Parents want the best for their children and, for some of them, that means sending their kids to private school. Maybe they don’t like the school system in the district where they live, or they think a better education will be found outside of the public school system, but either way, some parents are dropping thousands of dollars a year on private education for their children.

Consider this: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of one year of private elementary school is $7,770. One year of private high school is $13,030. And that doesn’t take into account boarding schools, which can easily cost $50,000 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 the education and opportunity to get into a prestigious college. 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.

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

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.

Not to mention that 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 the cost of private school.

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. In a public school, there is usually more diversity in terms of culture, religion, class, and race. 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 contribute to society in a positive way. 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 connections from the private school 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 that attends private school is going to go on to a successful career, but many do. 

Private schools account for one-fourth of all PK-12 schools in the United States, as of 2019.

Private Schools Come With Unique Costs

When weighing whether or not 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 are going to make it much more difficult to afford. On the other hand, if you send your child to a public school, then many of the extracurricular activities will be free or cost a nominal amount. Not to mention that you aren’t going to be exposed to as many lavish parties that your children will be required to bring presents to.

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.

Student Drive Determines Value

Parents can spend all the money in the world sending their kids to the best private schools in the country, but if their child is not inclined to learn and push themselves, it's not going to matter. When determining if private education is worth it, you have to take a look at your child and what they want to do in life. If your child has zero interest in a traditional school setting but wants to be a game developer, a private high school may not be worth the cost. But if your child is set on becoming a corporate lawyer, a private school may set them apart from the competition.

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

Key Takeaways

  • Deciding whether to send your child to private school can depend on myriad factors, such as income, location, availability and even the temperament of your child.
  • Private school costs include tuition, books, services and even certain extracurriculars, while public school is free.
  • Private school students can benefit from extensive connections and a bigger focus on college admissions than what most public schools can offer.
  • However, a private school can't help a student who is unmotivated and won't put in the work; it also can't guarantee a college graduate gets hired in a tough job market.

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 is going to 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 or not to send their kid to a private school.