Is the Cost of an Elite Preschool Worth It? Experts Weigh In

Preschool-teacher
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Research seems to indicate that early childhood education can be a stepping stone to success later on in life. But preschools vary greatly in their philosophies, curricula and quality of teaching staff, so not every school will make the same impact.

Take a Look: Explore the Cost of Education in the United States
Read: Can You Afford Education in America at These Prices?

“Pre-K programs are not all equally effective,” concluded a 2017 study conducted by Brookings and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. “Several effectiveness factors may be at work in the most successful programs. One such factor supporting early learning is a well-implemented, evidence-based curriculum. Coaching for teachers, as well as efforts to promote orderly but active classrooms, may also be helpful.”

Related: A Parents’ Guide To Saving for Education
Discover: How Coronavirus Revealed America Is Failing Children — and Parents

Preschools not only vary widely in their programming, but also in their costs. In California, for example, the average private preschool tuition is $11,185 per year — but actual tuition costs range from $1,011 per year all the way up to $47,000, according to Private School Review. And outside of the monetary costs, there’s the added stress of getting your child into an “elite” preschool.

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“Elite preschools go through an application process and it can be challenging to be accepted, like with many elite universities,” said Brigida Aversa, chief operating officer and co-founder of Tiny Hoppers, an early learning center and day care provider. “Elite preschools, especially in major cities, have limited class sizes, legacy policies and religious affiliations. In these institutions, kids are expected to have strong social skills, pre-math/reading skills and strong independence. Parents are expected to fight one another to get their child in the most fitting program and nail the interview.”

So, are the pricey, elite preschools actually worth the money and the hassle? Here’s what the experts say.

See: What It Really Costs To Attend America’s Top 50 Colleges
Home School: A Parents’ Guide To Teaching Your Kids About Money

Why They May Be Worth It

“Going to an elite preschool can be an experience afforded to only select people. While the costs associated with it are ridiculously expensive, there are some reasons why it is worth sending your child to an elite preschool,” said Elizabeth Hicks, a mother of two preschoolers, child psychologist and co-founder of the parenting blog Parenting Nerd.

“The biggest benefit of private preschools involves their excellence in academics and the exceptional educational challenges they provide to young children,” she said. “The environment is best suited for behavioral learning, as elite preschools focus on developing a child’s personality rather than making them cram the same old curriculum. Another benefit is that elite preschools have smaller classes and fewer students, which makes it easier for teachers to individually focus on every child in the class. This helps the teachers in tending to the child’s needs and guiding them thoroughly. Parents are constantly involved in monitoring their children and receive timely feedback from the schools and teachers.”

Why They May Not Be Worth It

“As a former educator with extensive experience working with children, I am suspicious of the benefit of ‘academic’ preschool programs,” said Becky Ronalds, owner of Ranking Mom. “Sure, your child may enter kindergarten knowing more about the curriculum than the other students, but most studies I’ve seen demonstrate that there is little long-term association between achievement in subsequent grades and knowledge of the curriculum.”

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Related: A Look at Americans’ Student Loan Debt by State

This is echoed by the Brookings and Duke study, which found that “convincing evidence on the longer-term impacts of scaled-up pre-K programs on academic outcomes and school progress is sparse, precluding broad conclusions. The evidence that does exist often shows that pre-K-induced improvements in learning are detectable during elementary school, but studies also reveal null or negative longer-term impacts for some programs.”

“Furthermore, while there are awful preschools, there isn’t much of a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ preschools,” Ronalds said. “I’m sending my kids to a low-cost, play-based preschool with a light academic curriculum that covers all of the standard pre-K subjects but is mostly focused on having fun and promoting a love of learning and discovery. That mentality is far more important than meeting arbitrary academic benchmarks.”

Brian Galvin, a lifelong educator and chief academic officer for Varsity Tutors, also believes that elite preschools are probably not worth the cost.

“Any data that suggests elite private preschools lead to higher rates of future success than comparable pre-K programs is likely subject to the same correlation-is-not-causation fallacy that ‘Freakonomics’ famously debunked with the old wisdom that you could predict student success by the number of books in a student’s home,” he said. “It’s not the preschool itself, or the number of books, but rather that families that prioritize spending on preschool and that have a lot of books in the home are families that highly value education, and that value carries over to all facets of the student’s life.”

“Elite preschools don’t have the market cornered on proprietary teaching methods or resources,” Galvin continued. “What they do offer is grouping young learners with other students whose families highly value education, and they may also offer benefits like smaller student-to-teacher ratios. So there may be some benefit, but the benefit isn’t in the brand name of the school; parents should consider the factors (e.g. play-based curriculum, student-teacher ratio, duration/frequency of classes, etc.) that matter to them, and recognize that just by being that involved and diligent about the decision on which preschool to choose, they’re helping to prove out that benefit that comes from being a family that prioritizes education.”

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Last updated: Aug. 5, 2021

About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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