Private schools offer an alternative to public education, with different teaching approaches, environments, and student populations. If you’re considering sending your child to private school or just curious about how they differ from public ones, read on for a comprehensive look at what private schools are really like.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Private schools are independent schools that charge tuition, have selective admissions criteria, smaller classes, varied curriculums and teaching methods compared to public schools.

They emphasize academics, values, discipline, prestige and networking opportunities.

Types of Private Schools

Religious Schools

Religious schools are private schools that are affiliated with a specific religion or religious denomination. They often provide a faith-based education, teaching religious values and incorporating religious teachings into their curriculum.

These schools may offer a wide range of academic programs, extracurricular activities, and religious services. Some well-known religious private schools include Catholic schools, Jewish schools, and Islamic schools.

Preparatory Schools

Preparatory schools, also known as prep schools, are private schools that focus on preparing students for higher education. They often have rigorous academic programs and high expectations for their students.

Prep schools typically offer a wide range of courses, including advanced placement (AP) and honors classes, and they may have specialized programs in areas such as science, arts, or athletics. Many prep schools have a strong emphasis on college preparation and boast high college acceptance rates.

Boarding Schools

Boarding schools are private schools where students live on campus and attend classes. These schools provide a structured and immersive educational experience, as students are surrounded by their peers and teachers at all times.

Boarding schools often have small class sizes, allowing for more individualized attention and support. They also offer a variety of extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, and cultural events. Some boarding schools have a specific focus, such as arts, STEM, or leadership.

Montessori Schools

Montessori schools are private schools that follow the educational philosophy developed by Maria Montessori. These schools emphasize hands-on learning, individualized instruction, and self-directed activities.

Montessori schools often have mixed-age classrooms, allowing older students to mentor younger ones. They focus on developing students’ independence, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Montessori schools typically have a unique classroom environment with specialized materials and a focus on practical life skills.

Special Needs Schools

Special needs schools are private schools that cater to students with specific learning, physical, or emotional needs. These schools provide specialized support and resources to help students overcome challenges and reach their full potential.

Special needs schools may have specialized programs for students with disabilities such as autism, dyslexia, or ADHD. They often have smaller class sizes and a team of professionals, including special education teachers, therapists, and counselors, to support students’ individual needs.

Admissions and Cost

Competitive Admissions

Private schools often have competitive admissions processes, as they strive to maintain high academic standards and create a diverse student body. These schools typically have limited spots available and receive a large number of applications each year.

Admissions committees carefully review each applicant’s academic records, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and personal essays to determine if they would be a good fit for the school.

Competition for admission can be intense, especially for prestigious private schools with a long-standing reputation for excellence. Parents may need to plan ahead and start the application process well in advance to increase their child’s chances of acceptance.

Entrance Exams

Many private schools require students to take entrance exams as part of the admissions process. These exams are designed to assess the student’s academic abilities and potential to succeed in a rigorous academic environment.

Common entrance exams include the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT).

Preparing for these exams can be demanding, and some students may choose to enroll in test prep courses or hire tutors to help them improve their scores. It’s important to note that while high scores on entrance exams are important, they are not the sole factor in the admissions decision.

Private schools also consider other aspects of an applicant’s profile, such as their character, interests, and potential contributions to the school community.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Private schools are known for their higher tuition fees compared to public schools. The cost of tuition can vary significantly depending on the location, reputation, and facilities offered by the school.

It is not uncommon for tuition fees to range from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per year.

However, many private schools understand that the cost can be a barrier for some families, and they offer financial aid programs to make their education more accessible. Financial aid packages can include scholarships, grants, or tuition assistance based on a family’s financial need.

Families interested in private school education should research the financial aid options available at prospective schools and explore eligibility criteria and application processes.

It’s worth noting that private schools often have limited financial aid resources, and not all families may qualify for assistance. Therefore, it’s important for families to carefully consider their financial situation before committing to a private school education.


Private schools are known for their strong emphasis on academics, providing students with a rigorous and comprehensive education. These institutions often offer advanced curriculums that go beyond the standard requirements set by public schools.

Advanced Curriculums

Private schools strive to challenge their students and foster a love for learning. They often offer specialized programs and courses that cater to different interests and talents. For example, some private schools may provide advanced placement (AP) courses, allowing students to earn college credits while still in high school.

Others may offer specialized programs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects or the arts.

Small Class Sizes

One significant advantage of private schools is their smaller class sizes. With fewer students per class, teachers are able to provide more individualized attention and support. This allows for better engagement and interaction between students and their instructors.

