This fourth and final installment in the series unofficially entitled “Choosing Your Child’s School” concerns choosing a private school. Autumn is the season for visiting private schools and preparing applications for the following school year. Private schools run open houses in the fall (and many continue on specific days throughout the year, usually by appointment only) to garner interest and inform parents of the application process. Information can be accumulated from any school’s website, but truth to tell–all schools look pretty impressive online, with their clean-cut students and elegant campuses. Serious considerations should be made in person. Walking through the campus, observing teachers in action, and conferencing with the admissions personnel will give parents a better impression of the atmosphere, values, and personality of the school.

Statistics concerning private school performance are both interesting and variable. No surprise, the websites touting private education cast statistics in the most favorable light. Government sites show small and usually inconclusive data measuring the difference in performance between public and private schools. Your best bet when researching statistics is to read widely and mostly from non-biased (is there such a thing?) research groups.  The following stats represent a median sample of facts, based on assessing private schools under the following sub-categories:


  • religious: usually divided into Catholic and non-Catholic. Of the non-Catholic, the largest sub-categories in the US are the following: Conservative (this would include mostly Conservative Baptist, then Classical and other conservatives), Lutheran, Muslim, Seventh Day Adventist, and others
  • non-religious, typically considered preparatory
  • remedial–schools for learning-disabled children
  • boarding schools (preparatory, religious, or rehabilitative)

The following list of pros and cons refer singly to a stereotypical non-religious preparatory school. My article “Choosing Christian School” will give pros and cons about religious education. Public charter schools and magnet schools may have pros and cons from this list as well as from the public school list of pros and cons in “Choosing Public School.” As always, these observations are based on stereotypes and generalizations. Each private school is individual and should be examined as such. Any comparisons made below are generally in contrast to public school.

Pros :

  • narrower demographic, which narrows the target teaching audience
  • more personalized education, greater possibility for “school family” atmosphere
  • safer environment than public school
  • in the case of preparatory schools, the facilities are often superior to public school facilities
  • statistically higher test scores in reading, math, writing, and SATs than public or religious school counter-parts
  • typically a full-range of general, honors, and AP classes, as well as electives
  • have traditionally offered clubs and activities not previously available in public schools, like la crosse and rowing, as well as specialization in the performing arts
  • smaller student body presents more leadership opportunities
  • slightly smaller class size and better teacher-student ratio
  • focus on community service and the arts for all students
  • typically, a dress code or uniform is strictly enforced
  • typically more personal interaction with faculty
  • high school spirit and legacy
  • high parental involvement
  • more opportunity for involvement in athletics
  • cutting-edge technology, facilities, and programs, due to grants and donations by wealthy graduates (and parents)
  • atmosphere strongly reflects values and personality of administration and mission of the school
  • families are generally in strong support of rigorous academic performance and a broad-based exposure to the arts and sciences
  • endowments and scholarships offered by wealthy donors for those needing financial assistance; usually based on test scores, as well as need
  • honor code is usually followed and enforced, if necessary. Many schools are lock-free on lockers. Manners and ethics are generally uplifted.
  • teachers have latitude in choosing curriculum and pacing lessons


  • cost: the average non-religious school in America costs $16,247 per year. In cities, like Richmond, the cost will be higher (Richmond average is about $19,000); most schools also have hefty fees for enrollment, testing, books, lunch program, extra-curricular activities, and uniforms. Tuition is also generally not refundable, should you change your mind about the school once your child has enrolled. With the average cost of college being the same or less,$16,247/yr. is an investment worth heavy consideration.
  • demographic–for middle-class families or those seeking a wide range of ethic and economic backgrounds, private schools will disappoint. Private school students can expect to attend with children whose parents live and work in their community’s upper class or upper middle class. This will be a pro for many, but it’s something to be aware of for families sacrificing to attend.
  • entitlement. This observation goes along with the previous one. An attitude of entitlement can occur in any social-economic level, but parents can expect to confront it in preparatory schools. This may be considered good or bad, depending on your view.
  • transportation to and from school is parent’s responsibility
  • risk of parental dominance and interference into academic decisions, risk for school politics to govern decisions

Observations:  No two private schools are the same. I would suggest that the disparity among private institutions within a county is greater than the disparity among public schools within that same county. Certainly, we would all agree that school districts vary tremendously from one to another, which is why those who use public school (or even those who are only concerned about taxes), choose their housing based on the reputation of the local public schools. That said, private schools create their own persona and curriculum, allowing them to offer a unique selection of classes and activities. When comparing private schools, it’s usually an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Each private school has a different admission process, so check the website and speak with an admissions counselor, but typical considerations are as follows:  have transcripts, sample work, letters of recommendation, and application essay ready to go. (Yes, it feels like applying for college!) Prep your child for academic testing; most schools require IQ and psychological testing. Attend an open house, take a tour, visit classes. Most schools want your child to attend school for a day, in the company of a peer, which is the best way for him/her to determine how they like the “feel” of the school.

In regards to financial aid, typically a child will be accepted, and parents will be given a window for making their decision. At the time of application, parents needing financial assistance should submit their financial aid application so the school can begin working on it. Ideally, as a parent, you want to make your decision based on all the information–how much is this school really going to cost you? Most financial aid goes toward 9-12th graders, so that’s also a consideration.

Interesting Statistics:

  • 33,366 private schools in USA (25% of all K-12 schools)
  • 5,488,000 children attend private school in USA (10% of all school-age children)
  • average cost of private school per year in America is $10,045
  • of all private schools, 43% are Catholic, 20% are non-religious, 14% are Conservative Baptist
  • white non-Hispanic ratio population in American schools–58% white in public school, 74% white in private school
  • national average for SATs: public school–1500, religious private school–1592, non-religious private school–1670
  • lower number of reports for bullying, sexual harassment, aggressive acts, violence in school, and fear of being harmed (as reported by students, staff, and parents)



image by Ian L

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