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Surviving the Elementary School Application Process

February 23, 2017

Applications for elementary school? How is that even possible? Well, it is. Welcome to 2017 in New York City. Never fear. Contributor and Photosanity founder Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick has the lowdown. We’ve got you covered!


Ok, so you’ve toured the schools and submitted your applications, now what?

Last week we talked about the elementary school search process and some things to think about when picking an elementary school. This week we’re talking about how to survive the application process, or rather, the acceptance process, because the application is just the beginning.

Which leads to my first and probably most important point, which is:

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I remember Joyce Szuflita of NYC School Help reiterating this over and over – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And unless you’re prepared for that, and even if you’re prepared for that, the waiting process can still be excruciating.

What this means is that, depending on your community, but especially in NYC/Brooklyn, when the first round of placements come out, it’s just the beginning, not the final determination. Most families will get offered a place at their local zoned school regardless of where you ranked it on your application because those are the families that get priority. If you were hoping for a different school, don’t worry, there is still a lot that will happen.

Waitlists move a lot over the entire summer and even through the first month of school. The reason this happens is that there are charter school offers, G&T offers, and independent school offers, not to mention families who decided to move out of the neighborhood altogether. All this activity takes people out of their zoned school, which allows other people in, and generally, there is a whole bunch of shuffling around before things settle down.

With our oldest son a few years ago, we ended up receiving five different public school offers before school started, and I know that is not at all unusual. Many people I know received offers from a top choice school just weeks or even days before school started, and as I said, offers continue even into the first month of school. It can be nerve-wracking, but don’t panic! Be ready to wait and see.

Talk to other parents. Who are we kidding? It is going to be impossible to avoid this topic of conversation! It’s hard not to get obsessed and want to hash out options and strategies with complete strangers at the playground.

It truly can be helpful and stress-relieving to know that you’re not alone in the process, but be careful not to get sucked into “comparisonitis.” Instead, look to parents who have been through the process for advice, guidance, and success stories, and look to your fellow sufferers for commiseration and information.

Don’t get too attached to a particular outcome. We talked a bit about this last week, but it bears repeating. Ultimately, much of this process is about luck, and it is out of your control, especially in the public school system of high demand areas. Targeting and hoping to get into one specific school is a recipe for heartbreak (unless of course, it’s your zoned school where you are guaranteed a spot). Instead, it helps to be open to several acceptable options and then be ready to see what happens.

In fact, quite honestly, now is the time to pull out whatever spiritual or personal development type tools you have to remind yourself that everything is going to be ok and that you can only control so much. One way or another, your child will have a school to go to in September, and this too shall pass.

We wish you strength and courage!


Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick is a family photographer turned photography coach for parents. She founded Photosanity to help parents find joy & connection through photographing their kids. Born and brought up in the UK, Alethea lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her two sons, Liam, age 8, and Jack, age 5.

Alethea has taught workshops at the Apple Store, Brooklyn Baby Expo, Brooklyn Babybites (now Mommybites) and online through Photosanity.com and other platforms. She has been interviewed on 1010WINS and featured in The Daily Mail, Cool Mom Picks, Apartment Therapy, Ask Moxie and Mom365.