Trying to find the right school? Whether it is a public, private school, or homeschool, you may need some help to find the right school for your child. We will address a number of commonly asked questions so you can compare public schools vs. private schools. 

Finding the Right School for Your Child 

How are the grades organized for public vs private schools? While some private day schools begin as early as elementary school and go through 6th or 8th grade, there are also many private schools that offer high school for grades 9-12 only. By comparison, public schools typically are organized by elementary, middle (grades 6-8 or 7-9) and high school (grades 9-12 or 10-12). 

Are private schools single gender or coeducational? Private schools can be single-gender (all boys or all girls), or co-educational. There are benefits to both directions, so consider this as you research to find the right school. Public schools are co-educational. 

Are private schools faith-based? There are faith-based schools (Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, and morel), as well as many schools that are non-denominational. Some private schools offer religious education and/or chapel services. This might include value-based educational lessons, spiritual or religious retreats, and other character development programs. By contrast, public schools must comply with legal standards relative to religions. 

What are charter schools and how hard is it to get in? Charter schools are part of the public school system. Parents sometimes seek these schools out to give their child a chance to be in a more specialized school. In many cases, charter schools are tough to get into due to high demand and the lottery system employed. This is true if demand exceeds the number of available spaces. Many private schools offer small classes or thematic approaches similar to charter schools. 

How does a student transfer from a homeschool? One of the benefits of a private school is that credits tend to transfer easily, including from homeschools. However, check with the school to see if the private school is accredited and they follow state standards. For example, in Texas, ask if they  follow TEA (Texas Education Agency) standards and inquire about their accreditation. In Texas, it is handled by SACS/Cognia/AdvancED. Public schools also follow curriculum standards to prepare students for graduation, as well as academic scheduling for college prep students. 

How should you compare public school programs to private schools? Some school districts are well-funded and offer a robust academic, athletic, and extracurricular experience. However, if you trying to weigh programs, then include the following in your comparison: average class size, faculty degrees, academic support programs, college planning services, athletics, clubs and activities, field trips, college matriculation data, community service, specialized programs for learning differences, STEM, STEAM, and other areas important to your child. 

Academics – Find the Right Academic Fit 

What is the class size in public vs. private schools? In public schools, most classes are quite large and school quality varies widely, depending on the school district. While it is not unusual at a private school to see 5-20 students in a class, by contrast, public schools can have  30-40+ students in a classroom. 

What type of faculty work at private schools vs public schools? Faculty are typically required to hold undergraduate and/or graduate degrees for private schools. Depending on the private school, teaching credentials may not be required. Private schools tend to put more emphasis on degrees, whereas public school teachers must have the precise credentials to even apply.

What academic approaches are employed? Most private high schools are college preparatory. Many boast impressive matriculation to the Ivy League, to top military service academies like West Point, and prestigious public and private universities. Academic approaches can range from research-based approaches to Harkness methodologies. At public schools, the emphasis is sometimes on federal mandates, such as “teach to the test.” This can limit the textbooks and approaches used by public school teachers. 

Do private and public schools offer programs for learning differences? In some cases, absolutely, but the private programs vary widely. Therefore, it is important to see if they accept students with mild, moderate, or severe learning differences. It is also very critical to disclose any learning issues and supply documentation so the school can advise whether they are a good match. In addition, keep in mind that private schools may even offer a specialization in ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Auditory Processing, and other learning differences. Public schools follow strict protocols in working up 504 and IEP plans. There are also laws that mandate specific accommodations for students with learning differences. 

Campus Life – Find the Right School for Extracurricular Activities 

What are private school campuses like compared to public schools? Private school settings vary widely, ranging from microschools with fewer than 100 students to very large schools with over 1000 students. Some are nestled in small towns or village centers, whereas others are located in suburban or urban settings. Campuses generally include academic and extracurricular facilities. Public schools typically offer academic classrooms, library,  and athletic facilities for students. 

Do private schools offer extracurricular programs? Although this can also be true in public schools, many private schools offer a variety of special extracurricular programs. For example, schools may offer community service, yoga, visual and performing arts, special sports, annual retreats, a wide range of clubs, weekend activities, and educational excursions. 

Do schools accept international students? Most private schools in the United States are very open to international applicants and may even offer classes to help students learn English (ESL, ESOL). To be accepted, some private schools require advanced English, whereas others are geared to beginners or intermediate learners. Public schools also enroll international students and specific classes and services may be offered. 

Financial Aid – Get Support from the School for Tuition 

How are private and public schools funded? Unlike public schools that are federally and state funded, private schools rely on tuition to cover operating expenses. Private schools can operate under a nonprofit or for-profit status. For this reason, it is not uncommon for private schools to do fundraising for capital improvements and to support school programs. 

Do private schools offer financial aid? In order to help families with tuition and fees, most private schools offer financial assistance to families. Most schools offer payment plans and some offer merit awards and other types of tuition credit programs. 

Admissions – Apply to the Right School 

What are the admission standards at private schools?  Admission standards vary from school to school and range from very flexible to quite selective. Check the admission pages on websites or call the schools to review their admission policies and procedures. 

What if you have a special talent? If your child has a special interest or talent, it can be useful to check out the approaches at private schools to find the right fit. Private schools are often ideal for GATE students, or those involved in the arts or athletic pursuits. They offer the challenge, and in some cases, flexible scheduling to accommodate outside interests. 

Benefits of Private vs. Public School  

If your child is getting lost in large classes or struggling with time management, homework habits, and motivation, a private school has some definite benefits. The decision may center around more academic support, social skills, shared values, or personal development. It could even be related to future goals and college plans, especially given that private schools can give applicants an extra edge to get into college. Here are some of the key points covered about private schools: 

  • Private schools offer small classes and a level of academic support that is hard to find even at the best public and charter schools. In many cases, they also offer summer classes to accelerate or remediate courses. 
  • Private schools typically offer students support as they navigate their life and college plans. Services may include assistance with college and vocational choices, applications, recommendations, campus visits, and testing prep. 
  • Students at private schools provide many opportunities for special recognition. By having a smaller student body in most cases, private school students have an opportunity to pursue interests and showcase their talents. 
  • Due to the specialization at private schools, students have unique opportunities to pursue academic passions that can later lead to college majors and careers. They often receive a high level of attention and support from faculty. 
  • One of the biggest gifts in attending a smaller private school is the chance to be with like-minded students and build strong friendships.

Work a Checklist to Find the Right School 

In conclusion, if you compare statistics on public vs. private, there is compelling evidence that demonstrates private school students generally tend to study more, go to college at a higher rate, are more likely to get graduate degrees, and earn more money over their lifetime. National associations support this data and provide some compelling research on related topics. 

As you work on finding the right school, think about this list below. Evaluate the importance of these by priority for your child to compare school types and choices. 

  1. Academic support and average class size 
  2. Mentorship and on-site counseling
  3. Values and character development
  4. Communication development 
  5. Leadership opportunities
  6. Outdoor education, retreats, and trips 
  7. Exposure to diversity 
  8. Study skill programs 
  9. Acceptance to college
  10. Scholarships to college
  11. College planning services
  12. College prep or vocational/trade programs
  13. Sports, clubs, and activities 
  14. Social policies (e.g. bullying, health, safety)  

Note: If you would like to check out private schools, remember some families choose a private school close by, while others choose one that is en route to work. To find the right school near you, Private School Review can be a great place to begin. You can compare up to three schools at a glance. 

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