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U.S. High Schools: Public vs. Private

Now that you have decided to study in the United States, how do you choose between a public and a private high school? The reality is that the choice between attending a U.S. public or private high school is very personal. But here is an easy guide comparing the cost, teacher quality, curriculum, and school environment of each to help you decide which option is best for you.

Now that you have decided to study in the United States, how do you choose between a public and a private high school? The reality is that the choice between attending a U.S. public or private high school is very personal. But here is an easy guide comparing the cost, teacher quality, curriculum, and school environment between public and private schools to help you decide which option is best for you.

COST 

When choosing between public and private schools it comes down to how much you really want to pay. One of the main differences between private and public schools is that for U.S. residents public schools are free and private schools are not. 

Public schools are funded by the U.S. government, which means the government pays for school buildings, student textbooks, technology, transportation (school buses), etc.  This also makes public schools cheaper for international students. 

The cost of attending a U.S. public high school normally only needs to cover a portion of the tuition that you would need to pay for a private high school, meals, and housing provided by a host family. 

Private schools, on the other hand, are privately owned and privately run organizations, which means that they do not receive any money from the U.S. government (charter schools are exceptions). The school buildings, textbooks, teacher salaries, music room, science lab, school bus, and food at a private school have to be paid by someone, and part of it is paid by you. 

Private schools charge annual tuition, which helps to cover these costs and more. The annual amount, again, varies between schools, but be prepared to pay at least $15,000 per year for a private school education. 

TEACHERS

When it comes to who teaches at a public or private high school, there is a big difference. Public schools must follow strict state and federal regulations. This  means all public school teachers must have a teaching license. Private schools, however, have the freedom to hire whomever they want and can hire teachers with no certification. 

In order to teach at a U.S. public high school, teachers have usually completed the following: 

  • Bachelor’s Degree in common core subjects (e.g. English, Biology, Math, etc.) or in education 
  • Student internship in the subject they wish to teach 
  • Teaching and subject-area tests required by their state 
  • Applying for a teaching license 

Because private schools are run independently, the requirements can vary from school to school. Some private schools may have a more rigorous hiring process compared to others. 

Although it is common to find teachers who do not have a teaching license at a private school, you can also find teachers who are experts in their field with a Master’s or PhD. 

CLASS SIZE 

Class size can be a big factor for both students and parents. By law, public schools must admit each and every student compared to private schools that can be selective and can even decline admission. Because of this, class sizes tend to be larger in public schools and smaller in private schools. 

Smaller classes allow teachers to give each student more individual attention but also affect the teaching material. With smaller classes, teachers have more freedom to plan more dynamic and complex lesson plans that would be difficult with a large class. 

Many private schools often advertise a student to teacher ratio (e.g. 10:1), but this does not tell you how many students are in a class. For example, in a class of 20 students with a teacher and a teaching assistant the ratio would be 10:1 ratio. Because there is 1 adult for every 10 students. 

If you are concerned about the class size, be sure to ask about the average number of students per class. Another good question is whether or not teachers have a teaching assistant or other academic support in the classroom. 

Although class sizes do tend to be smaller at private schools, keep in mind that is is not a guarantee. The school can always grow and expand, which could mean more students. 

CURRICULUM & COURSES 

Private schools have more control over what they teach because they are not regulated by the government. But each U.S. state has its own regulations that their public schools must follow.  

The goal of the public high school system is to ensure that all students have a basic education. Students are required to take general education courses (e.g. English, Science, Math, History, etc). But with limited funding, public schools are not always able to provide many non-academic courses such as foreign language, art, music, theater, etc. Some schools may offer such activities as extracurriculars (after school), but again there are limitations. 

Private schools, on the other hand, have full control over what courses they offer and even the length of the school day. Although a long school day may seem overwhelming, this may give you the option to be involved in more extracurricular activities as part of your daily routine. 

Because private schools are not limited by state regulations, there is less focus on meeting state standards and more focus on a well-rounded education. 

SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT

Aside from the basic educational aspects mentioned above, private schools also have the ability to build the school environment that they wish. There are many private schools that have some sort of religious affiliation. Although most private schools do not require you to be of their religious affiliation, religious courses or participation in religious activities may be obligatory. 

Some students also prefer to be in an all-girl or all-boy environment, which is an option that many private schools offer. As you can see, there are pros and cons to both a public and private school education. The best thing to do is to decide what you value most about a school and what it can offer you. 

Are you ready to start the process of applying to study in the U.S.?  If you have any more questions please leave a comment below!

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