College Admissions: Do Private Schools Have An Advantage?

College Admissions: Do Private Schools Have An Advantage?

Does going to a private school give you a leg up when it comes to college acceptance?

Is your image of a private school an elite institution filled with snobby, rich kids?

How about public schools?

Are they giant, impersonal learning factories?

In both of these cases a stereotype is at work.

While it may be true that students who attend private school are more likely to come from wealthy families, this isn’t always the case. Some students go to private schools on scholarships and can’t afford anything beyond the basics.

On the flip side, public schools are filled with students from all types of economic backgrounds and talented teachers who are involved in students’ lives.

While the quality of one’s high school – the access to certain facilities, the teachers, the focus on college preparation – would likely have an influence on the rate of college acceptances, the type of high school you attend is not the deciding factor for any college admissions department.

To understand the differences between public and private schools, we’ll look at three factors:

  • Cost
  • Teacher quality
  • Amenities and Curriculum


A public school cannot charge for admission, whereas private school tuition can run to over $20,000 per year for the most expensive schools.

While not spending money on your education may seem like a good thing, the tuition at private schools (along with generous donors) sometimes allows them to offer more than some public schools can. (Keep in mind, there all kinds of private schools as well – from prestigious, well-endowed prep schools to smaller, local and religious schools. They aren’t all the same.)

With budget cuts hitting public education hard these days, arts and physical education programs are sometimes cut in public schools due to lack of funding. Students seeking advanced classes may be forced to look outside of their schools. In general, top private schools can afford to fund important programs and rarely have to worry about laying off good teachers. But remember, tough economic times affect everyone.

Teacher Quality

Neither type of school can guarantee the quality of teachers in the classroom.

Public school teachers are required to become certified, meaning they hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have passed the testing and training required.

Teachers at private schools can be hired under less strenuous standards. It’s not always necessary to have a teaching credential to teach at a private school. However, it must be said that many private schools have extremely high-quality faculty – with many teachers holding advanced degrees in their fields.

Amenities and Curriculum

Many public high schools have a wide array of amenities – including media, athletic and arts facilities. Unfortunately, however, some public schools have poor-quality facilities. Private schools, if well endowed, often have high-quality facilities. But smaller private schools may not have the resources, for example, to have the array of activities that a public school might have.

The quality of the curriculum follows the same idea. Some public schools may have broad offerings, whereas others may be limited. Private schools face the same dilemma.

In short, a lot depends on the school.

What Really Matters: It’s Up to You

So what’s the bottom line? Does the type of school you attend affect your chances at college admission?

It has been shown that college acceptance and college graduation rates are higher for private school graduates. But that doesn’t mean that every private school student who applies to college gets accepted.

It also doesn’t mean that a public school student has less of a chance of attending college. Your GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities and personal essay will all be deciding factors in your college acceptance.

So, if your high school isn’t privately funded, or doesn’t have fancy amenities, don’t sweat it. If you work hard in high school and start college preparation early, you’ll have just as much chance of getting into the college of your choice.

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