I help elite families get their kids into prestigious preschools by nailing the competitive 'playdate' interview

  • Ibrahim Firat, 37, is chief educational consultant at Houston-based coaching firm Firat Education.
  • Firat’s worked with wealthy families to get their kids into prestigious preschools across the US.
  • Here’s his story of dealing with accidents and clingy children, as told to freelancer Robin Madell.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When I came to the United States for college, I started to tutor on the side. 

Today, I’m the chief educational consultant at Firat Education, and my main role is to oversee the educational paths of each and every student that comes through our doors, virtually or in person. It doesn’t matter what level they are, from pre-preschool all the way through graduate school. 

Our clients live in different parts of the country, so we’ve been servicing them through Zoom since 2015. 

We have two office locations in the Houston area, one in River Oaks and one Spring Branch. We immediately had to shut those down due to COVID-19. We expanded to have multiple Zoom accounts so that our clientele in Houston that were normally in person could be served.  

In the overall scheme of things, we did see shifts of revenue up to 20% due to the pandemic, but we couldn’t be more thankful because it could have been so much worse. If anything declined, it’s probably the rotation — the turnover of the clients coming in or going out because they weren’t able to take the SAT or ACT.

We help with preschool and grade school admissions. Services range from $150 to $300 an hour.

Our rates for academic coaching and tutoring can range from $75 to $95 an hour, and we have about 34 staffers, which include both tutors and consultants. 

In terms of working with wealthy families, they have high expectations. They’re well informed, and they have social pressure from their peers. 

Having said that, I’ve actually worked with elite families all my life. It’s not the money part that’s important to me — what’s important is actually the network I build personally through knowing these families. 

If I were to go through my client list and need a certain resource, I probably have it because I know an attorney who does that, or I know a brain surgeon who might do something.

We start each client off with an educational assessment or consultation. 

I meet with the students and their families and go through their educational history. 

If it’s a preschool student, I ask a lot of questions of the parents like, “What do you guys do at home, during reading time or during dinner time? What do you talk about? What are some things you play with?” For older kids, I ask for them to show me their transcripts, report cards, and test scores. 

Based on this analysis, I’m then able to ask them, “What’s the plan for the next level?” If the student or their parents want them to go to a new school, I ask them where they’d like to go and what they’d like to study. If they don’t know, we schedule them for assessments where we help them identify what those paths are. 

The most competitive preschools in the nation are in New York City and Los Angeles, but we have a few prestigious ones in Houston, too.

We’ve been able to get our clients into prestigious Houston preschools like The House at Pooh Corner, La Petite Academy, Avalon Academy, Post Oak Montessori, the preschool at St. Thomas Episcopal, and The Rise School of Houston. These preschools can range in tuition price from $14,000 to $21,000 a year. 

Many families try to get into a specific private preschool to lead them to get into a specific high school. I hear from parents of one- and two-year-olds who are not even ready to go to preschool yet. I had one client ask how she could get her child into one of these schools when she was eight months pregnant. 

At the end of the day, it really comes down to the child, because the child has to be a good fit.

There are some three-year-olds that are advanced in terms of how they recognize spatial patterns and shapes, how they put puzzle pieces together, or how they socially express themselves without using words. 

Also, there are certain cues that some three-year-olds can make that other three-year-olds can’t. The competitive preschools in Houston look for those cues, which might include things like, how do they play independently? How do they play with others? Do they get frustrated when someone takes their toy away? 

The prestigious preschools also look for some advanced cues, whether this is singing the ABC song, being able to recognize patterns and shapes, or putting together something based on a shape or a picture. 

I’ve seen clients that don’t get in because they overly prepare their toddler.

This could mean trying to teach them certain things too fast. You can tell that the kid is either panicking or sweating or even peeing his pants because they’re nervous.

If the parents drive the process and get involved too much and not let the kid be a kid themselves during the application or admissions process, I’ve seen more often than not that failing. I’ve heard from some preschool admissions teams that they can immediately tell the kid who’s been “coached” or “tutored,” versus the kid who was just natural.

Preschool admissions requires observation of kids in a group setting. Schools look for a lot of different things, so we replicate that experience at our company. 

Preschools often take the child and put them in a classroom with other students and just watch how they interact, how they play, if they cry all the time or just go to a corner. 

For one student in particular, we were doing the assessment and my tutor comes back and says, “The student clung on to me the entire time, telling me they wanted to go home and that they didn’t want to do this.” 

We let the student go to her mother and she eventually calmed down. We then allowed the mom back into the room with the student and it was nice to observe how she did with her mom versus without her. Eventually, we gave them solutions to work with the child at home.

My tutor for this child was very motherly herself. She told the mother of the child, “You need to separate out a section in your house, whether this is your room, a desk, dining table, whatever it is, and have these activities that we were trying to work on. The student is then going to associate this with playing or games with you.” 

From there, we can slowly make this a fun game to do at our office or at a school.

Another client of ours once had a bathroom accident — this is kind of expected with younger children.

While the child was working on a puzzle, my tutor said, “I smell something.” Sure enough, the floor was wet. 

Afterward, we found out from the parents that the child actually works really well under pressure and when he needs to go to the bathroom, he just goes. I took this as a different learning style. 

We understand certain accidents happen. There’s a daycare right next to our office, and they say for 14 days straight, if there hasn’t been an accident all day long — like the kid was able to ask for the bathroom or walked themselves to the bathroom — this is a good sign that this will not happen at a school admissions interview or observation period. If it’s one month with maybe one or two accidents overnight, that’s okay as well, because you can trust that that child is ready to go to preschool.

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