private school vs public school

Private School vs Public School: Which is Best for Your Child’s Future?

As your child nears the age of five, you’re going to have to make what might seem like one of the most important decisions of your life–where to send your kid to school. And, inevitably, you’ll have to pick a side of the private school vs public school coin.

There are loads of beautiful schools out there, but the challenge is finding the perfect one for your child. Before you drive yourself crazy visiting school after school, there’s one question you should consider—do you want your child to attend a private school or a public school?

There are tons of differences between public and private schools, so it helps to make this distinction before you go hunting for the perfect school.

We’ve taken the liberty of listing and summarising these major differences to make life a little easier for you. Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’ll have a better idea of what is the difference between a private school and public school and which is best for your child.

Money, Money, Money

The most obvious difference comes down to money—public schools are free, and private schools are not.

What does this mean to you? Well, for one thing, it means that if you want to send your child to private school, you have to really want it, and be willing to shell out over $10,000.

However, free doesn’t necessarily mean good; sending your child to a free public school does have its drawbacks. Since public schools are funded by state and federal taxes, they have to comply with state and federal regulations and bureaucratic processes, which sometimes end up hindering the schools.

Private schools, on the other hand, are funded through a combination of tuition, private grants, and fundraising from parents, alumni, and other community members. As a result, private schools have much more freedom and can offer differentiated learning, advanced curriculum, and programs geared toward specific religious beliefs. If you really want to enrol your child in a private school but you’re short in money, he can take a part-time job to help finance his education.

Now I’m certainly not trying to trash talk public schools or anything, and not every ritzy ditzy private school is all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s pretty important to consider where a school gets its funding, as this often determines how limited they are. This is the primary difference when you look into private school vs public school.

Admissions: Can My Child Even Get In?

Most private schools, depending on the level of the school, have some form of the admissions process.

Private preschools and elementary schools often require parents to fill out an application, and typically require a family interview, in which the interviewers evaluate not only the children but also the parents.

This is to ensure that the child’s parents are upstanding members of the community, and are raising their children correctly, because really—who the heck knows if their child is a genius at age 5?

Private middle schools and high schools have a bit of a different process. These schools also require applications, but these schools interview the applicant rather than their parents. Private middle and high schools also typically have some sort of entrance exam, which tests reading, math, and logical reasoning skills. So if you are asking, “does private school make a difference?” the answer is a resounding yes.

What about public schools, you ask? Luckily for you, there is no admissions process! By law, no public school can deny student enrollment, so you won’t have to worry about your child not getting in.

Class Size

Is private school better than public schools when it comes to class size? 

This section kinda goes along with the previous one. Due to the fact that most private schools have some sort of selective admissions process, they can limit the number of students they enroll. As a result, class sizes are significantly smaller than those of public schools.

So, are small class sizes a good thing or a bad thing?

That really depends on who you ask. On one hand, your child may get more individualized attention from their teachers, and get to know their classmates really well.

However, some kids thrive in a larger class setting and prefer to associate with a wider variety of people, and honestly– the difference in class size is so small that, no matter what, your child will still have plenty of opportunities to get well acquainted with their teachers.

Different Kinds of Teachers

In this section, private school does make a difference. 

Public school teachers have to be certified by the state, and typically have a bachelor’s degree (sometimes masters).

While private school teachers do not have to be certified, they are usually experts in their field, and usually have a master’s degree or a Ph.D. The hiring process for private school teachers is often much more selective (they get paid more than public school teachers), and they are evaluated on a regular basis.

Public school teachers, after teaching for a while, can be granted “tenure,” which makes it extremely hard to fire them, even if they suck the life out of the room.

Private school teachers, on the other hand, generally have contracts that are renewed on an annual basis, ensuring that unfit teachers are removed and that quality education is upheld.

Which Will Better Prepare My Child For College?

Generally speaking, private school students attend college more often than public school students. So to answer the question, “is private school better than public school” in this factor, the answer is that it depends on the quality of education offered by both. 

After all, many private schools dub themselves “college prep schools,” so it only makes sense.  Private school students also tend to perform better on standardized tests.

Also, the curriculum at private schools is typically more rigorous, better preparing kids to take on the challenges and stresses of higher education later on in life. They are also prepared for the SAT so they can apply for merit scholarships and get to schools like Stanford.

I cannot stress enough that this does not mean that if your child attends a public school, they will not get into college.

This is simply not true.

If your child has an aptitude for learning and challenges themselves throughout high school, they can get into any college they want!

In fact, public schools can be just as rigorous as private schools, if you want them to be. Most public schools offer honors-level and AP courses, which are designed to challenge students, and prepare them for college-level courses. If your child challenges him- or herself by taking these courses, they’ll be more than prepared for college.

Extracurricular Activities and Clubs

Most public schools have clubs for just about anything you can think of—musical theatre, graphic design, community service—you name it, and your local public school probably has it! Most public schools also have a wide variety of sports teams, including football, baseball, soccer, and tennis.

The same thing cannot always be said about private schools. So if your wondering “is private school better than public schools” in terms of extra-curricular, it usually depends on the school population.

Some private schools are fairly large and offer these same clubs and opportunities, but some private schools are so small that they do not have a big enough student body to support such a wide range of clubs and sports. In fact, many private schools do not even have football teams!

If your child is interested in a particular sport, art, or club, your local private school might be less likely than your local public school to offer it. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply if your child is very interested in music, and you’re sending them to a music-based private school.)

