Public, Private, or Prep: Making Sense of Your High School Options

Making Sense of Your High School Options

Making Sense of Your High School OptionsIt’s happening. The day you thought was so far off in the future, the day you thought might never come, is here: Your baby is ready for high school.

If you live in a community where the public high school is a great option, and the academic and social opportunities are appropriate for your child, your choice is simple. However, the typical public high school isn’t right for every student, and you might be considering other options for your family.

From private and college prep schools to charter and magnet schools, the first step to choosing the right educational environment for your child is understanding the differences between the different types of schools.

Private Schools

The term “private school” can refer to a number of different types of schools, but what all private schools have in common is that they do not receive their funding from public tax dollars, and are not operated by the government. This means that they do not have to follow the same rules and regulations as public schools, although most adhere to federal education policies for the most part.

Students pay tuition to attend these schools, but generally receive an education that is equal to or better than that of a public school. Boarding schools, where students live at school in a dormitory environment, are almost always private schools. Other types of private schools include military schools, therapeutic boarding schools, and college preparatory academies, where the focus is on preparing students for college from day one.

Because private schools aren’t subject to the same residency and zoning restrictions as public schools, students often come from diverse communities. However, private schools don’t always accept all students; prospective students may have to apply, pass an exam, and have an interview before being admitted.

The majority of private schools in the U.S. are owned and operated by religious institutions, and incorporate religious teachings into the curriculum. Depending on your expectations, there are different reasons why a Jewish boarding school or other religious program may be the best option for your family. Often, families choose religious schools to ensure that their children learn and understand the foundation of their faith, and that their education is in line with their religious beliefs and values. That being said, there are plenty of secular private options as well.

College Preparatory School

As mentioned previously, a college preparatory school is focused on getting students ready for college. Many schools that call themselves college prep are private, but some public schools, particularly charter and magnet schools, also use the term. Because there is no official definition or prescribed standards for college prep schools, it’s important for parents to carefully evaluate college prep schools to ensure that they are truly focused on preparing kids for college.

This includes asking questions about AP or honors courses, the number of students who go on to college and where, the support services available to students moving on to college, and how students perform on standardized entrance exams.

Charter Schools

charter schoolsCharter schools are, in essence, a hybrid of public and private schools. Charters are publicly funded, but aren’t governed by the local, state, and federal education regulations. Instead, they operate under the provisions of their charters, an approved set of guidelines that govern how the school will operate, the curriculum, and educational approach.

Charter schools are offered as a choice, and because they are public, anyone from the local area can attend. Spaces are generally filled via lottery. Because charter schools are generally focused on a specific method of teaching or subject (for example, art or science focused) they are often a good option for a student with a particular interest or who doesn’t respond to the typical public school curriculum or teaching method.

Magnet Schools

Like charter schools, magnet schools are public, but instead of being governed by a charter, magnet schools are bound to the rules and regulations of the local public school administration. What makes them different from a typical public school is their focus: Most magnet schools emphasize a particular subject, and strive for excellence in that subject.

Many magnet schools draw highly gifted or talented students. Depending on the school, admission may be by lottery or competitive admission process. Some magnet schools are also boarding schools, attracting students from a wider geographic area.

With so many schooling options, it can be challenging to make a decision for your high schooler. The best way to make a decision is to talk with your child and determine his or her interests, and then explore the options available to you. The local public high school might be great, but a specialized program with a different approach to teaching could be even better.

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20 Comments

  1. Thanks for the clarification. I can see how understanding the difference between these types of schools can be confusing. I did not even know that there are some public prep schools.

  2. There are so many choices! I actually homeschool and he is will be a senior next year but I love that there are more and more choices for our teens now days! Not one shoe fits all!!

  3. It’s nice to see that there are so many choices nowadays. Back in my day, it was either private or public school. There were no alternatives.

  4. What an education post about what decisions for high school to make! I love all of this information and will share with parents who are wondering what to do next Fall!

  5. The system in our education in the Philippines recently change. We call it K-12, after 4 years in high school, another 2 years for vocational courses.

  6. Choosing the right school can make such a big difference for your high schooler! My oldest daughter went to the same private high school for 4 years. We switched our second daughter after her sophomore year to a different private high school that was much more of a prep school and she was able to get into a really good college!

  7. I never really knew that there was this much difference between all of these. Thanks so much for the clarification. So many choices!

  8. Making sense of all the different options out there for high school age kids can be overwhelming. This breaks it down so perfectly.

  9. I like that there is a school of choice option in so many states. Sometimes you def. do not want the public school in your zoned area, most esp. during the high school years.

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