The 11 most prestigious preschools in Los Angeles and how to get in, according to an admissions consultant and school directors

  • The Los Angeles preschool application process includes touring before being able to apply.
  • Though highly competitive, LA’s preschools value humor, a lack of pretension, and civic-mindedness.
  • One top consultant shared the best programs in the area, with directors sharing how to get in.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Getting your child into a respectable preschool in Los Angeles starts when they’re barely out of diapers, Cindy Chanin, the LA-based founder of Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring and former Ivy admissions rep who’s heavily involved with LA’s most sought-after private schools, told Insider. She also noted that the process, while highly competitive, is unlike anywhere else in the US.

“LA schools typically don’t encourage families to take themselves or the process too seriously,” Chanin said. “Instead, they value a sense of humor, a lack of pretension, and civic-mindedness.” 

Creativity, the cultivation of curiosity, and learning through play are central to most of the best preschools’ missions and philosophies. “Your student won’t stand out if they are a get-in-line and ‘keep your head down’ kind of child,” Chanin said. “Exuberance is rewarded.”

The community also harbors a deep thread of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. 

“Reggio Emilia is a student-centered educational philosophy that is self-directed, experiential, and promoted in relationship-driven environments,” Chanin said. “Community, the arts, and play are at the core of Reggio Emilia. Like the entertainment industry that drives LA’s culture, schools are inspired by fun, creative kids.”

In general, Chanin shared that most schools have the same admissions process: Call them up, make an appointment for a tour, and then the application will become available to you. Interviews come after applications are submitted. 

“Many top LA preschools claim that they are not as interested in your numbers or status as much as they are interested in whether you align with their philosophy and values,” Chanin said. “They strive to know who you are as a parent in person, in addition to taking into account whether your child is a great fit.” 

She added that every school has its own particular way of filling their classes, and that many preschool admissions directors are seeking diversity and a range of personalities. 

To find the best option for your family, Chanin selected 11 elite preschools throughout the LA area that, in her experience, offer the best programs around. Sorted by neighborhood, here’s how much they cost a year and what the application process is like, according to directors.

Santa Monica: Cassidy Preschool

Cost: $16,075 to $21,580 a year

Location: 2122 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA, 90403

Notable facts: Chanin described Cassidy as “one of LA’s most sought-after preschools,” adding that it’s “very trendy to go there.” Cassidy doesn’t have a mission or philosophy, she noted — they have an approach. “It takes the best of all worlds — a bit of Montessori, a bit of Waldorf, a bit of Pre-K,” Chanin said. 

The admissions process: According to Chanin, it’s competitive to get morning versus afternoon slots. Priority for morning spots is given to siblings, families with school-age children, and families who can’t otherwise make an afternoon spot work under any circumstance. 

“We don’t interview families or assess children, on principle,” Luisa Donati, director of Cassidy Preschool, told Insider. “In part, this is because it’s challenging to give parents the attention they deserve.”

Donati added that Cassidy isn’t interested in cherry-picking people they want, but creating an environment “reflective of different realities.” She noted that while all schools want a good parent-partner, “a diverse community” is a chief aim at Cassidy. 

“I hope for people to be as down to earth as possible,” Donati said. “Kooky and eccentric is fine, but when it comes to partnering, you have to know how to sit across the table and work together.”

As for picking the right fit, the director maintained that “you can tell intuitively.” 

“I keep tours small so we can have a conversation as a small group,” she said. “I’m not the one holding court.” Instead, she explained, the families are.

Website here.

Online application here.

Piper Preschool

Cost: $1,050 to $1,950 a month

Location: 807 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica, CA, 90401 and 1475 Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90035

Notable facts: “We like to have fun,” said Nicole Royston, Piper’s LA admissions director. The school aims to help children develop “life-long friendships,” she added.

“We have a community room where parents, caregivers, and families are welcome to hang out,” she said. “We like families to consider the school as an extension of home.” 

If you are looking for a feeder school, Piper isn’t one, according to the director. 

“We have great relationships with schools, but leave the next steps for later,” she said.

The admissions process: Royston said that when she meets applicants, she’s looking for families and kids who want to be at Piper specifically. 

“It sounds simple, but we look for people who see themselves here,” the director said.

Be aware, though, that many families do see themselves at Piper.

“People who haven’t even had the baby yet call us,” Royston said. “And that’s okay, but it should not be stressful.”

For those who are shopping around, Royston said, “We don’t pressure anyone to sign a contract if they are hedging, but we do move to the next group of contracts.”

Website here.

Online application here.

First Presbyterian Nursery School

Cost: $18,500 a year

Location: 1248 Second Street, Santa Monica, CA, 90401

Notable facts: First Presbyterian was started in 1959 and prides itself on its sense of continuity. Since its inception, there have been only four directors of the school, the school’s website states. The nursery school is for children age two through six.

