In today’s competitive academic environment, many parents want the best possible education for their children. Private schools offer small class sizes, highly qualified teachers, top-notch facilities, and a rigorous curriculum not always found in public schools.

But what if you’re looking for a private school that doesn’t have a religious affiliation? Fortunately, there are excellent non-religious options available.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: There are many high-quality non-religious private school options across the United States at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

What Are Non-Religious Private Schools?

Secular Approach to Education

Non-religious private schools, also known as secular or non-sectarian schools, provide a high-quality education without incorporating religious teachings into the curriculum. These schools emphasize academic excellence, critical thinking, and character development without promoting any particular religious doctrine or point of view.

The focus is on providing students with a well-rounded liberal arts education grounded in reason, science, and humanistic values.

Unlike religious private schools, prayers, worship services, and religious texts have no place in the classroom at secular private schools. Rather than faith-based instruction, the curriculum focuses on the standard academic subjects like math, science, history, language arts, foreign languages, and the arts.

Religion may be discussed from an academic, historical, or cultural perspective but is not taught dogmatically.

Range of Educational Philosophies

Within the umbrella of non-religious education, there is a diverse spectrum of educational philosophies adopted by different secular private schools. Some common examples include:

  • Progressive schools that emphasize hands-on, experiential learning centered around the interests and developmental needs of each child.
  • Montessori schools that promote student-directed learning with mixed age classrooms and self-correcting materials.
  • Waldorf schools that integrate the arts, imagination, and social-emotional intelligence into the curriculum.
  • Democratic schools where students play an active role in shaping the direction of their education.

Despite these philosophical differences, secular private schools share a commitment to academic excellence within an educational environment respectful of human diversity and freedoms of thought.

Oversight and Accreditation

Like all private schools in the United States, non-religious private schools must meet basic educational standards set by their state government. They are typically overseen by a board of trustees responsible for aspects like hiring faculty, setting curriculum, and maintaining finances and facilities.

In addition, many non-religious schools seek accreditation from national associations like the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) or regional agencies. Accreditation provides external validation that a school meets high standards for areas like curriculum, teacher qualifications, student services, and operational integrity.

Over 1,600 private schools are NAIS members, many identifying as secular institutions.

Proportion of NAIS member schools identifying as non-religious: 18%
Proportion identifying as religiously affiliated: 48%

This oversight and accreditation provide families assurance about the quality of education offered at secular private schools.

Benefits of Non-Religious Private Schools

Academic Excellence

One of the biggest advantages of non-religious private schools is their focus on academic excellence. Private schools have the freedom and resources to develop specialized curriculums that push students to reach their maximum potential.

Many schools offer accelerated learning programs, honors/AP courses, and electives in cutting-edge fields like robotics and biomedical engineering. With low student-to-teacher ratios, teachers can provide individualized instruction and feedback.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average private school class size is 13 students, compared to 21 in public schools. Smaller classes allow more one-on-one attention and support.

Many non-religious private schools also have extensive college counseling programs starting early to get students on track for selective universities.

Small Class Sizes

In addition to enabling personalized instruction, small class sizes at private schools build close-knit communities. With fewer students in a class, teachers can foster warm, supportive environments where students feel comfortable participating.

Peers have more opportunities to form strong bonds and collaborate. According to studies, smaller classes in early grades have long-term academic and social benefits for students. Private schools typically have lower student-faculty ratios than public schools.

While public schools averaged 16 students per teacher in 2017, private schools averaged 12 students per teacher. With fewer students to manage, teachers can better address individual learning needs.


While often stereotyped as elite institutions, many non-religious private schools are making great strides in diversity and inclusion. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, over a third of private school students are students of color.

Many schools offer generous financial aid – on average 20% of enrolled students receive aid. By actively recruiting diverse students and faculty, private schools provide multicultural environments that reflect real-world society.

Exposure to different cultures and viewpoints prepares students for global citizenship. Private schools frequently have diversity directors to support curriculum development and hiring practices that create welcoming communities.

With students from a mix of racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, non-religious private schools foster open-mindedness and understanding.

Public Schools Private Schools
Average class size: 21 students Average class size: 13 students
16 students per teacher 12 students per teacher
29% students of color 35% students of color

While more costly than public institutions, non-religious private schools provide exceptional academics, individualized attention, and diversity. With a laser focus on college preparation and future success, private schools give students a leg up.

Their close-knit communities encourage well-rounded development. For families seeking the best educational opportunities, non-religious private schools are an excellent choice.

Types of Non-Religious Schools


Montessori schools focus on nurturing a child’s natural desire to learn. The Montessori method emphasizes self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. Montessori classrooms have multi-age groupings of children with a 3-year age range.

Lessons are presented individually or in small groups using concrete Montessori learning materials. Subject areas like practical life skills, sensory learning, math, language, geography, history, science, and art are integrated into the curriculum.

