If you have children, it goes without saying that you want the best for them. But providing the best for your children, doesn’t always mean spending the most money. Are things that cost more, better? Private school is expensive and feels even more so because public school is free. But when it comes to spending, we are continually prioritizing and making choices. We balance the needs and desires of today with our goals for the future. It’s no different with private school.
And when it comes to private school, cost may not be the only criteria. The environment, activities offered, even your child’s friends all may impact your decision about whether to send your kids to private school. Similar to health care spending, decisions about your child’s education often have an emotional element in addition to the factual elements.
If you have read much on this site, you probably realize that I am a big believer that education is the key to success. A strong education creates the most options for moving from one economic level to another. I have written an article discussing the correlation between more education and higher wages. And even though money doesn’t buy happiness, financial security certainly doesn’t hurt. I can’t say it enough, get as high a quality education as you can as early in life as you can.
Public School System
One of the great things about the United States is that it is a union of states. And in general, each state has discretion over the services provided within their borders. And while it’s true that over the past few years, the Federal government has injected more and more of its footprint into the state-run educational systems (“No Child Left Behind”, “Every Student Succeeds”, “Common Core”) according to the U.S. Department of Education, over 87% of funds for elementary and secondary schooling is provided by non-Federal sources.
While this is the American way, it does open the door to vast discrepancies in the public school systems between states and even within states. Wherever you live, you probably have some of the same problems – hiring challenges, overworked teachers, not enough funds, disagreements over standardized testing. The list can go on and on. Running a large public school system is difficult. There are a vast array of rules and regulations. And the constituents have greatly diverse backgrounds and goals.
Within the public school systems, there are also choices – charter schools, magnet schools, gifted programs. These programs can provide an education equal to or sometimes better than private schools in the area, usually at no cost.
Factors to Evaluate Private School Worth
Cost: This will vary from just a few thousand dollars to upwards of $40,000 or more. Boarding schools will be even more expensive. Something to consider is spending more on private school rather than saving for college. Graduates of private schools often qualify for significant scholarships and grants (see below). Additionally, there are more options available for funding college than private elementary and secondary school.
Financial aid: Again, schools will vary in the amount of financial aid available for students. Even if you feel you make too much money to qualify, I would recommend applying for financial aid. It’s not unreasonable that a household of four making $100,000 per year or more might be eligible for assistance. Eligibility is also impacted by the number of kids in private school.
Academic programs: Typically, the core emphasis at private schools tends to be math and science. Private schools also often have very strong music, drama, and art programs. A school may also provide a wide range of foreign languages.
Class sizes: Just as important as the variety of academic programs offered, class size is often a significant decision factor for parents deciding whether to send their children to private schools.
Quality of the faculty: I don’t want to imply that there aren’t plenty of highly qualified teachers in the public school system, because that’s certainly not the case. I do know that at my children’s school, the majority of the teachers have Masters degrees with many also having a Ph.D.
Level of parental involvement: Typically, private schools request and receive significant involvement and support from the parent community.
Test scores: Although colleges have started moving away from using test scores to eliminate applicants, they are still a primary criteria used for college admissions.
College acceptances: Look at what colleges are accepting students. The college admissions community is a relatively close-knit group. The college guidance departments within good private schools cultivate relationships with college admissions offices and can give you an indication as to which schools your child has a good chance of getting accepted.
College scholarships and grants: This benefit alone may make private school worth it. I recall a statistic quoted by the head of school where our children attend that on average each graduating senior received scholarship and grants averaging nearly $150,000 per student. There is money available to help pay for college and often the beneficiaries of this money are private school students.
Culture: Lastly, make sure you understand the culture of the school. Private schools each have their own unique identity and that comes out in the community. You will be spending a significant amount of time, money, and effort at the school. You should feel comfortable.
Final Word – Is Private School Worth It?
You can learn all sorts of wonderful facts in school, but one of the greatest skills I learned in school was the ability to get to the next level. Another way to say this, I learned how to succeed.
It sounds simple, but it’s vitality important that our kids learn how to be successful and get to the next step. I’ll give you an example. In 9th grade, I had an English teacher that made life difficult for everyone. After turning in a few assignments and scoring poorly, my parents had a heart-to-heart discussion with me. “We aren’t paying for private school so you can get bad grades” was the tone. My typical teenager response, “It’s not my fault. He has it out for me!”
But rather than my parents going in to speak to the teacher and deal with it, they forced me to do it. And when I was in his classroom, he had me sit down and we worked through the assignments together. He wanted things done in a very specific way and I wasn’t going to know how he wanted them done unless I was sitting right there with him. So that’s what I did. And sure enough, I got a decent enough grade to move on to the next class.
The same thing happened to me in college. I found myself buried and not doing well in a certain class. I went to the teacher and asked, “what can I do to pass this class?” He gave me some options, and sure enough, once again, I was able to get through it and move on to the next thing.
The next step after high school is college. So instead of looking at high school graduation as an end, look at it as a beginning of the next phase. While you are in high school, get the best grades you can. Learn as much as you can. Have fun. But make sure you know that the end goal for high school is getting into college.
Same goes with college. Learn. Live the life. But know what you are aiming for when you graduate. Will you get a job or go to graduate school?
One of the big advantages of a private school is the individualized attention. It’s difficult for public schools to provide that one-on-one direction. Typically, there are just too many students.
Everyone will not need private school to be successful. There are plenty of highly successful people coming from the public school system. But as my father-in-law told me, by sending our kids to private school, we are buying them an insurance policy. It’s just one more thing we can do to prepare them for the future.
What are your thoughts? Is private school worth it? Is it too expensive for what you get? Besides the cost, are there downsides to sending your kids to private school?
Full disclosure – my children attend private school and I also attended private school. And even though Ms. Financial Slacker did not, we both believe that private school worth is pretty high. So I may not be entirely unbiased in this discussion.