Are Private School Graduates More Successful Than Public School Graduates?

Every parent wants their children to succeed in life, and sending your child to a public or private school could make or break their success. That’s why you’re not taking this decision lightly. 

Public and private schools are very different, but private schools offer your child a greater chance at success. 

College Readiness

Private school students score higher on the SAT than public school students most of the time. In addition, a Council for American Private Education (CAPE) Outlook published in 2015 states that private school students consistently met or exceeded the ACT college readiness benchmark across all subject areas: English– 24.2 vs. 19.9, reading – 24.3 vs. 21.0, math – 23.1 vs. 20.6, and science – 23.2 vs. 20.7.

Thriving College Life

Graduates of private high schools transition better into college than public high school graduates, according to a report by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and Gallup. The report argues that their experience in private schools prepares them to undertake “important undergraduate opportunities which, in turn, relate to elevated levels of well-being and long-term career satisfaction.” This means, private school graduates seek out experiential learning opportunities and extracurricular activities, such as “participating in research with faculty, holding a leadership position in a club or organization, participating in intramural sports, being members of fraternities or sororities, and working on projects that took longer than a semester.” 

NAIS-Gallup links consistent progression through college to financial advantages later in life, such as lower student debt and higher starting salaries. In addition, Gallup says these activities are “strongly correlated with higher rates of well-being and workplace engagement later in life”: They are 1.6 times more likely to be engaged at work and 1.2 times have more well-being. 

However, there’s more to life than just money and work, and the benefits of a private school education goes beyond college and affects real-life success, too.

Character and Moral Formation

Schools play a big role in forming your children’s character and morality. The kind of person they become will be largely influenced by the values, habits and practices, and norms of their peers and social networks in school. Their level of civic engagement and degree of moral obligations will all be products of their school life.

Family Life

A report published in the American Enterprise Institute website examined how prior schooling, i.e., enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private and public schools, is associated with different family outcomes later in life. The researchers found that those who had private school education are “more likely to be married, less likely to have ever divorced, and less likely to have had a child outside of wedlock.” In other words, these private schools seem to have an ethic that is conducive to strong and stable families. 

Specifically, the researchers found that: 

  • Those who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage than those who attended public schools. 
  • If married, both Protestant school and secular private school attendees are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced than public-school attendees. 
  • Attendees of Protestant (roughly 50%) and Catholic (about 30%) schools are less likely to have a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.  

Why Private School Graduates Fare Better in Life Than Public School Graduates

Private and public schools differ in many ways and these differences affect the academic environment your child learns in. Ultimately, these differences will affect the degree of success each student enjoys long after they graduate. 

Admission standards

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), private schools have fewer students than public schools. In fall 2015, private schools had an average of 166 students while public schools had 526 students. This resulted in a student/teacher ratio of 11.9 for private schools and 16.2 for public schools.

A big factor to this statistic is the way these schools handle their admissions. With a few exceptions, public schools must accept all students in their jurisdiction, while private schools can be more selective with the students they admit. Private schools have their own academic and other standards from which they base their final decision of whether a student gets enrolled or not. It’s harder to get into a private school than a public school, and some say that because of this, students enrolled in private schools are more motivated to learn than those in public schools.

Fewer students mean class sizes in private schools aren’t as large as public schools. Most private schools have around 20 students or fewer per class, while public schools can have as many as 30 students in a class. A smaller class size results in increased focus, more meaningful and lasting  friendships, individualized learning, personalized teacher feedback and more accurate grades.

Curriculum and teaching differences

Both private and public school students need to meet a certain number of credits in core subjects, such as English, Math and Science, in order to graduate. Other than that, public school and private school curriculums are very different.

Public schools’ curriculum follow strict state guidelines and assessment procedures. Private schools, on the other hand, can customize their curriculum and assessment model. This allows more choices for parents, such as including faiths and religions as specialist areas; more academic freedom for teachers; and specialist education from experts in their fields. In short, private schools offer advanced learning programs in certain subjects, such as art and music, and a more immersive learning environment.

Private schools also emphasize extracurricular activities, so students develop a wider skill set or greater subject proficiency. Some private schools offer after-school programs in art and sports. While some public schools also have after-school clubs and sports teams, these are more for recreation rather than specialized learning.

When it comes to teaching methods, public school students progress at the same pace no matter their proficiency in a particular subject. Meanwhile, private schools typically implement a more individualized learning approach, so that a student who struggles in a subject can get extra help without affecting the rest of the class. 

Discipline and safety

Public schools have a harder time disciplining students because they have to follow due process and constitutional rights. However, in private schools, parents sign a contract with the school that specifically spells out the consequences for any unacceptable behavior as defined by the school, so disciplining students is so much easier.

Safety is another top priority for administrators and teachers in both public and private schools. However, public schools have a harder time maintaining the safety of students than private schools. We all know the highly publicized shootings and other violent acts that have taken place in public schools recently.

You’ll have fewer worries if your child is enrolled in a private school. Because they have fewer students and access to campuses and buildings is strictly monitored and controlled, private schools are generally safe places for your children.

Is Private School Worth It?

Sending your children to a private school is an investment in their future success. More than having high SAT scores and a thriving college life, private school graduates experience success in multiple aspects of their adult life—at work, with their finances, in their family and community. No matter what your measure of success is, it seems private schools are doing things right in preparing your children to achieve and enjoy it.

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