According to the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, there are over 4,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. and Canada.


Waldorf schools are based on Rudolph Steiner’s educational philosophy which focuses on educating the whole child – head, heart, and hands. The Waldorf curriculum nurtures imagination, creativity, and critical thinking through experiential learning.

Arts and music are integrated throughout the curriculum. Waldorf classrooms have mixed ages with the same teacher from grades 1-8 to promote long-term mentorship. Technology is purposefully limited, especially in the lower grades.

There are over 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide, with about 150 schools in North America according to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.

College Preparatory

College preparatory (prep) schools aim to prepare students academically for college. The curriculum is focused on traditional core subjects like math, science, history, English, and foreign languages. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are usually offered.

Extracurricular activities, athletics, and clubs are designed to help students build leadership skills, develop talents, and add experiences for college applications. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), 25% of private school students in the U.S. attend non-religious prep schools.

Famous college prep schools include Phillips Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, and the Spence School.

Specialty Schools

Specialty private schools focus their curriculum and programs around a specific theme or method of learning. Some common types of specialty schools include:

  • Alternative schools – Focus on students who need more individualized attention or have not been successful in traditional schools.
  • Boarding schools – Provide academics as well as dormitory housing for students.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) schools – Offer the IB Diploma Programme which has rigorous assessment.
  • Arts schools – Emphasize visual arts, performing arts, music, dance, drama, and creative writing.
  • Military schools – Incorporate military-style discipline, structure, uniforms, and regimental lifestyle.
  • Outdoor/experiential schools – Use nature-based experiences for hands-on learning.

According to NAIS, specialty schools represent about 15% of the overall private school market.

Finding the Right School


When looking for a non-religious private school, location is a top consideration for many families. Some key factors to think about include:

  • Commuting distance – How long is the commute? Can your child take the bus or do they need to be driven?
  • Neighborhood safety and amenities – Is the school in a safe area with things like parks or libraries nearby?
  • Opportunities for community involvement – Can students participate in local volunteer projects or internships?

Tuition Costs

Tuition at non-religious private schools can vary widely, from around $5,000 per year to over $40,000 per year. Here are some tips on evaluating costs:

  • Understand what is included – some schools include fees, books, field trips etc. while others charge separately.
  • Look for financial assistance – many schools offer scholarships or needs-based aid.
  • Consider costs over time – tuition often rises 3-5% annually, plan for increasing costs.

School Size and Demographics

Non-religious private schools can range in size from under 50 students to over 1,000 students. Consider:

  • Student-teacher ratio – lower ratios (under 15:1) allow for more individual attention.
  • Diversity – some schools have students from a wide mix of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds while others are more homogenous.
  • Resources – larger schools often have more facilities and program offerings.

Academic Focus

Think about the type of curriculum and learning environment you want for your child:

  • Rigorous academics – some schools focus intensely on college prep and achievement testing.
  • Progressive or alternative approaches – things like Montessori, Waldorf or democratic school models.
  • Special needs programs – support for learning disabilities, autism, ADHD etc.
  • Gifted programs – advanced coursework or accelerated pacing for highly capable students.

Choosing the right non-religious private school takes time and research. Consider visiting schools and speaking with administrators, teachers and current parents to fully evaluate if a school is the right fit.

With an open mind and focus on your child’s needs, you can find a school where your child will thrive.

Applying and Admissions Process

Application Requirements

The application process for non-religious private schools can be quite rigorous. Here are some common requirements:

  • A completed application form with student and family information
  • Teacher recommendations – Usually 2 from current teachers
  • Transcripts and test scores from current school
  • An admissions essay – This allows students to showcase their writing skills and personalities
  • Extracurricular activities list
  • Application fee – Can range from $25 to $100 per school

Interviews and Testing

Many non-religious private schools also require interviews and entrance exams:

  • Interviews – Allows the school to meet students and assess if they will be a good fit
  • Standardized tests – SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE are commonly required
  • School-specific exams – Tests knowledge in math, English, science, etc.

It’s important for families to prepare for these interviews and tests, as they play a big role in the admissions decision.

Financial Aid

Financial aid helps make non-religious private schools more accessible for families of all income levels. Here are some options:

  • Need-based grants – Awarded based on family financial need
  • Merit scholarships – Reward strong academics, extracurriculars, community service
  • Loans – Can come from private lenders or the school itself
  • Payment plans – Allows tuition to be paid in installments over the year

According to NAIS, over $30 billion in financial aid was awarded to private school families for the 2019-20 school year. With many options available, cost should not deter families from applying.


While public schools continue to face budget cuts and crowded classrooms, non-religious private schools offer exceptional learning environments and innovative educational approaches. From Montessori to college prep and beyond, these schools foster critical thinking, creativity, and academic excellence within diverse communities.

By understanding the range of options and utilizing helpful resources in your search process, you can find the ideal non-religious private school to set your child up for lifelong success.

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