What Are Private Schools?

Private schools differ from public institutions in one major way: cost. While public schools are government-run and funded, private schools rely on tuition-generated revenue to operate. Aside from the cost, though, private schools might have some advantages over those that are public. This article discusses private schools and some advantages of attending such institutions.

Definition of a Private School

Private, or independent, schools are privately owned and funded without the assistance of local, state or federal governments. Elementary, middle and secondary schools can be private, as can colleges and universities. At private schools, students pay tuition to attend. In contrast, public K-12 schools cost nothing, and public colleges generally offer significantly cheaper tuition than their private counterparts.

Important Facts About Private Schools

Programs OfferedAssociate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees; undergraduate and graduate certificates
Online AvailabilityMany private schools offer programs fully or partially online
Number of Private UniversitiesApproximately 1,600 U.S. universities are private, non-profit schools
Enrollment StatisticsAround 16% of all college students enrolled in private, nonprofit schools as of 2013

Sources: National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, National Center for Education Statistics

Types of Private Schools

There are several kinds of private schools. A university-preparatory, or 'prep,' school is a private high school that has an established goal of preparing students to enter college. Boarding schools provide minor students with an education and a place to live. Some religiously-affiliated private schools offer religious education in addition to basic studies, while others maintain strictly secular academic curricula. Both K-12 schools and universities can be religiously affiliated.

Why Choose a Private College

Many students choose public colleges because of their economic appeal. However, private schools also have attractive qualities. One of the top advantages of a private college is class size, which is usually much smaller than those in public institutions. Smaller class sizes mean more individualized attention from professors, which many students consider important.

Private colleges also have the advantage of a particular focus. Students can choose to attend a private school that has a mission or philosophy aligned with their needs or beliefs. This can allow for a customized educational experience that most public universities can't mimic. For instance, many private schools are religiously-affiliated and attract devout students of a particular faith.

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