool Racket that much will change? Wishing you the best of luck in hearing back and finding a good fit for your kiddo!

In my experience (got off three preschool waitlists in the Berkeley area--one after 6 months, one after 9 months, and one after 11 months), you have to be persistent and follow up if you actually want to get off the waitlist. That means calling, emailing, scheduling follow up school tours, etc., really showing your interest. It's annoying but I think that's how many of these schools work--they are more willing to accept the parents who bother them about how much they want their kids to get in. It's not a first to sign up, first to get in by any means. Hope that helps! 

A few years back, we also paid several waitlist fees for pre-schools and kindergardens and got nothing out of it. I don't know what to tell you except you should ask before you hand the money over how long is the list (how many kids are ahead of yours) and how big is the class, and do they call in order or have some sort of kid mix they're trying to achieve (e.g., gender balance, socio-economic, hours needed if not full time, etc) to get an idea the likelihood of getting called up. Also, if you're really really interested in a particular preschool, call them up periodically to check your position on the waitlist. 

I would avoid paying any additional waitlist fees. The top Berkeley preschools (Nia House, Duck's Nest) don't take any money until you've been accepted into the program. 

And as a side note, always follow-up constantly with each as their waitlists are so long it's the squeaky wheel that gets the attention (the demand is so high, they often don't need to even look at the lists is what we found). Persist, bug, call. Be top of mind. That's how we got into multiples. 

Hi, I don't know the answer to your question about waitlists specifically, but I thought I'd share that the preschool our son attends is looking for more students for next year so you could avoid a waitlist situation all together. It's Sheffield Preschool in South Berkeley. He's been there the past year and loves it. Tiny school, loving and experienced teachers, and lots of opportunity to build community with other parents. The only caveat is that the woman who runs it, June Sheffield, is retiring in summer 2024 so this would only make sense if you're only looking for one year of preschool. Good luck!

Many/most waitlists are a black hole, and you will never hear from them un-prompted.  Maybe if you follow up continually, things are different, but the whole point of getting on a waitlist is (supposed to be) to be contacted when a spot opens up.  But if you want to be making phone calls to get a spot, there is a whole section of BPN for preschools with immediate openings.  It is indeed an extortion.

The only two schools where I got contacted off the waitlist: Rockridge Montessori and Rockridge Little School

Such a scam, makes no sense to me. Nia house was the only place I found that didn’t charge, but if you’re not already on their wait list, there’s probably no point. 

This was my experience too and I think it's pretty common, unfortunately.  Perhaps a reflection of the shortage of staff and demand for spots exceeding supply, though parents with pre-covid kids have told me it was always like this. All I can say is follow up with the schools by whatever contact info you can find and make sure you are actually on the waitlist. Then check back every few months (and track it all in a spreadsheet). I started applying while still on maternity leave and still did not get a spot until my child turned 2 (baby spots are hard to come by, and those with a sibling in care get preference, there is a lot more availability once they hit 2). The good news is I did actually have 3 acceptances by then, whereas for a while I was worried I wouldn't get in anywhere. So hang in there and at least keep politely following up with the ones you already paid money to.

I paid an application fee at a preschool, and was ultimately never offered the required tour to be considered for admission. It definitely bothered me to pay money and then not be responded to and considered.

If you are still looking for a preschool, I highly recommend Berkeley Hills Nursery School. We ultimately sent my older son here and he is about to start his second year. He is taught by highly experienced and caring teachers. The Director (only administrator, which makes it simple) is a joy to work with. She is highly responsive, very involved with the kids, hard working, and fun to talk to. Admission and being at the school day-to-day is easy. For example, there is no application fee. There are still spots available for this fall for 3 - 5 year olds (starts on Aug 29th)!

I guess I take a different approach. There are so many options of preschools that I never pay a waitlist fee. Since my time is limited, I do not even bother touring a preschool unless they have an opening. If they won't tell me if there is an opening, I move on.
But then again, I am looking for a preschool 1 month - 3 months ahead of when I need it. I am not sure how far in advance you are looking.
The one school that wanted an application fee, I just waited till they had an open house.