Parents choose schools based on what they perceive as the best match for their children (DeAngelis & Erickson, 2017), and many of them opt for private education. However, the average cost of a private school in the U.S. has been rising, with an estimated 28% increase from 2007/08 to 2020/21. (Hanson, 2021) It has become a current student stress source, and parents are conflicted as well.
Across the 22,440 private K-12 institutions in the U.S., the average cost is $12,350 in 2021 currency value: a private high school charges $16,040 in annual tuition, while a private elementary school charges $7,630 on average. (Hanson, 2021)
Here are insights into the average cost of private schools in the US to help parents decide on where to send their kids and the financial aids available to them.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 50.7 million pupils attended public schools in 2018. (NCES, 2019b) Private school enrollment fell to 5.7 million in 2017 from six million in 1999. (NCES, 2019a)
The cost of private school is determined by academic level, location, religious affiliation, financial help, and a host of other variables.
Nonsectarian schools cost, for instance, could reach $28,900 for high school and $20,000 for elementary; that is nearly double the average national tuition for both levels and about five times the average for Catholic elementary private schools and four times that of Catholic secondary private schools.
EducationData.org provides statistics on the average tuition cost of private schools per school type.
Catholic private schools, or parish schools, typically charge less tuition than other religious or non-religious private schools. Annual tuition for elementary students at a Catholic school averages $4,840, compared to $11,240 in secondary level on average.
The majority (91.4%) of private school students attend day schools, which operate similarly to traditional public schools, with students attending classes during the school day and returning home in the evening. The median tuition at private day schools is $16,000: $14,370 for first graders, $15,180 for middle school, and $19,020 for high school.
For private day schools that are members of the National Association of Independent Schools, the median is $27,000. First-graders attending such schools pay $23,330, while high school seniors pay $30,380.
Students in boarding schools tend to be older and in the secondary level. Day programs are common for younger and elementary-level students.
Of the total private school students, 5.9% are enrolled in boarding schools, while of the total primary school students, less than 0.6% are in boarding schools.
There are only a few hundred boarding schools in the U.S., the majority of which are on the East Coast. Such schools provide room and board. Same as with other private schools, boarding schools charge higher tuition for advanced classes.
The average annual tuition at five-day boarding schools is $33,140, while at a seven-day boarding school, the average is $37,590.
Average Annual Tuition in Private Schools per Level (2021)
Level Catholic Other Religious Non-sectarian
K-12 10.2K 9.4K 25.7K
Elementary 4,8K 9.2K 20.9K
Secondary 11.2K 18,9K 28.9K
Of the $16,050 average cost in private schools, about 76.9% goes to tuition, and 9% goes to technology. Books & supplies and field trips each get $500, while uniforms and athletics get $400 and $300, respectively. Miscellaneous fees amount to $500 (Hanson, 2021).
Meanwhile, 60.8% of private school tuition goes to faculty, staff, and administrator salaries: a little over half of this proportion goes to teachers’ salaries alone. It also covers benefits and payroll taxes (11%), employee professional development (0.6%), and uncategorized and miscellaneous expenses (21.3%). (Hanson, 2021).
Take note, however, that the figures above are a breakdown of typical school costs. There could be additional costs in other private schools. Some would have fees for athletic events, extracurricular activities, social events, and yearbooks. Other schools even require student accounts with the school store for when they need to buy additional uniform materials or school supplies. Finally, though not common, some schools require students to pay for insurance.
Of the 50 U.S. states, Connecticut private schools are the most expensive: secondary private school average cost is more than double the national average. Six of the top 10 states with the most expensive private K-12 cost are much higher than the average. The differences between the average cost of high school and elementary are also broadly significant.
Meanwhile, despite being third in the ranking, New Hampshire is home to many of the nation’s most expensive private schools. Maryland’s private schools have relatively higher tuition, but their overall average is lower than nationwide. (Hanson, 2021)
Here are the 10 highest average private school tuition by state.
