Do I really have to start planning before preschool?

I’m a new parent and an ivy league grad and I feel like the pressure put on kids is untenable these days. My way (I’m fairly certain) into the ivies was as a hard-working, first-generation college student whose parents were in the lower-middle income bracket. My children won’t have that same advantage but they will have legacy (which I find objectionable) and the financial access I never had so I want to provide the best for my kids.

I thought that meant choosing a great school district (we’re in Dover MA) but now it feels like there’s this whole world of feeder high schools that take students in feeder secondary schools which starts as early as PreK…really?

I honestly don’t even care if my kids go to ivies - I care that I just give them the opportunities I didn’t have and I’ve already set a high bar from my own education. Has it really come down to Russian Math schools and Waldorf vs Montessori?

I’m genuinely asking because as a new parent I’m naive to all of this because I never had access to prep schools and extracurriculars besides what my public schools offered. It seems like a lot of pressure on kids (and on parents) to basically plan their whole lives out. But at the same time if I have the means to provide an advantage I’m going to take it but if so I want to know what I should be doing. I mostly chose Dover because the base public school option is among the best in MA over the last decade+. But I read some of these threads and I’m just dumbfounded by the depth at which people look into these things.

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Others with more familiarity of that path can share more, but I will say it is A path, not THE path. Most of us did not do that for our kids, and there are a ton of parents on here (myself included) with kids that still managed to get into Ivies and top LAC’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I still did way more for my kids than my parents did for me, both because I was more knowlegable and I could. But it did not involve $20,000 a year pre-school. I’m looking into boarding schools for #4 right now, but the first 3 were all public school kids, that went to publics almost certainly not of the caliber that you will have.


Apologies if my neuroticism and anxiety is kicking in…but it feels like a can’t-win scenario. If you choose a town with great schools (e.g. Lexington) they are obvious feeders to great colleges but at the cost of higher suicide rates and anxiety among the student body. The school ethos brings about a lot of pressure and that seems horribly toxic.

So then if you choose a “lesser” school they have the chance to stand out but could be deprived of an appropriate level of challenge (which assumes a lot about how challenged they want to/need to be). And that leaves me scratching my head like “well I guess I just need to play the prep school game like most of my ivy classmates played with their wealthy parents.”

And honestly, I’d rather shoulder this anxiety than my kids. Plus these town/school rankings seem to change on a whim (just like US News rankings for colleges which are obviously gamed by things like alumni donation money) so you just can’t seem to pick a town that has an indelible reputation.

You do not need to buy into the craziness in hopes of sending your child to the Ivy League someday. Prep school isn’t a guarantee of anything except an excellent high school education (which is worthwhile in and of itself). To me the most important thing you can give your kids is your time, love and attention. Nurture their interests and read to them (a lot). Entrance to a certain college should not be your end goal in parenting. As your kids grow you may just be surprised at what things interest them - it might not even be academic in nature. For what its worth I live in MA and our high school regularly sends 6-10 kids to Ivy League (and equivalent) schools each year and a bunch more to other very selective schools - and our town isn’t as highly ranked as Dover or Lexington. If your child has an interest in prep school when they get to 8th grade, look into it then. My younger son was admitted to PA from a regular public middle school (no hooks, no special talents etc) although he decided against it in the end.





I would suggest, instead, spending their early childhood to explore many different things and then using your resources to help them get better at whatever they’re interested in.


Unless you are donating (literally) millions of dollars to your alma mater, legacy is not much of a boost at Ivies, and by the time your kid is applying to colleges, it might not mean anything at all. My advice, don’t even think about this stuff now, just be a good parent. If you have the financial means to provide your kid(s) with enrichment, that’s great, but don’t do it because you think it will give them an edge when applying to Harvard in in 2035.


Oh I can go toe to toe with you there, and if you search my old threads (no reason to btw, by the time your kids get there things will have changed anyway) it shows.

As mentioned above, part of it will be getting to know your kids and what path is best for them. We have 4 kids, all on pretty different paths. To illustrate the point:

#1 is very successful in many areas, but less academically interested. He is at a big easy admission state school by choice and thriving. He applied to 2 schools, both where he was an automatic admit with his scores. On track to be very employable in his chosen field. He is where he wants to be and should be.

#2 was the athlete. His path was probably the most crafted. It didn’t start out as an attempt to get a hook into an Ivy (although it ended up being exactly that), he started down that path because he truly loved his sport, in a way I couldn’t personally relate to but could see. So I gave him every opportunity I could, being careful not to push him. Occasionally that meant skipping events or camps I thought he should do, but I wanted him to dictate the pace to keep his interest high. By early HS the goal became to develop it into a hook, and by the end he ended up being a top 50 D1 recruit, so had lots of high athletic options (but still took the Ivy route).

#3 was my academic. 1/350+ class rank, competitive but not recruitable soccer player, active in other EC’s. She paid careful attention to classes she was taking and activities starting with freshman year to get herself to be a viable candidate for top schools. There is a bit more luck required on this path, because top candidates get turned down all the time. But luck was on her side, ED to Amherst college next fall.

