By now, the story of Nicole Imprescia, the mother currently suing York Avenue preschool for $19,000 has made its way around most of the major news outlets. It’s the sort of story about an over-the-top New York City parent hell-bent on getting her offspring into an “elite” kindergarten that the media love to play up, primarily because Imprescia is such a perfect caricature of an uber-neurotic Manhattan parent. Imprescia’s conviction that her daughter’s presumable failure to ace the ERB will ultimately bar her from the Ivy League is both utterly hilarious and profoundly sad; unfortunately, it’s also shared to some degree by quite a few other parents trying to navigate the city’s private school admissions maze.
So in case you’re currently trying to get your child into a Manhattan pre-school, kindergarten, etc., you may want to consider the following from someone who deals with students on the other end of the process, after they’ve spent ten or twelve years in the New York City private school system.
First, there is no such thing as an automatic ticket. Plenty of children admitted to so-called “top-tier” schools as kindergartners are counseled out before high school, and many of the students who enter in ninth grade are the ones ultimately admitted to top universities. Furthermore, the ones who do stay are often burnt out by the time they get to tenth or eleventh grade and display little interest in learning for its own sake. They also, on occasion, display alarming deficits in basic skills (such as writing logical, grammatically correct sentences). $40,000 a year may buy some connections, but it doesn’t guarantee an education.
Furthermore, a student’s individual accomplishments are ultimately far, far more important than the name of the high school itself. While a solid student with borderline SATs at a top private school will undoubtedly benefit from a guidance counselor willing to lobby for him or her, it probably won’t do much good at the very top schools. It might help at Colgate or Trinity or GW, but Yale won’t blink before rejecting that application (at least if your last name isn’t Bush). Given that top universities rarely accept all of the students who apply from a particular school, especially if there are twenty-five applicants, the ones who do get in tend to be the ones who are hooked in some way. On the other hand, a straight-A student at a less prestigious school who takes the most rigorous classes, pursues what he or she loves, has truly competitive (2300+) test scores, and clearly has something special to offer stands a much higher chance of admission.
Please don’t get me wrong: I’ve worked with some students from “top tier” school who were absolutely delightful — curious, enthusiastic, and thoroughly un-neurotic. But I’ve also seen some sixteen year-olds driven half insane by parental pressure and both dazed by and resentful of the fact that their “elite” education did not automatically translate into top standardized test scores.
So please, think long and hard about what’s best for your child right now. There’s no way to predict what a four year-old will be like thirteen years down the line. If anything good comes out of Nicole Imprescia’s whole laughable mess of a lawsuit, I hope that it is Imprescia’s realization, even to a tiny degree, that children are not so easily programmed to become what their parents want them to be. For her daughter’s sake, I hope that understanding comes sooner rather than later. And if not, I wish her the best of luck in finding an SAT tutor.