Promise: Admissions to Preschool and Kindergarten


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Many college-going 12th graders at elite private schools were first admitted during preschool and kindergarten. If three- and four-year-old children have no formal schooling or extracurricular achievements under their belt, how do a select few gain admission? “Promise” examines the case of preschool and kindergarten admissions to private schools in New York City. This project draws on interviews with applicants, admissions officers, and expert service providers, alongside ethnographic fieldwork at a for-profit consulting firm. While elite educational credentials are taken for granted as markers of merit, the early childhood admissions process reveals how merit is tenuously constructed. Applicants highlight their cultural fit, academic promise, and appropriate family values for admission. This process confers status upon admitted families, while also producing an “ideal child” archetype imbued with hierarchies of race, class, and ability. This study argues that elite education is a cultural good acquired through financial and emotional investments.