Is Private School Worth the Money?

What Is the True Value of a Private School Education?

girl in private school uniform. Jun Takahashi/Taxi Japan, Getty Images

Go online and you'll find dozens of articles debating if private school is worthy of its notoriously hefty price tag. In other words, are parents wise to pay such a high price for their children to attend private school? These articles look at many students’ experiences at private school from a cost-benefit perspective and many come up with the conclusion that attending a private school does not in any way guarantee access to an Ivy League or equivalently competitive college.

 There is no clear answer to the cost-benefit analysis of whether private school is “worth it,” but here are some ways to think about the equation:

Examine Your Criteria

Most articles that seek to answer the question about whether private school is worth the cost look at one factor-- college admission. Particularly, many choose to look at admission to a very selective bunch of schools, namely the Ivy League and other similar colleges and universities. However, these elite colleges and universities may not be the goal of all or even most private school parents and students. In fact, many private school graduates are fortunate to have the added bonus of working with highly qualified college counselors whose jobs are to help graduates find the "best fit" higher education institutions, and not the most prestigious. What good is an ivy league degree if you're not getting the support you need to succeed and do well?

Yes, it's true that some private schools thrive on advertising the admission of their recent graduates into Ivy League and equivalent schools, but college admissions results can never sum up the true value of a private school education. Does an ivy league education guarantee you success and fulfillment?

Instead, parents and students who want to understand what a private school education offers them need to look at the process of the education and what it has provided students in order to prepare them for life after high school. Improved time management skills, increased independence, introduction to a diverse community and rigorous academics; these are just a few of the skills that private school students gain from their experiences that can't necessarily be captured by their college admission lists.

Understand the True Value of Private School

The benefits of a private school education may not always be summarized in the list of where recent graduates attended college. For example, one study found that the benefits of a boarding school education extended well beyond students’ senior year of high school and the college admissions process. The graduates of private boarding and day schools felt much better prepared for college than did public school students in the survey, and graduates of boarding schools achieved advanced degrees and career success to a greater extent than did the graduates of private day or public schools. Parents and students can often understand what private schools offer when they look at the complete trajectory of graduates’ education and careers.

Want to learn more about life at an all-girls boarding school? Read this personal account from an alumna.

Find the Best Fit for Your Child

In addition, statistics and summaries of vast numbers of students do not always help you understand what type of education is best for your child. The best school for any child is the one that fits his or her needs. For example, if your child loves horseback riding or surfing or English poetry or another academic or extra-curricular interest, a certain school—whether public or private—may provide him or her with the best environment for advancing his or her interests and development. It is by no means true that a private school is always better than a public school, and it is true that public schools can often be more diverse than many private schools.

However, the cost-benefit analysis of any particular school must be carried out with a particular student in mind. The true value of a school is what it offers to that student—not just what it offers in terms of college admissions. The true value lies in what the school offers with regard to a student’s life-long learning.

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski