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! Because you apply one year before entry, this is the fall to apply if your child is 2 by this past Sept. 1st for programs that start at 3 years old. Applications for the 2021-2022 school year for 3 magnet preschools (Suder, Drummond and Inter-American) open on October 12, 2020, are due December 11, 2020. Parents can create their student’s CPS ID at If you are thinking about other preschool programs hosted in CPS schools (Tuition-Based PreK or Chicago Early Learning Programs), the deadline varies as outlined below.

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 seven elementary schools, children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Applications are processed one year before entry either first-come, first-served or via selection criteria directly through each school. Priority for open seats goes to returning students and their siblings. Tuition for 2020-2021 is $15,275, 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 or waived (announced pre-pandemic). Children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Typically, 3-year-olds are hosted by community-based sites while 4-year-olds can be in CPS school-based locations. 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 2021 for Fall 2021 entry, but some sites may have rolling availability.

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. 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 the 3 magnet preschool programs; the online application period for 2021-2022 opens on October 12 and closes December 11, 2020, at 11:59pm. Go to to apply. Acceptance into the 3 magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive.

COVID has shifted tours and open houses to virtual formats this year and 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 school’s optional preschool 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 above). 

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? What we know so far about the Universal Pre-K plan is HERE. 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