Harvard Class of 2028 or Just Another Preschool? Here’s What You Need to Know About Feeder Schools

In the insular world of private schools, the term “feeder school” is an important one to add to your vocabulary. They are private schools—from preschool to high school–that can be counted on to send a significant number of their graduates every year to certain schools at the next grade level.

For a school to be considered a feeder school, it needs to have an established track record of gaining acceptance for its students to specific schools at the next grade levels. For example, Preschool XYZ may send one-third of its graduates every year to Private Elementary School ABC. Many of Private Elementary School XYZ’s students will be admitted to Secondary School DEF and so on. Feeder schools are known for being able to help families secure admission to their top choice schools.

Because feeder schools are successful at getting students into top-tier schools at the next level, many parents seek out these schools as a method of increasing their child’s chances of getting in. When it comes to highly competitive private schools, feeder schools are well known by both parents and school administrators.

It’s not hard to distinguish feeder schools from their non-feeder counterparts. Just ask around. Parents “in the know” will rattle off the names of feeder schools in the area as if they were local coffee shops. Being known as a feeder school can heighten the popularity and awareness of a school, causing its applications to soar, therefore making it more difficult to get into. Some families believe that getting into the “right” preschool will determine their child’s education at each step of the way. This isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot that can happen during a child’s education. Attending the “right” preschool may or may not have a lasting impact on his/her future.

What Makes A Feeder School?
Some preschools have more experience helping families go through the admissions process than others and have cultivated relationships with private elementary schools. Being known as a feeder school has both tangible and intangible benefits for parents and schools alike. In competitive school markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, feeder schools are the subject of cocktail party chatter, with everyone having an opinion about them. This equation has two parts: parents and schools. Parents want the perceived assurances that come with sending their kid to a school known for getting its graduates into a select few top-tier elementary schools. Administrators at feeder schools welcome high numbers of applications from incoming students based on the school’s feeder reputation. These school administrators also rely on their ability to help outgoing families gain admission or “feed” to schools of their choice.
Feeder schools are built—and sustained—on relationships between heads of schools and admissions directors. A preschool director who develops a working relationship with the admissions director at a private elementary school will be assured that her applicant families are accepted at the elementary school. Similarly, the admissions director at the elementary school will receive a steady flow of applications each year from the preschool. If a key school administrator leaves, it may affect the school’s feeder school relationships.

Relationships among schools are key to feeder schools, but familiarity with each other’s curriculum and school philosophy are also important to creating and sustaining feeder schools. An elementary school will know what type of applicant families to expect from the preschool and whether they will be a good fit for the school. If there’s a problem with an application, a phone call between school administrators can explain it, questions can be answered by the preschool director and importantly, he/she can offer guidance to anxious parents about what the desired school is looking for. From a preschool director’s point of view, he/she knows exactly what the elementary school is looking for, from the desired type of student to required skills and knowledge. For example, if the elementary school looks for kindergarteners that can read, the preschool will prepare its students, knowing they will be applying to that elementary school.

For feeder schools where students matriculate from elementary to secondary schools, curriculum can be coordinated between schools including preparation for standardized entrance exams, so that students are well prepared for a smooth transition to attend school at the next grade level.

Should You Choose A Feeder Preschool?
If you are convinced Private Preschool XYZ is the right school for your two-year-old because it has a reputation for being a feeder school to the “best” private elementary school, you should consider other preschools too. There is typically more than one feeder preschool for any given elementary school, so it’s worth your time to consider the options. Choosing a preschool only because it serves as a feeder to a top-tier elementary school can go either way. While some parents feel they are paying for the preschool director’s contacts and expertise to get into the elementary school of their choice, there is no guarantee your child will get into that school. And, if the preschool isn’t a good fit for your kid, your family may end up having difficult interactions with the preschool director, which won’t help your elementary school application. Selecting a school where your child will love learning, flourish socially and where you as a parent will be happy are all important considerations that go beyond whether the school is a feeder school.
Ultimately, asking yourself if a school will be best for your child is really important. The majority of private elementary schools accept kids from more than a few select preschools. Still, feeder schools remain a powerful factor in private school admissions at all levels. A preschool that gets kids into the “right” schools, culminating years later in an Ivy League university, is on the minds of many very focused parents.