How to apply for CPS preschools

Written by: Chicago School GPS

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. To attend a CPS-based preschool, however, requires understanding the differences between the options.

If you’re thinking about CPS magnet schools for preschool next fall, the time to look into those programs is…now! Applications for the 2020-2021 school year for 3 magnet preschools are due December 13, 2019. If you are thinking about other preschool programs hosted in CPS schools, the deadline varies as outlined below.

There are different options available, with programs housed in select public elementary schools across the city. Most have already begun providing tours and scheduling open houses. It’s always best to call each school you are interested in to get the details on how to apply and/or get on their waitlist; some programs have not yet determined the number of seats that will be open for next fall. 

A couple of important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: Residing within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program does not guarantee admission into that program; an application is required from all entering students; and acceptance into a CPS preschool program that is not your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program (except for the magnet programs described below). What's going on with Universal Pre-K, the city's program that will offer free preschool to all 4-year-olds in the city? I outlined the Universal Pre-K plan here

Here’s a quick rundown of the programs and application requirements for CPS preschool programs:

Tuition-Based Preschool (TBP): Full-day programs that provide childcare in addition to preschool (10-hour day; hours may vary by school). Housed in select elementary schools, children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Applications are processed first-come, first-served directly through each school. Priority for open seats goes to returning students and their siblings. Tuition for 2020-2021 is $14,617, which includes a $700 non-refundable deposit required to hold your child’s spot in the class, if offered. Visit the CPS Tuition Based Preschool page for a list of school locations and to print an application.  

Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): Either half-day (2.5–3 hours) or full-day (7 hours) programs housed in select elementary schools, with tuition determined by a sliding scale. Children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. The application process is completely online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants are typically added to a waitlist until the number of open spots is determined. Visit for application information and updates; the application period will begin in spring 2020.

Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at three magnet elementary schools: Drummond, Mayer and Suder— children must be age 3 or 4 and potty trained by September 1. CPS also offers one dual language-immersion (Spanish/English) preschool program at Inter-American — children must be age 4 by September 1. Seats in 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. Inter-American Magnet School also requires applicants to indicate their dominant language as part of the application process, and a language screening is required after an applicant is admitted.

The Choice Elementary CPS application is required for all magnet programs; the application period for 2020-2021 ends December 13, 2019, at midnight. Go to to apply. Acceptance into a magnet preschool program does guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive.

Want more info? Visit to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum.

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, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.

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Posted on October 13, 2014 at 10:44 AM