Students in private schools often have a greater opportunity to participate actively in discussions, ask questions, and receive personalized feedback on their work.

Rigorous Academics

Private schools are known for their high academic standards. They often have challenging coursework that pushes students to their full potential. The curriculum is designed to be comprehensive and well-rounded, covering various subjects including math, science, literature, history, and foreign languages.

Private schools also prioritize critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and creativity, preparing students for success in higher education and beyond.

Top College Acceptance

Private schools have a reputation for sending a high percentage of their graduates to top colleges and universities. Admissions officers often recognize the academic rigor and high standards of private schools, making their graduates highly sought after.

Private school students tend to have a competitive edge when applying to colleges, as they have been exposed to challenging coursework and have received guidance from experienced college counselors throughout their education.

Student Life

Private schools offer a unique and enriching student life experience. Here’s a detailed look at what student life is like in private schools:

Diverse Student Bodies

Private schools often have diverse student bodies, with students coming from different cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This diversity promotes a rich learning environment where students can learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives.

It also prepares students to thrive in a multicultural society, fostering a sense of global awareness and understanding.

Extracurricular Activities

Private schools typically offer a wide range of extracurricular activities to cater to students’ interests and talents. From sports teams to art clubs, music ensembles to debate societies, there is something for everyone.

These activities provide opportunities for students to pursue their passions outside of the classroom, develop new skills, and make lasting friendships. They also help students build a well-rounded resume for college applications.

Sense of Community

Private schools often cultivate a strong sense of community among students, teachers, and parents. The smaller class sizes in private schools allow for more personalized attention and foster closer relationships between students and their teachers.

This sense of community creates a supportive and nurturing environment where students feel valued and supported in their academic and personal growth.

Boarding Options

Some private schools offer boarding options, allowing students to live on campus during the school year. Boarding schools provide a unique experience where students have the opportunity to develop independence, learn life skills, and form lifelong friendships with their peers.

Living on campus also allows students to have easy access to academic resources, extracurricular activities, and a structured environment that promotes both academic and personal growth.

Private schools, with their diverse student bodies, wide range of extracurricular activities, strong sense of community, and boarding options, provide students with a well-rounded and comprehensive student life experience.

Whether it’s fostering cultural understanding, pursuing passions, or building lifelong connections, private schools offer a supportive environment that nurtures students’ growth and prepares them for success in the future.

Teaching Methods

Private schools are known for their innovative and unique approaches to education. These institutions often strive to create an environment that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and a love for learning.

While traditional teaching methods are still utilized, private schools are more likely to incorporate experiential learning, project-based learning, and interdisciplinary approaches into their curriculum.

This allows students to engage with the material in a hands-on and practical way, enhancing their understanding and retention of the subject matter.

Innovative Approaches

Private schools often embrace innovative teaching methods to keep their students engaged and motivated. They may incorporate technology, such as interactive whiteboards or online learning platforms, into their classrooms.

This not only makes learning more interactive and dynamic but also prepares students for the digital world they will be entering. Additionally, private schools may also implement collaborative learning strategies, encouraging students to work together in groups and develop strong teamwork skills.

Focus on Values

Private schools are known for their emphasis on values and character development. In addition to academic excellence, these institutions strive to instill virtues such as integrity, respect, and compassion in their students.

They often incorporate moral and ethical teachings into their curriculum, fostering a sense of social responsibility and empathy among students. This focus on values helps students develop into well-rounded individuals who not only excel academically but also contribute positively to their communities.

Teacher Quality

Private schools generally prioritize hiring highly qualified and experienced teachers who are passionate about their subjects and dedicated to their students’ success. These educators often hold advanced degrees and undergo regular professional development to stay updated with the latest educational practices.

The smaller class sizes in private schools also allow for more personalized attention and support. This enables teachers to address the individual needs and learning styles of their students, ensuring a more effective and tailored education experience.

Discipline and Structure

Private schools are known for their emphasis on discipline and structure. They often have well-defined rules and expectations that promote a positive and respectful learning environment. This structured approach helps students develop good habits, time management skills, and a sense of responsibility.

Private schools typically have clear disciplinary procedures in place to address any behavioral issues promptly and consistently. This focus on discipline and structure helps create a conducive learning environment where students can thrive academically and socially.


Private schools offer many advantages over public schools for some families, including prestigious reputations, quality teaching, small classes, varied curriculums and strong college preparation. However, the cost can be prohibitive and admissions highly selective.

Overall, private schools provide excellent education for those who can access and afford them.

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