Rule of thumb: Before you send your child to a private school, you should make sure that the school has at least one or two clubs that your child is interested in.

School Safety

The safety of your child is obviously one of your priorities so finding out the safety protocols of private school vs private school are essential. Although both types of schools have their own level of security, private schools are favored by most parents in this aspect. Since private schools carefully select their students, the class milieu is safer. This is another reason why some believe that private school is better than public schools.

This is not to generalize that public schools are lacking when it comes to safety and security. It still depends on the administrators of your district on how they implement such measures.

Special Programs

Another important factor that affects the rating of private schools vs public schools is their capacity to offer special programs for special children. The clear winner in this aspect is the public school since it is mandatory for them to accept students with special needs because they need to promote inclusive education. There are a lot of teachers specializing in this field that work in public schools. If your child has a special need and you want to ensure that he will be accepted, public schools are your best option.

Some private schools also offer special programs but it is limited because they are not required by the state to do so. But if you really want private education for your child, you can search for private schools that focus on children with special needs.

Religious Instruction

Religious affiliation is another aspect that you should look into in choosing the school for your child. All public schools that are run by the state do not have religious affiliation although some may have religious instruction. On the other hand, private schools are mostly sectarian and they are usually affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Does the private school make a difference in religious and moral upbringing? Definitely! You’ll know more about these things if you will attend your child’s back-to-school night.

If your family is not deeply religious, public schools would be the better option. 

School governance

There is no doubt that school governance greatly differs from private school vs public school. Since public schools are run by the state, they follow federal laws when it comes to funding, development, and curriculum. They operate for 180 days or more and attendance is a must.

Meanwhile, private schools don’t have to follow the regulations of the state because they are privately funded by parents. They have the liberty to develop their own curriculum according to the school’s standards and students only have to attend 170 school days at a minimum

Demographics of students 

When it comes to the demographic characteristics of students, public schools greatly differ from private schools. Since everyone can enroll in public schools, their population is more racially diverse. So if you want to make sure that your child can mingle with students of different races and statuses, public schools are your best bet. This will also nurture the mindset of your child as to how to respect people coming from different walks of life and having different cultural practices. However, not all public schools are inclusive. Some are still criticized for racial segregation until today.

School location

The location of the school is another factor to look into when choosing which school your child should be enrolled in. Most private schools are in urban areas while only 24% of public schools are in central locations. Public schools are usually found on the urban fringe and rural areas so if you want your child to be exposed to city life, private schools are suggested. However, this is still dependent on your geographical location. 


There you have it! You are now one step closer to finding the perfect school for your child! But before you go, let’s do a quick recap of what we learned today from this article about private school vs public school:

  1. If money is an issue, you may want to send your child to a public school. However, if you are willing to shell out the extra cash, a private school can be well worth it.
  2. Most private schools have some sort of admissions process, while public schools are required to admit everyone.
  3. Private school class sizes are significantly smaller.
  4. Private school teachers typically have higher qualifications than public school teachers and are not protected by tenure.
  5. In general, more private school students attend college.
  6. Private schools generally offer fewer clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities.
  7. Private schools offer a more safe environment since they select their students carefully.
  8. Public schools have special programs, meanwhile, some private schools don’t.
  9. Public schools do not have religious affiliations while private schools have.
  10. Public schools are under the laws of the state why private schools are not.
  11. Students from public schools are more racially diverse.
  12. Most private schools are found in urban areas, meanwhile, public schools are usually found on the urban fringe and rural locations.

Wait, don’t go! One last thing! Before you drive yourself crazy trying to answer “is private school better than public schools?” just know that wherever your child ends up–whether they attend a public school, private school, boarding school, or the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry–they will find their niche, and they will be happy!

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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toto eslam
toto eslam
6 years ago

great information.. helped me in my school presentation .. thank you

6 years ago

I went to private and public school. Today public schools offer advanced placement, college prep, etc… classes. Much more classes and options and much more room for growth. You really can’t just post ACT scores and say private is better. The populations are different. You need to be more specific. A lot of public school kids are just trying to graduate very few are in the boat in private. My very crude observation from being in private and public schools is it has little or no bearing on that individuals success. I truly believe there is more culture and room… Read more »

Renae Hintze
Renae Hintze
6 years ago
Reply to  Fred

Fred, It’s true, public schools can be just as rigorous as private schools when it comes to things like AP courses and college prep. The ACT scores shown on this post are simply the averages of private vs. public schools for 2012. But by no means does this indicate that all private schools perform better than public schools in terms of ACT scores, or education in general! Our writer for this post, Jeff, does not intend to make the claim that all private schools are better than public schools, or vice versa. That’s why he makes sure to mention that… Read more »

Ellen Banks
Ellen Banks
7 years ago

Finding the right school for your child is incredibly important. They should feel comfortable and happy whether they are in a public or private school. I did find it interesting that private schools generally have a smaller class size. This may be better for children that thrive in a more personal setting.

Renae Hintze
Renae Hintze
7 years ago
Reply to  Ellen Banks

Exactly. The reality of any education is what an individual student takes away from it. Learning conditions are different for everyone. In the future we may write a blog on Learning Types, which would aid in choosing any school for a child. Not only do the credentials of teachers help, but so do the teaching styles!

Page Private School
Page Private School
7 years ago

Interesting article. With private school it does give your child more of a chance to succeed. The hard part is finding the right school that fits your child’s needs.