“The school is in continual dialogue with the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and shares many of their theories and practices,” Chanin said. 

The admissions process: You can either apply online or download the application in PDF format. When applying, you must submit an “informal family photo” along with your $75 application fee.

To stand out with admissions, Chanin suggested that parents should be well versed in the Reggio-Emilia “100 Languages of Children” approach. 

“Reggio-Emilia believes in educating children using symbolic communication methods, such as sculpture, painting, and drama,” she said. “There is a focus on social-emotional learning. When you submit your admissions statement, it’s a good idea to demonstrate how the approach shows up in your family life.”

Website here.

Online application here.

Circle of Children

Cost:  $13,700 for five mornings a week, $11,100 for four afternoons a week

Location: 1227 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA, 90403

Notable facts: “Circle of Children’s philosophy revolves around its belief that, ‘The most important lesson a child can learn during their early years is that school is fun, interesting, and rewarding,'” Chanin said. “They emphasize matching learning activities with each child’s chronological and developmental age, as well as their abilities and interests.”  

The admissions process: Chanin explained that you must call the school directly for application details. To be eligible for enrollment, children must be three years old on or before December 2; a limited number of children who are at least two years and nine months by September of the school year are also eligible. 

“Emotional and social development are of paramount importance, and Circle of Children is dedicated to building self-esteem, respect for others, and a cooperative disposition,” Chanin said. “Cultural awareness is important to Circle of Children, and classroom themes are often based on what is currently happening in the world.” 

She added that families who demonstrate a fun, playful, and supportive attitude are attractive to this school, and that attending the parent-toddler program (called Circle Toddler) has been known to help a family solidify a spot for their child in the preschool.

Website here.

Malibu: Wagon Wheel School Malibu

Cost: $1,900 a month for a 12-month school year

Location: 28211 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA, 90265

Notable facts: Wagon Wheel School’s Malibu location at the St. Aidan’s Church campus is the school’s second location. Their first location — in Hollywood — has had the same director, Ruth Segal, since 1977, according to Wagon Wheel’s website. 

Chanin pointed out that the school emphasizes use of its outdoor spaces, including planting vegetables in the garden and free play in the yard, so that children can “engage [with] their environment and nature at large.”

The admissions process: After touring the school, applications become available, Chanin said. 

“Siblings are automatically first batch when we announce acceptances,” Segal told Insider. She noted that the school’s diversity committee assures a mix of families, including parents from broadly varied professions.

For everyone who reaches out to the school, Segal said that admissions sets a time and is “very transparent about everything.” 

Currently, Wagon Wheel conducts prospective parent Zoom tours with groups of six families. 

Website here.

Brentwood/Bel Air/Westwood: The Nest

Cost:  $16,500 to $23,000 a year

Location: 103 North Anita Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90049

Notable facts: “This is perhaps the hardest preschool to get into in LA,” Chanin said, describing it as a “wonderful, tiny school in a private residential community.”

“All high-profile families have their kids go there,” Chanin added. The Nest takes a Montessori approach and offers weekly extracurricular classes such as yoga, music, PE, and art as part of its core program. Chanin shared that students practice “mindful meditation” each day, where children have a chance to rest and reflect.

The admissions process: Chanin shared that before enrolling at The Nest, parents and their child first must visit the school. The steps to applying include contacting the school to schedule a tour — you can use this inquiry form to start the process.

In late February, parents are notified of openings. To be admitted, The Nest’s website explains that kids must be at least two years nine months and “toilet ready” by the September they start preschool.

Parent fit is critical to the preschool’s director, Omid Kheiltash. “We can work with any child, but not any parent,” Kheiltash told Insider. “It has to be a family fit first.”

This means that your family’s alignment with the school’s values is important.

“Structure, boundaries, non-negotiables; we just want to make sure parents are aligned,” Kheiltash said. “For instance, we believe in cultivating community amongst our parent body, but we are not a co-op. This is the child’s sacred space.”

The director also stressed that it’s important to understand what The Nest is about. “If you are interested in play-based schools, you aren’t looking at The Nest,” she said. If parents crave structure for their child, then Montessori is a good fit.

Website here.

Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool

Cost: Tuition information is not publicly available

Location: 16221 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, CA, 90049

Notable facts: Bel Air Preschool, an independent, faith-based school, publishes this list of 22 of “LA’s best private and public schools” where Bel Air children matriculate for elementary education. In 2018, the school was ranked in the top 25% of school portfolios nationwide, according to the school’s website. 

The admissions process: You can request a tour by filling out this form. Once the school receives your application, it may contact you to schedule a family interview.

“To stand out and align with Bel Air Presbyterian, it’s important to embrace — and demonstrate — a desire for faith-based education,” Chanin said. “Unlike other schools on this list, they are very forward about preparing children for admissions at distinguished schools.” 

Website here.

