Schooling for Children in San Francisco

Preschools (Ages 2 1/2 - 5)

You do not need to reserve a space in a preschool prior to your arrival, although spaces at some of the better schools fill up quickly. Before choosing a preschool for your child, visit several to decide where your child would feel most comfortable.

Fees average around $2000/month (full time). Extended day care (beyond normal referral service school hours) may or may not be included in the monthly tuition. Hours and days vary.

Most preschools require the children to be toilet trained. For an extensive list of schools that is updated monthly, and includes information such as schedules, fees, and space availability, please contact the UCSF Child Care Referral Service.

Kindergarten (Age 5)

Kindergarten is not mandatory in the United States. If you decide to send your child to kindergarten in the public school system, your child must be 5 years old by September 1st to begin kindergarten that year. Some private schools require that your child be 5 years old by September 5th or October 10th to begin school in September of the same year.

It is also necessary to enroll your child by January of the same year although some schools may accept late enrollments. All children undergo a kindergarten readiness test before beginning school.

For additional information on this topic, please visit the California Department of Education website.

Elementary and Middle Schools (Ages 6-13)

Before you arrive in San Francisco, you should try to get as much information as possible on the school system and the different schools. A good place to start is the Great Schools website. It provides information about school size, test scores, diversity, teacher credibility, parent’s comments and so on.

Additionally, it helps to know what to look for when you visit a school or talk to a principal. A good place to begin looking for an elementary or middle school is at the local public, private, and parochial (catholic) schools in your area.

Public Schools

Please visit the San Francisco Unified School District website for information on the various public schools. Although each of the schools represent themselves well on the website, you may want to do some additional research.

Public school is free of charge, but you will have to pay for after-school care (after 3:00 p.m.) if needed. Some schools offer after-school care free, but it is illegal for internationals to accept public benefits, so be careful to ask whether the program is government-sponsored or not.

Once you arrive, you will need to visit the San Francisco Unified School District Educational Placement Center to enroll your children in school:

You can download the school application form from the San Francisco Unified School District website. Be sure to follow the instructions very carefully. Children are placed into public schools according to where siblings attend, diversity, and availability. You should take the time and visit several schools to find the right one for your child.

Non-English speaking and bilingual students will need to take a language test, although the result of the test really has no influence on the placement. If your child is tested as “Non-Fluent,” he or she will receive free additional English lessons at his/her school.

Private and Parochial (Christian/Catholic) Schools

Private and parochial schools also educate a large percentage of San Francisco's students, but are often filled quite early and charge tuition.

Again, as all elementary schools vary in their curriculum, it is advisable to arrange a visit in order to find the school that best suits your child's needs. A comprehensive list can be found at the Great Schools website.

High Schools (Ages 14-17)

For high school age children, you will again want to visit the website of the San Francisco Unified School District website for information on the various public schools or the Great Schools website for private schools.