MANHATTAN — It's time to apply to kindergarten.
All children born in 2010 are eligible to start elementary school in New York City in the fall of 2015. Kindergarten applications can be submitted between Jan. 7 and Feb. 13, and the Department of Education will send out decision letters in April.
Here's what you need to know before applying:
1. Kindergarten is mandatory.
New York City public schools require all children to attend kindergarten the year they turn 5. The city does not allow parents to redshirt their children, holding them back for an extra year because they have late birthdays.
2. Apply online.
This is the second year of the Department of Education's online Kindergarten Connect system, which allows families to submit a single application to many elementary schools at the same time. The previous system required parents to apply in person at each individual school.
You can also apply on the phone at 718-935-2009 or in person at a Family Welcome Center, where interpretation services are supposed to be provided in more than 200 languages.
Whether you submit your application on the first day or the last of the nearly six-week application window makes no difference, according to school officials.
3. Most children attend their zoned schools.
Most children attend their local zoned schools, where they are supposed to be guaranteed a seat at a kindergarten program close to their home.
Sometimes zoned schools get so many applications that they have waitlists. Last year, about 1,200 students were waitlisted at their zoned schools, down from about 2,300 the year before. Many waitlisted students ultimately get in, with offers starting in June and lasting all the way through October, even after school has begun.
There are three districts with no zoned schools, where families have an equal shot at almost any elementary school in the area: the Lower East Side's District 1, the South Bronx's District 7 and Brownsville's District 23.
4. You can also look beyond your zoned school.
If you're not excited about your zoned school, there may be other options, including non-zoned schools, magnet schools and dual language programs.
The best way to figure out a good fit for your child is to visit schools. The DOE has a list of elementary school open houses and tours here.
"Getting a sense of the culture and environment of a school is important for parents and students and we urge families to visit schools in person so that they can decide how to rank schools and programs on the application," the DOE says on the website.
The city is expected to have more than 100 dual language programs by September 2015, including in Spanish, French and Chinese. One new language that will be offered for the first time next fall is Japanese, launching at P.S. 147 in Williamsburg.
Though dual language programs often focus on zoned students, they may take out-of-zone children who are native speakers of the foreign language in order to create a balanced class.
5. You can rank up to 12 schools on your application.
You can list up to 12 schools on your kindergarten application, but education experts advise families to only pick schools they would actually consider attending. Parents should rank the schools based on their preference.
The DOE will consider families' requests but will admit students to each school based on a series of priorities. A child who lives in a school's zone and has a sibling already attending that school gets top priority, for example, while those who live in a different borough have lowest priority.
DOE officials urge all families to apply to their zoned schools, if they have one, since that's where students get first priority. If students are not accepted to other schools on their list, they will most likely be assigned to their zoned school.
Check out the DOE's online Kindergarten Directories for more information about the schools available in each district and how selective they were last year. You can also check out DNAinfo New York's rankings of the most popular elementary schools in the city last year.
6. Gifted and talented admissions is a separate process.
Even if you're hoping to send your child to a gifted and talented program, you should still apply to elementary school through Kindergarten Connect.
Many children who apply to G&T programs don't get in, and you won't find out how your child scored on the gifted entrance exam until early April, after the deadline for general education kindergarten spots has already passed.
7. Understand your transportation options.
Kindergartners who go to programs in their district but live half a mile or more from their school may be eligible for a yellow bus (if their school has one) or MetroCard. Those under half a mile get a half-fare MTA bus pass.
The Department of Education does not provide yellow buses to kids who pick an elementary school outside of their district, but children will get a MetroCard.