More N.Y. Toddlers Vie for Pre-School Spots

The sluggish economy hasn't hurt demand at elite pre-schools, and gaining admission remains as cutthroat as ever.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you think Wall Street's woes might have put a damper on the number of Manhattan parents willing to pay more than $30,000 a year for nursery school, making the infamous admissions process less cutthroat this year, think again.

"They've never been more competitive," says Amanda Uhry, founder of

Manhattan Private School Advisors

, a consulting firm that charges $18,000 to $24,000 to help parents get their kids into top schools. For 2010, "we're seeing almost twice the number of parents we saw a year ago."

This shouldn't come as a big surprise, considering the number of well-heeled New Yorkers who will be celebrating their third birthdays in 2010. Birth rates in the U.S. hit a pre-recession high in 2007. In New York City, the rate was 65.3 births per 1,000 females age 15 to 44 in 2007, compared with 62.9 in 1998.

"Four is the new two when it comes to having kids in New York," Uhry says, adding that in some preschools, there will be up to 70 applications for each open slot.

Recession-related public school budget cutbacks are bolstering private school applications, too, Uhry says. And nobody's building new schools to meet demand because of the high cost of property in New York, not to mention the cost of liability insurance for the playground.

And so thousands of frantic parents will be storming phone lines and pounding pavement on the Tuesday after Labor Day, which is traditionally when private schools open up the application process for the following school year. Most schools limit the number of applications they'll accept, let alone the number of students. Many schools require a written essay, and Uhry says it's very important that parents take it as seriously as they did their own college admission essays. Some parents have resorted to hiring professional writers, she says.

"It's a dog eat dog in the world of preschool admissions in New York, so my suggestion is eat faster," Uhry says.

Why is the right nursery school so important? Will little Donald be eating higher-quality paste at Mommy's first-choice school than at her fourth-choice school? Probably not. It's more a matter of getting in at the ground floor. Many of these top-tier pre-school programs are attached to top-tier elementary and high schools, which help students' chances of getting into top-tier colleges where they'll get top-tier connections and careers. And the high-society lifecycle can begin anew.

"In New York, where you start is where you finish," Uhry says. "It's like England was in 1950."

To that end, well-heeled parents have enlisted Uhry's help to get their kids into schools such as:

Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School

Location: Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Grade span: nursery through 12th grade

Annual tuition: $29,150

Notable alumni: actor Robert DeNiro, activist Angela Davis

Horace Mann School

Location: The nursery school sits in a six-story carriage house with a backyard playground and a rooftop play space on East 90th Street in Manhattan. The upper schools are in Riverdale, N.Y.

Grade span: nursery through 12th grade

Annual tuition: $34,050

Notable alumni: former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, media mogul Samuel Newhouse

Ethical Culture Fieldston School

Location: Central Park West and Riverdale

Grade span: pre-K through "Form VI" (a.k.a. 12th grade)

Annual tuition: $34,045

Notable alumni:

Apollo Management

founder Leon Black,

RealNetworks

(RNWK) - Get Report

founder Rob Glaser.

Poly Prep Country Day

Location: Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Grade span: nursery through 12th Grade

Tuition: $19,625 for five-day nursery school; tuition increases as the grades do.

Notable alumni: former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, actor Calvert DeForest ("Larry Bud Melman" from

The Late Show With David Letterman

.

-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston.

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