School Registration in the Bay Area, A Tale of Woe

Have you ever had to camp outside an Apple store, waiting for the newest iPhone release? Do you have a tradition to stand in line on Black Friday? Well, we haven’t done any of that, but have you ever had to spend the night in a line outside an elementary school for school registration? We did (kind of).

Welcome to the Bay Area, the land of skyrocketing property prices. Finding an affordable property here is a stressful experience in itself. But finding an affordable place to live while trying to register for a school, and you get double the ‘fun’.

When we relocated here, our son was just ten months old. Finding a school was the last item on our priority list. We still had four three years to figure it out (I know some people who started their research when their kids were as young as two!). As it happened, the area we used to live in didn’t have the school rating that we had hoped for, so moving into a neighborhood with the desired school rating was the only answer.

School registration, how does one start?

Here’s how we did it:
First, we considered some potential school districts that are not too far from work (because commute time is also high on our priority list). We decided on three, I’d say a maximum of four school district candidates is ideal. It is better to focus your search on limited choice rather than on a wide range.

Second, research ALL schools in each school district. Find out their rating, curriculum focus, extracurricular activities, public reviews, and all other details that you consider important and assign a priority value to each school. You can check information on school ratings and reviews here.

Third, work your property search from top to bottom of your priority list. Property listing apps usually have a feature of ‘nearby school’ ranging from elementary to high school, but I find that the Zillow is the most accurate.

Fourth, start the real property hunt! This is when you really look into potential apartment/houses, set up viewing appointments, and sign the deal. Before you do, make sure that each address really falls within your desired school boundary. You can check the address locator here or in each school district website for better accuracy.

Now that you have moved into your new apartment, it’s time for school registration at your destination school.

For more on moving check out our article Decluttering: Own Less, Live More

Here is when the real work starts. Take note of the registration date and document verification process. While school registration is usually done online, document verification is usually done at the school itself. You need to complete ALL the required forms beforehand (plus take a copy of each document to be sure), otherwise, you risk having to go more than once. Only after all documents are verified can one go online and register. And last, talk to parents who have registered for the same school before. Here is where we went wrong. We asked several people registering to different schools about how long the document verification process takes. The responses that we got were mainly ‘just walk in’, or ‘it takes about 20 minutes’. While some of them are true (it does take around 20 minutes), we were not aware of how long is the line to get to verification was going to be.

On the first document verification day, we had all the forms and copies ready. We arrived right at ten o’clock (just as the website stated) only to find that the line which started at the main office had stretched to the sidewalk. There were already 80 people or so standing with envelopes in their hands. My husband who stood at the end of the line didn’t make the cut and was asked to come back the next week. As it turns out, the last person admitted came at 7 am (three hours before verification started) and the first in line had arrived at 2am!

School Registration: Sign for document verification line

Be ready to get in line early!

We decided that we would be more prepared the next time, just in case we had to start lining up in the wee hours. My husband had all-weather gear ready: sweater, thick jacket, warm hat, gloves, sleeping bag, lawn chair, a thermos of hot tea, snacks, a fully charged phone, books for reading, and a stroller to lug everything in. Thankfully we live only 1,000 feet away from the school so we could drive around and monitor the line situation from time to time. At five o’clock the line had not started, but an hour later five people started to form one. After waiting for four hours in line, all our documents were verified and we could proceed with the online school registration process.

While this is not always the case for other Bay Area schools, it is useful to research your destination school specifically. Plan to attend an open house, talk to parents whose kids go to that school and find information and tips that will help you along with the registration process.

How’s your experience with school registration in Bay Area? Was there anything out of expected for you? Comment below.

About Gita A

I have spent one third of my life away from home. I was born and grew up in Solo, Indonesia. After high school, I took my business degree in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore where I met my husband. Eight years later, we moved to the Bay Area when my husband was offered a position at Google. Moving to the other side of the world was not an easy task. Struggle was of course a part of it, and I have my ups and downs. Slowly but sure I find new friends along the way and life is getting more colourful each day. I know that my story is not unique. I’m glad to join the LITB team and I hope that our stories can help those who find themselves a thousand miles away from home feel not alone. We are in this together; and we, as a community, can grow stronger. Welcome to the Bay Area!

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2 thoughts on “School Registration in the Bay Area, A Tale of Woe

  • MLaker

    We had nothing like that up north in San Bruno. I turned up about 10 am on registration day, walked right in, delivered documents, and that was that. Such a difference. So glad that you were able to get your little one into a good school!

  • Alexis

    Wow that’s crazy, reminds me of the queues to get the lists of student properties in St Andrews. Nothing like that here in Cupertino either. At my daughter’s school you call up to make an appointment within the registration period and you turn up with your documents, seen within a few minutes! Other schools in the district don’t have appointments but it’s a good 2 or 3 week long registration period so as long as you don’t turn up on the first day you’re all good!