Five Ways Going to Preschool is Like Going to College

I just started to look for a part-time Mother’s Day Out program for the fall for my preemie-toddler who just turned two. Although I’m starting the research process many months in advance, I’m realizing that I’m already behind! I’m also no longer sure if I’m looking for a Mother’s Day Out program, a part-time program, or a full-time program!

Researching Preschools Online

I’ve started to compile an excel spreadsheet of the preschools in my area. I know — I’m a total nerd, but I thought a spreadsheet would help me better understand our options.

My spreadsheet includes names of preschools, contact information, programs offered, hours, tuition rates and other fees, and open house dates. I have been able to fill out most of my spreadsheet by reviewing preschool websites. I had hoped that this basic information would help me narrow down the list of preschools I want to visit, but this process has only made things more complicated!

Preschool Calendars

I’m finding that many of the smaller preschools follow the school system calendar. Students start preschool in September — and no mid-year entry options are allowable. Since my little one has a January birthday, we are considering whether my preemie would start preschool at two and a half or three and a half.

The larger preschool/daycare centers tend to have a rolling admissions process and allow students to begin school at all points throughout the year.

Open Houses

Open houses have already occurred and some application deadlines have already passed for the fall session. I’ve started attending open houses — only to learn that I have to go back to the school for a second look. It’s helpful for me to see preschools when children are there and class is in session. That way, I get to see child-teacher interaction and get a better feel.

preschool is like college

Going to preschool in my area is a lot like going to college. Let me count the ways:

1. Prerequisites. In college, I remember having to meet certain prerequisites or requirements before enrolling in certain classes. For example, I remember needing to take News Writing before enrolling in Advanced Journalism.

As we look at preschools, I am learning that some centers have a potty training prerequisite — and others do not. In fact some preschools offer classes for children who are potty trained AND children who are not potty trained. It’s hard to know if my daughter will be completely potty trained come September. I hope she will be — but what if she’s not — and we’re enrolled in the potty trained only course? Will we then have no preschool to attend?

2. Tuition Prices. Preschool tuition is comparable to college tuition. So far, I have toured seven different preschools in my community. It’s been exhausting. I’ve looked at both part-time and full-time programs (as I eventually need to transition back into the workforce) at church-based and non-church-based facilities.

Some preschools publish their tuition rates and other fees on their websites. Others do not. These facilities are like the Central Intelligence Agency when it comes to disclosing tuition fees. For example, I just called one preschool, and the administrator refused to provide tuition rates electronically, but was willing to provide a verbal quote over the phone.

Tuition prices at church-based programs, which typically offer part-time programs twice a week (such as a Tuesday/Thursday or a Monday/Friday) for two to three hours each day (i.e., 9:00 a.m. to 12 p.m.), range from $190 to $254 a month. These programs typically follow the school district calendar and are open for nine or 10 months.

Given that part-time programs only meet for a few hours two or three times a week, it would be difficult for a stay-at-home-mom or dad to return to work, even on a part-time basis. I’ve learned that many stay-at-home parents who return to work and chose part-time preschool options end up getting a nanny or au pair to provide before and after school care, as well as transportation services.

Tuition prices at large chain preschools and daycare centers are much higher, but offer more options when it comes to days and hours available. Many of these facilities offer both part-time and full-time programs. Some offer full-day programs (in which you can drop off your child as early as 6:30 a.m and pick-up your child as late as 6:30 p.m.). Others offer programs from 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., with add-on options for before and after school care.

Some programs have multiple school breaks throughout the school year, such as Christmas week, Spring Break, Fourth of July week, and teacher in-service days. I’m told that parents typically plan their vacations around the school’s schedule, or find other childcare arrangements, such as camps or travel to a grandparent’s home, during these closures.

I’m finding that the cost for a five day full-time program is as low as $14,059 and as high as $23,904 annually. Some of these programs require additional fees for summer camps and sessions.

I’m also finding that large chain preschools offer part-time programs, but when you look at the cost, it makes much more economical sense to pay for a five-day full-time program and simply drop your child off as late as you want and pick them back up as early as you want. For example, one school charges $375 a week for full-day care five days a week. The cost would be $225 ($150 less) for two-days of full-time care.

3. Application Fees. I’ve vented a lot about the high cost of preschool, but applying can also be expensive. Based on my findings, application fees tend to range from $75 to $125.

4. Interviews. As a prospective college student, I interviewed with an alumnus of one of the colleges in which I had an interest. I’m shocked to learn that some preschools require an interview and/or observation assessment as part of the application process. I remember taking the SATs, but I’ve never heard of an interview or special school-entry test for a two-year-old. If my daughter goes through this process, I’m sure that the interviewer will hear a lot about her favorite Sesame Street character, Elmo.

5. Other Fees. Tuition fees aren’t the only costs associated with colleges or preschools. I’ve found that many preschools also charge:

  • Meal Plans: At college, I had a meal plan. My freshman year plan included breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some preschools include morning snacks, afternoon snacks, and hot lunches in tuition prices. Others provide food and “lunch bunch” options at an additional cost. Some “lunch bunches” don’t even include food! They’re simply an opportunity for children to eat together at school — without Mommy or Daddy!
  • Building Fees. During my college years, I lived in the on-campus dorm. Although preschool children do not live at a preschool 24-7, I’m finding that some preschools and daycares charge building fees. One preschool on my spreadsheet charges a $175 building/material fee.
  • Supply Fees. I would have thought that cost of construction paper, glue, scissors, paint, and other materials would be included in the price of tuition, but it’s not! Most preschools charge for supplies, ranging from $50 to $100 annually.
  • Extracurricular Activity Fees. Some preschools offer extracurricular activities, such as gymnastics, dance, Spanish lessons, and computer classes, for an additional fee.
  • Non-volunteering Fees: Some preschools charge parents if they do not volunteer at the school for a certain number of hours. You are assessed a certain amount for every hour in which you did not volunteer. In one instance, I found a preschool that requires 25 volunteer hours. Parents are charged $50 for each hour not met.

On one preschool visit, Emily turned to me and said, “Bye, bye, Mummy” using a British-like accent. She is getting ready for this new phase of independence and education, but am I?

Michelle is the mom behind the popular Preemie Blessings blog, author of the children’s book Bentley’s Preemie Blessing, and a mentor to new parents of preemies at Graham’s Foundation. If you liked this post, be sure to follow her everywhere: Email Subscription |Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+

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