Beverly Hills/Hollywood: Montessori Shir-Hashirim

Cost: $27,000 a year

Location: 151 North Berendo Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90004 and 6047 Carlton Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90028

Notable facts: Shir-Hashirim’s literal translation is “Song of Songs,” according to the school’s website, which notes that although the name of the preschool is Hebrew, they “honor many traditions.”

“Montessori Shir-Hashirim has a strong academic program, including instruction in Spanish, French, and Mandarin,” Chanin said. “This is paired with structured play: music, dance, karate, and drama. Students perform several plays per year.” 

The admissions process: While the school usually invites parents to see a classroom in session or take a tour, no tours are currently being offered during the pandemic. New student enrollment begins in February, and at other times in the year admissions is on a rolling basis. The admission application fee is $200 (non-refundable), and if your child is admitted, there’s a one-time fee per child of $1,500.

Located on two LA campuses, Chanin shared that there’s stiff competition for their 16 or so open spots each year. 

“Families should demonstrate that they value childhood independence and play,” she said. “The parent-toddler program does not guarantee admission to the preschool but will ground families in the Montessori approach.”

Website here.

Online application here.

Center for Early Education

Cost: $22,400 to $26,930 a year

Location: 563 N. Alfred Street, West Hollywood, CA, 90048

Notable facts: According to Chanin, many LA families consider this school “the best of the best” in terms of academics and setting a kid up for success.

“Their preschool feeds into their elementary school, which is one of the most sought-after K-6 schools in LA,” Chanin said. “It’s also one of the most prominent feeder schools to Harvard-Westlake, Marlborough, and/or Campbell Hall for middle school and high school.”

The admissions process: CCE requires families to submit their online application as their initial step. Attending an admissions open house is the second step, after which parents or guardians will complete an interview.

For CEE, diversity is “super important,” according to Chanin. 

“They want their school to be reflective of the diversity of Los Angeles,” she said. “Inclusion, responsibility, caring, and honesty are their core values.” 

“To stand out amongst the flood of yearly applicants, who are often glittery Hollywood names (Beyoncé performed at a recent fundraiser), bring your kindness and warmth to every interaction, up to and including the very first phone call you make to them,” she added.

Website here.

Online application here.

Los Feliz/Silverlake: Camelot Kids

Cost: $9,360 to $29,700

Location: 2880 Rowena Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90039

Notable facts: In addition to Camelot Kids Preschool, which is a child development center for children two to six years of age, Camelot is also introducing in 2021 the “Little Knights Toddler Program,” a new parent-and-me center for tots 18 to 30 months.

Chanin pointed out that the preschool program combines two collaborative components: the preschool class plus an “enrichment component,” which the website states “offers exciting and challenging activities that help children develop their sense of self.”

The admissions process: Filling out the Interest Application Form is the first step, Chanin explained, noting that this form is for interest in either Camelot Kids or the Little Knights program. Once you’ve completed this form — along with paying a $50 nonrefundable application fee — you’re generally placed on the school’s waitlist.

However, Renae Plant, director of Camelot Kids, shared that things are a bit different this year.

“When COVID hit we had to reevaluate the whole way we ran a school,” Plant added. “We had to let everything go and rebuild day-by-day. It will take two to three years for things to return to normal.”

The process usually involves one-on-one intake with families. 

“Normally, it would be a group, kids would run around,” Plant said. “A casual meet-and-greet. If you walk into Camelot, you’ll know immediately if it’s the right fit for your family. And it has to be the right fit for us. It’s a partnership. The families have to understand our philosophy.”    

As for gifts and fancy cards after your interview, which some schools expect, Plant said, “That’s a bit weird.” Instead, she recommended that families just be authentic and enthusiastic.

Website here.

Online application here.

Silverlake Center for Creativity

Cost:  $1,120 to $2,090 a month

Location: 1239 N. Commonwealth Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90029

Notable facts: A Reggio-inspired and research-driven preschool, Silverlake Center for Creativity (SLCC) prides itself on offering children hands-on, collaborative learning experiences — which include “messy explorations” both outdoors and indoors, according to the website — to pique kids’ creativity and imagination. SLCC also values mixed-age learning and designs its classroom around this concept.

The admissions process: Tours are currently virtual, and you must complete this online form to be invited to the next one.

Chiara Angelicola, founder and director of SLCC, shared with Insider that while the school is in the midst of choosing families for its next cohort, it’s still possible to get in for 2021. 

“Many families have dropped out of the applications process because of COVID,” Angelicola said.

The director believes in the vital importance of a clear school philosophy and making it public. 

“At SLCC, we value a strong developmental dynamic for our mixed-age classroom that will enrich the pro-social experience of each individual child,” Angelicola said. “Equally, we enroll families that believe in the results of a research-driven education. Most importantly, we want to foster an inclusive, diverse, and equitable learning environment that mirrors and protects our pluralist community in Los Angeles.”

Website here.

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