Parents want the best for their children, and for some of them, that means sending their kids to private school. There are many reasons why some families make the switch to private schools. For example, maybe they don’t like the school system in the district where they live or think a better education will be found outside of their local public school system. Public schools in the U.S. vary in their rank and opportunities for students depending on where the school is located. Because of the imbalance in good and not-so-great public schools, some parents are dropping thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per year on private education for their children.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Educationdata.org, the average cost of one year of private elementary school is $12,350 (in 2020). One year of private high school is $16,040 (in 2020). And that amount doesn’t take into account boarding schools, which can easily cost $37,590 or more per year.

With a debate raging around the country over the value of a college degree, parents are left wondering if private school for their elementary or high school-bound children is worth it as well. After all, the allure of a private school is often the education and opportunity to get into a prestigious college presented to its students. But if spending $100,000 on college after years of paying thousands of dollars in private school results in an unemployed young adult with a ton of debt, is it worth it? The answer: It depends.

Key Takeaways

  • Private school tuition at an elite high school may cost more than a year of college or university.
    There is often more diversity to be found in public schools than in private schools.
  • Deciding whether your child would benefit in a private school setting is a personal choice for families. 
  • A high-ranking school district is usually an essential attribute for homebuyers, which means homes in neighborhoods with good schools are often more expensive than homes in under-served school districts.

Public School Is Seemingly Free

Opponents of private schools point out that children can get a free education through the public school system. Your tax dollars are paying for it whether or not you send your kid, so why not take advantage of it? But not every school is created equal, and the public schools in one neighborhood may be outstanding, but two towns over, they may be awful. So while you are getting a so-called free education, it may not be a quality one.

In many cities across the country where there are high-ranking schools, there are usually high home prices, as well. A good school district is a sought-after attribute for homebuyers, so the price they pay to get into a certain school district may far surpass a private school's cost.

The cost of a private school does not stop with tuition; it also includes books, supplies, and in some cases, pricy extracurricular activities.

Public Schools Have More Diversity

Depending on the private school you attend, your child may spend his or her day surrounded by like-minded people from the same circle and economic class. There may be more diversity in terms of culture, religion, class, and race in a public school. That diversity can be hugely beneficial to students in the long run. Parents have to weigh the value of that diversity against education at a private school.

Private School Educations Can Produce Better Outcomes

Education is all about preparing your child or children to become healthy, happy adults that positively contribute to society. Parents also want to see their kids succeed financially and may think a private school is a way to achieve that.

While it is well known that students in private schools tend to test better than their public school counterparts, what people may not realize is that private schools are more likely to have a dedicated staff focused on college admissions. That's not the case for many public schools around the country.

The hand-holding and the private school connections can put a student at an advantage when applying for top colleges, stacking the odds in his or her favor that they will come out of school and land a high-paying job. That is not to say everyone who attends private school will go on to a successful career, but many do.

Private Schools Come With Unique Costs

When weighing whether you want to send your child to private school, you also have to consider the other costs outside of the tuition, books, and supplies. Students of private schools tend to have wealthy parents, which means your private school child or children may get invited to fancy parties, want expensive items, or engage in pricey extracurricular activities.

If you have the money, it is a non-issue, but if you are stretching your money to cover tuition, those extra expenses will make it much more difficult to afford. On the other hand, if you send your child to a public school, then many extracurricular activities will be free or cost a nominal amount.

34,576

The number of private schools in the United States in 2019, serving 5.7 million PK-12 students, according to the Council For American Private Education.

What Your Child Needs May Drive Value

Parents can spend all the money in the world sending their kids to the best private schools in the country, but whether the child thrives there often depends on making a good match between your child and the school.

If their child is not inclined to learn and push themselves, they may need smaller class sizes and more one-on-one help. If your child shows a predisposition for being good in math or science and your local public school can't offer advanced classes, a private school may be necessary to expand your child's academic talents.

When determining if private education is worth it, you have to look at your child and what kind of setting the child learns best in, your child's natural talents and interests, and what kind of social setting your child thrives in.

Knowing your child is one of the best ways to determine if those thousands of dollars in private school bills are worth it.

The Bottom Line

Whether or not a private school education is worth it is going to depend on your unique situation and the type of student your child is. For some people, private education will be a way to flourish academically and get into a top-notch college. For others, it can be a waste of time. While there are critics on both sides of the aisle, parents have to consider more than just the cost when weighing whether to send their kid to a private school.