How to apply to NYC Pre-K and look ridiculous doing it.

I created a weighted ranking model to understand how to rank our little family’s Pre-K choices. You can use it too! Avoid pulling your hair out and/or cursing the Dept of Education by making a copy of my template here:


If you live in New York City, and you are crazy enough to do so with a small child, you have undoubtedly heard about the city’s Pre-K For All program. Every kid is guaranteed a seat, which is fantastic! The problem is, there are far fewer Pre-K programs than there are for your normal K–12 programs at public schools.

Depending on where you live, there may be plenty of options, or they may be few and far between. In my neighborhood of Yorkville (Manhattan) there are only 4–5 choices within walking distance (we live in the low 80s closer to the East River). There are a bunch of programs clustered north of 96th street, and then some farther down in the 60s. You can find out your options at the Pre-K Finder website.

Why so complicated?

Why do you need a ridiculous, absurd, total overkill model to tell you how to pick a Pre-K? Because – there are SO many factors to consider! As if living in New York City isn’t difficult enough (see New York v. The Simpsons for some great examples), you have to learn all about school zones, districts, siblings in districts, seats, offer rates, types of schools, and more.

I’m not going to get into all of these details—you can find them at the fabulous Dept of Education website However, I will cover the things I believe you need to understand in order to use this model. Why? Because I’m a nice guy. And contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers are nice people. We’ll always stop to give you directions—just don’t get in our way during rush hour.

New York—it ain’t easy.

Where do I start?

First, go to the Pre-K Finder map I linked to above. You’re going to find the 12 closest schools, and start entering data about each of them into the spreadsheet. What spreadsheet, you ask? Download it here:

Now that you have your fancy coastal elite spreadsheet at the ready, we can start entering information. You need to understand if each school is a District (DOE public school), NYCEEC (programs usually for low-income students, contracted to a community center), a DOE Pre-K Center, or a charter school. Your preferences here will be personal, so weight them accordingly.

Next, find your zoned school! This is important, because if there’s Pre-K at your zoned school, you’ll probably want to apply there! When I attended a Pre-K application session (the DOE runs multiple every year, in each borough) they said that getting into your zoned school’s Pre-K program gives you a slight (ever so slight) advantage when it comes time to apply to Kindergarten. So go here, and enter your street address to find out your school:

Unless you’re driving a car, have a private car (in which case you’re probably not sending your child to public school), or Uber everywhere like a true coastal elite, you probably want to be able to walk to your kid’s school. So head on over to Google Maps, and find out the distance each program is from your apartment.

Woohoo—we’ve reached our first formula! The spreadsheet will find the maximum distance in column F (Distance), subtract the distance from the school from that max value, and then multiply by a number (in this case, 3) that gives us a score range of 0–2.

How do I change the weight of different factors?

This part is relatively simple—for the scores that are binary (0 or 1, 0 or 3, etc), you’ll just adjust those values by hand. For the scores that are calculated using a formula, there will be a value (a multiplier or divisor) that you’ll simply edit in the formula. The reason we’re using formulas to calculate this stuff is so that we can normalize the resulting score with the scores of other factors.

Update: The spreadsheet is now in Google Docs, which makes it easier to share.

How many seats does the program have?

This is a pretty big factor, and probably one of the most critical in your scoring—just how many seats are there for your little one to plop their bottom down into? Let’s take a look at P.S. 158, a great school that’s a few blocks away, but outside of our zone:

Wow, 72 seats! That’s fantastic, and way more than the 18 at our zoned school. BUT WAIT. Remember, it’s New York City, and nothing is easy, not even waiting on line to get a bagel (seriously, be ready with your order when you get up there!)

Will you receive an offer?

72 seats looks great on paper. However, you now need to look at the data available in the Pre-K Directory in regard to the acceptance rates from the previous school year. If we look at 158’s likelihood of an offer we realize crap that is totally not going to happen. That school only accepted zoned studens last year, and most of them were probably ones with siblings already attending that school! That’s how the priority goes: zoned with siblings, zoned without siblings, in-district, out-of-district, and I may have missed one or two other categories in there. In short, it’s complicated.

Our likelihood of getting into this school is basically zero, so this is a great smack in the face from reality. But don’t despair, because knowledge is power!

What in god’s name do I do with my child after school?

If your kid is already in a fabulous daycare like mine (, you just need to ask if the staff can pick up your kid from school and hold them until you get home from work. If you have a different situation, you’ll want see if the school has an after-hours option. You need to call each school to find out how much it costs and what the details are. It sounds horrible I know (who makes phone calls these days?) but they’re generally very responsive and helpful.

Now, even if your daycare is great, you may want to rank schools with after-hours care higher, so that you can save some more money on your current childcare costs (daycare costs so. much. money). You could literally rent another apartment instead of having a kid here, but that’s a post for another day.


Finally, we get to Pre-K and School Scores. If the program is new, there will be no Pre-K Score, because well… it didn’t exist last year. What I have done is found the overall School Score and used that in place of a Pre-K score. It’s not a total apples to apples comparison, I know—but it will do to give us a general sense of our overall chances with each program.

As you can see here, we find the average of both columns and multiply by 0.75 (to give the scores a weight of 0–5 … this again is a weight that you can adjust by futzing with the formula). It’s up to you to decide whether distance, after-hours care, or school rankings is more important to you. It’s a highly personal decision. Just like renting an apartment here, you’ll never get everything you want—and that’s ok.


Bringing it all together, in one final absurd scoring system.

Remember when you said you wanted to have a kid in New York, and that it would take like at least a year to get pregnant—probably longer—and then it happened really, really quickly, and now here you are blogging about arcane weighted ranking models for PRE-K, for god’s sake? We’ve all been there (ok, or maybe not), and now it’s time to tally up our final scores so that we can put these damn schools into the online application and be done with this educational nightmare.

Aha, there’s nothing left to do other than sort the Total Rank column in descending order, and BOOM you know how you should rank your choices.

But wait, there’s one more thing…

For reasons unbeknownst to science, there is one final factor you may want to consider. You may want to list any school you’re highly likely to get into very low on your list. This doesn’t make any sense until you consider the following factors:

You are automagically waitlisted for every program you DON’T receive an offer to, IF and ONLY IF it is ranked above the program you receive an offer to.

Example: You list 12 schools (absurd, I know—who has time for all this?) and receive an offer for school #8. You will automatically be waitlisted for schools 1–7. For schools 9–12, you will not be waitlisted. This was not a factor in our final ranking, but it may be for you.

Good luck, and don’t get too comfortable out there in New York City:

Skip to the 0:11 second mark for the truth about New York.

Snag your very own copy of my ridiculous, weighted NYC Pre-K ranking model by making a copy of my template from Google Docs:

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