Understanding Universal Pre-K

If your child will turn 4 in 2012, listen up. You may be able to enroll your preschooler in a free pre-school program through the Department of Education or one of its partners. This free pre-school program is known as Universal Pre-K. While “universal” speaks to equal access to high-quality pre-k services for all four-year olds, unfortunately four-year olds are not guaranteed or entitled to a spot in this program. In fact, seats in many programs fill up quickly. Get started now so your child has the best chance at access to amazing preparation for future schooling.

UPK programs can be half-day (2.5 hours) or full-day (6 hours). The half day programs may be in the morning or afternoon. Programs are available at some NYC public schools and at many CBOs (Community-based organizations) through contracts with the DOE. While some programs have seats long after the deadline, apply early because some programs fill quickly.

Department of Education Programs

In order to send your child to a Public school program, you must submit an application through the centralized admissions process. You can apply online, in person at your local enrollment office (see below), or by mail. There are two rounds of enrollment; one in the spring and one in the summer.

On the application, you can rank up to five pre-K programs. Make sure to list only the schools you are definitely interested in because, if your child is offered a spot, it will only be at one of the schools you list. If you are submitting an application for multiples (twins, triplets, or more) and you want them to go to the same school, you complete one application. You can then list each child’s information in Section 2 on the application. If you want your child to attend a school your older child is attending, you should list the older child’s school in Section 3 on the application.

For DOE Programs, first preference goes to siblings of students already enrolled in the school. Also, if you are applying to a DOE program, there are zoning rules which may increase or decrease your child’s priority for admission. Out-of-zone students may be admitted to pre-K programs but are not guaranteed admission to kindergarten at that school for the following year. If there are more applicants than spots, within a priority group (siblings, zoned students), admissions will be based on lottery.

For the first round of enrollment, 2012-13 UPK program directories and applications will be available on March 5 here, at your local elementary school, and at your borough enrollment office. The program directory is a valuable resource, listing general admissions information for all UPK programs and specific application and admissions rates for each DOE program. Take a look at last year’s directory and application here. There are usually information sessions during that first week of the application period; the dates will be listed in the updated directory. Applications will be due on April 6. Families will hear back by the week of June 11, 2012.

If you receive a pre-K assignment, you may accept or reject the offer. If you accept, you need to register your child, between June 12 and 22, at the school site where he/she was offered a seat. In order to register your child, you must bring your child’s ID (Birth Certificate or passport), your child’s immunization records, and two documents proving residence.

Community Based Organization Programs

CBO programs have their own application process. If you are interested in one of these programs, contact the CBO directly to ask about space and the admissions process. For CBOs, you apply directly to each program by hand delivering the application. You will hear from each program, whether your child was accepted.

Once the new application is available for CBO Programs, you can take a look here. These programs are listed in the same directory as the DOE programs. The new one will be available in early March here. See last year’s here.

For CBO programs, depending on the type of funding the program receives, there may be eligibility requirements such as an income cap. Contact programs individually about their eligibility and application requirements.

Your Due Diligence

Applications are not considered on a first-come first-served basis, so you can take your time till early April when the application is due. This gives you time to really study the directory and ask questions. Programs change often so confirm all information with a phone call and even a visit.

For more information

If you have questions about Universal Pre-K, use the following contacts:

  • The Department of Education Parent Support Line: 718-935-2009
  • Queens Pre-K Borough Director, Sherry Copeland: 718-642-5871, SCopeland@schools.nyc.gov

Queens Enrollment Offices:

  • For districts 24 and 30: 28-11 Queens Plaza North, LIC, NY 11101
  • For districts 25 and 26: 30-48 Linden Place, Flushing, NY 11354
  • For district 27: 82-01 Rockaway Boulevard, Ozone Park, NY 11416
  • For districts 28 and 29: 90-27 Sutphin Boulevard, Jamaica, NY 11435
  • Join the Pre-K admissions email list here.


Sandy Jimenez