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  • Grace Lee Sawin

    Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS. Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school and beyond, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.

    How to apply for CPS preschools

    Are you thinking about applying for CPS preschool, but confused about timing and how to apply? We have answers.

    Preschool in Chicago is not required, but many families consider enrolling their children into a local preschool option when their child is 3 years old. The public preschool landscape has changed a lot over the years, but it is starting to get streamlined into just two sources. In all CPS options, children must be potty-trained and age 3 or 4 by September 1. 

    Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at two magnet elementary schools, Drummond and Suder; children must be age 3 and potty trained by September 1. Seats in CPS magnet programs are awarded via a computerized lottery, with priority given for applicants who are siblings of current students. In the entry year of a magnet program, priority is also given to those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school and then any remaining entry-year seats are distributed evenly by CPS Tier. Only these two magnet preschool programs require applicants to apply via the Choice Elementary CPS application at go.cps.edu from October to December one year prior to entry. Acceptance into the magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K–8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive.

    [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool]

    Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): This option is divided between 3-year-old half-day (3 hour) or 4-year-old full-day (7 hour) programs, with the latter also being known as Universal Pre-K (UPK). Most programs are free and typically are hosted by community-based sites for 3-year-olds, while 4-year-olds are prioritized in CPS school-based sites. The application process is online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants will rank up to 5 preschool sites. The application period begins the spring just prior to a fall school start, and this year it opens on April 19, 2022, for fall 2022 entry. After a month-long Initial Application Period, later applicants can apply via rolling admissions for remaining seats throughout the school year. Acceptance into a UPK program does not guarantee a kindergarten seat but does give priority points to stay at that school site when applicants apply for kindergarten. Visit Chicago Early Learning for application information and updates.  

    Tours and open houses may be in person or virtual, so it’s always best to call each school you are interested in to inquire about more details. Find contact info for each program here

    [Related: CPS Universal Pre-K: What you need to know]

    Some important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: 

    • Even if you reside within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program, you must submit an application via Chicago Early Learning
    • Attending a CPS preschool program that is not housed at your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into that school’s K–8 program (except for the magnet programs described above). 
    • CPS no longer offers Tuition Based Pre-K and instead offers free Universal Pre-K for all 4 year olds.
    • Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS application, acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum.

    Updated spring 2022



    Grace Lee Sawin

    Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS. Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school and beyond, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.


    Photo by Jason Sung on Unsplash




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