#4 is 8th grade and would have the best shot at a high college admit if she stayed here, because we are in an underrepresented state, and she can probably mimic her sister and get a #1 rank or very close. I’m guessing she could have a very similar resume. But she isn’t happy here for a variety of reasons. So instead she is trying to get into boarding school next fall, and is not aiming for the top prestiege schools because she wouldn’t really be happy there either. My guess is that it hurts her college admissions time (although I’m sure she will do fine). But she will much happier for the next 4 years and probably develop into a better person if she goes to a boarding school at that level, so that is what we are trying to make happen.

None of the 4 would be happy on the same path as one of their siblings. I know every family isn’t like that, but many are. Before you get too worried about getting them on the fast track, get to know them and make sure that is the right track. And if you are a new parent, you can’t know them that well yet.

Good luck, I don’t know that you need to spend much time here the next several years, but once you get a bit further down the path it is a great resource.


This is super helpful and what I intuited but great to hear from other parents. Thank you so much!

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I’m more neurotic than most parents, but fundamentally I don’t believe you can “plan” your kid into a top college. It might have been possible 30 years ago, but today, your kid faces such long odds to get into a top school.

You know there are Harvard parents who have their babies sleeping in Harvard sheets and they’re telling their 5-year old kid how they’re destined to go to Harvard … I just think this is so harmful. The majority of Harvard alum kids are not getting into Harvard, and they are going to feel like they screwed up, not as good as their parents, just weren’t smart enough, didn’t work hard enough, etc. In most of these cases, the kids are every bit as qualified as their parents, but the raw numbers are working against them.

For me, I just don’t think “I want my 5-year old kid to go to this top school” is viable today. I get that some parents successfully did this, but I’m not taking the bet.

Instead, I would “plan” on giving your kids life skills that will be durable in the job market in 20 years, regardless of where they’re heading for college.

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No, no, no, and no.

You are in a great school district, so no harm is likely to come of that.

There are, in retrospect, a few things I wish we’d done a little differently (and a ton of stuff I worried about but didn’t act on) but if you follow your kid’s interests and help them be the best version of themselves, and especially while they are young, you minimize the options you cut off, you’ll end up right where you should be. Do what you can to ensure you can afford the opportunities you want to pursue. (Fund that 529 now!)

It’s impossible to mold your kid into what you think someone else wants them to be. You don’t know what that is and who they are gets lost in the process.

Really, you’ve got this!


The very fact that you are already concerned about college, your child will be fine. She/He/They is going. Perspective. Enjoy every moment with them before it is time to go. I think parents of young kids today need to focus more on healthy relationships in the PreK-12th grade years. If your child is happy/healthy, the rest falls into place.

(edit: Any yes, you’ve got this!)


You certainly dont need to be preparing ypur child already, but you should start saving already. With costs at 80k now, I cant imagine what they will be in 18 years


As a parent of several children in an area with a nationally known, highly regarded public school system, I believe the reason to buy a home and live in an area like this is to increase the odds of one’s home appreciating in value, not to actually send one’s children to the public schools. Even good public schools have to direct the bulk of their educational efforts to the broad middle. If one has academically gifted children, in the younger years especially the public schools are unlikely to provide the degree of differentiated education necessary for one’s children to be fulfilled. For example, at our very good public middle school, the accelerated math offerings are excellent, language arts are good but neither science nor social studies/history has any kind of more in-depth, accelerated tracks. Whatever their abilities, all of the kids take the same science and social studies classes.

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^^ Well, yes, we pulled our kid out of our public system at 9th because it was clearly not the best place for him and we’ll forever be happy with that decision. But for a different kid or different district, that might not have felt necessary. That’s really why I suggest knowing who they are and following their lead. And I will add that it was not my kid who suggested leaving the LPS – but when he saw what that option looked like, it was what he wanted too. (I don’t mean to suggest that following your kid’s lead means hands off or doing nothing. )

There are lots of discussions to be had about academics, school environments, etc. But I think you need to get past the early stage of baby and childhood. You’ll have a better sense of who you are as a parent and who your children are. And you’ll have a better grasp of your budget.

But I do have one incontrovertible piece of advice: top quality child care and preschool are always valuable and never the expense to quibbled about.


I would say that no, you do not need to put your kid in the right preschool to get into the right private school leading to the right prep school, in order to get into an Ivy or little Ivy. And you don’t need to got to a top 20 college to get ahead in life. But your child can get into a top school from a good public high school.

Children are all different, even siblings. You do the best you can for each of them. For my kids, the issue was that there was nothing at all academically challenging for them until they were allowed to self-select into AP in high school, but the local truly accelerated private school was so tiny that it was severely lacking socially. Our high school allowed the kids to mostly take all AP classes from tenth grade on, but until then, school was an academic wasteland for them. They would have been better off in an accelerated, full time gifted program, with high school classes in middle school, and AP all through high school. But our town didn’t have that, so I tried to give them music and foreign language in addition to what was taught in school, along with sports.

You see what is the right fit for them. You try them out on different activities - lots of different sports, music, dance, and you see what takes. If you do music, and the kid seems to show some aptitude, know that even the best of prodigies usually required parental support for practicing until they were about 12 or 13 yrs old. And skaters don’t drive themselves to the rink at 5 AM. Then you see what the kid seems to love doing, and you help them find the opportunities to take it as far as they like. And if what they like is to be just like everyone else, and go to the state U, or not, you accept it, usually happily.

I wound up with one in an Ivy, one at a flagship state U with a world class department in that kid’s obsession, and one working full time while simultaneously making his way through college just to get the diploma, not that any of the classes will help him in his career goals - he was born with an ADHD salesman’s personality. All such very different kids. Very different paths. The one thing in common was the attempt to offer support and guidance, every step of the way.


That’s good advice. We tried lots of things with the kids, and most didn’t stick. But they all found things that they loved doing. If I was to pick, I probably went 1/4 for them picking the activites I wanted to go to. But mostly I wanted to see them play or perform. I enjoyed the heck out of watching 10 year old girls play soccer (which is generally horrible soccer, btw) because she loved it. It was something we did mostly because it was physical activity, and she discovered something that eventually turned into a year round activity because that was what she wanted. My athlete son was a wrestler, which I also was so really enjoy, but I didn’t realize his natural talent or interest. I knew a couple practices in that he was hooked, he couldn’t watch 5 minutes of tv without getting bored and moving on, but he stared a hole through that coach and hung on every word for an hour.

Enjoy those moments. Nothing in my life has been as enjoyable as watching my kids pursue their passions.


This, this, this. Stay with them. I’m loving the stories above from parents with kids on multiple paths- that’s our family also. You watch their interests wax and wane, with a nudge here and encouragement there, but as Montessori emphasized, you ‘follow the child’.

So, I am in the chapter of “The Sum of Us” that addresses the pros/cons of a “good school district”, and McGhee makes a strong case that we focus on “good” in one dimension (perceived academics) and not only don’t give weight to the (demonstrated) benefits of being in a more diverse environment but don’t count the cost of a ‘good’ school district.

We moved a lot and didn’t always have much in the way of school choice. I have to admit that we were firmly in the ‘move heaven and earth to get them into whatever the best (=most academic) school is’ camp - right up until I had a 2nd grader in a town w/ only one school choice. No way was I sending a 2nd grader to BS! and homeschooling was not an option -for me or for her- so academically stultifying school + home enrichment it was.

We ended up doing a lot of things on the home front to engage a very enthusiastic learner outside of school (tbf, turned out although the curriculum was narrow and weak, and the school resources truly dire, she did have a couple of great teachers, and only one teacher was actively bad- and that can happen even in great schools*).

The good part is that all of us- kids, parents, us as a family- benefited from the things that we thought up to do. The school was essentially free and our mortgage wasn’t painful so we had extra $ to spend on outings far and wide, to buy ‘experiences’ and special camps, to get materials for home projects, etc. It took energy and planning, but it turned out well. And in hindsight I think that they have all ended up in the kinds of colleges that we could have guessed from a pretty young age.

Finally, I keep posting this b/c I think it’s still the best piece of advice on the college planning front, and imo it applies all the way through (with slight modifications for age, obvs):

The guy who wrote it is still active in MIT admissions- he was just on CC last week updating long-timers on a student outcome (appropriately anonymously ofc).

I agree with @roycroftmom: unless there is radical education reform (which there might be) you will want to have $$ available, so set up whatever educational savings plan you can. If it’s never needed- great- it can help them get a good start on adult life!

*I have first hand evidence from multiple schools on this point

We’re the outliers here and everything still turned out just fine with none of this angst.

We had our only child late in life and had no idea that the world had changed in any meaningful way from the 60s-70s when we were growing up, so we just let our kid run amok and do whatever he wanted with his free time, just like we did, no summer camps, academic enrichment programs, sports, music, etc. Schools? We moved from MA to AZ when he was two. What were we thinking? We weren’t. We never considered that schools would be an issue because we could afford to live in the “best” school district. College never crossed our minds beyond yes he was going to college one day and it would be nice if it were U-M (Go Blue!) but never OSU. I am not exaggerating.

We just loved him to death, and he was a healthy, happy kid. What else matters?

We didn’t spend any time worrying about his schooling until he hit middle school when we realized that our “best” schools weren’t serving him and started searching for alternatives. Boarding schools were not in the mix until we’d exhausted all other high school options here, and the rest is history. We sent him to BS for the quality of the high school eduction, not any college result. He ended up happy and well-educated without much effort on our part.

I DO think the point about saving for your child’s education is critical. Start now if you haven’t already. In the meantime, love your child, follow his lead, absorb the good advice upthread, and don’t waste these precious years worrying.

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