Nebraska has the cheapest average cost for private schools in the U.S. However, 70% of private schools in Nebraska are K-5 only, and there are insufficient data available on private high schools in Nebraska to derive much statistical significance. Meanwhile, Omaha has the most number and highest concentration of private schools.
Here are the 10 lowest average private school tuition by state.
The average award per scholar receiving financial aid in grants is $11,500, and 28% of students enrolled in private schools receive some form of financial assistance. The average grant award per scholar for student boarders is $24,790. At the same time, $10,000 is the median allocation for the 4.6% of private school students who receive tuition reimbursement due to the employment status of a parent or guardian. (Hanson, 2021)
Most private schools offer financial help, whether need-based or merit-based. However, each school has standards for who gets financial aid, what sort of aid, and how much each family gets. (NAIS, 2016)
Financial assistance may take the form of a grant or a scholarship. Grants, like scholarships, are not repaid; however, they are frequently provided based on financial need rather than merit or performance. To be considered for a grant, parents must provide specific information about their financial condition to demonstrate their financial needs.
A scholarship is awarded based on merit, like academic, artistic, or athletic ability. Additionally, scholarships may be offered based on specific abilities.
K-12 scholarships are usually referred to as voucher schemes. Families are provided with vouchers based on their financial circumstances, and they are often obliged to pay at least 25% of tuition or $500, whichever is higher.
According to Shakeel et al., many private school vouchers programs aim to increase students’ academic performance. In their study “The Participant Effects of Private School Vouchers Across the Globe: A Meta-Analytic and Systematic Review,” published in School Effectiveness and School Improvement in 2021, they found that “voucher programs globally tend to positively impact test scores, perhaps particularly in countries where there is more of a private-public gap in school quality,” with the impacts being “larger for reading than for math and “for publicly-funded programs relative to privately-funded programs.”
As such, vouchers as financial aids ease families’ burdens and help students perform better in school.
Apart from scholarships and grants, parents may also consider discounts and loans. Some private schools offer discounts to children whose parents serve in the military and for multi-child households. Parents ought to consult with the administrative office of their private school since numerous schools are willing to assist parents by waiving tuition.
Personal loans from private lenders like banks can also be sources of aid. These are, however, repaid, and parents must interact directly with the financing institution.
Parents may also consider tax-advantaged savings plans to put aside funds for their children’s private K–12 education. The Coverdell Education Savings Account is a tax-deferred trust account formed by the U.S. government, while a 529 Education Savings Plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan. These two plans have different sets of rules.
Many states also help. More than half the states offer school choice programs that help families pay for private K-12 education. Parents should visit their state’s education department to inquire about available aids.
College is not the only time to avail yourself of student scholarships. Both government and non-government organizations offer scholarships to K-12 students, especially those from low-income families. Here are 10 scholarships (not an exhaustive list) to aid K-12 students.
Many efforts have been undertaken to improve student performance, yet many students continue to underperform, and most of these pupils are poor. According to Children’s Scholarship Fund, 80% of 4th graders from low-income families cannot read proficiently, and they want to change that. Children’s Scholarship Fund gives low-income kids private school scholarships.
To be eligible for this scholarship, students must be at least five years old, entering kindergarten or a higher grade. Grade level standards, on the other hand, may differ by place.
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation inspires and supports students who study hard and have financial needs. The Foundation offers various financial aid forms to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students financially and academically.
The Cooke Young Scholars Program is a five-year pre-college scholarship for high-achieving 7th graders. Selection is based on academic ability and achievement, leadership, determination, and annual income.
The Young Scholars Program supports students from 8th grade to senior year. Every school year, the Foundation renews Cooke Young Scholars. Assuming the scholar and family meet program objectives, the scholarship extends through senior year.
The Florida Tax Credit and Family Empowerment Scholarships help families pay for private school tuition and fees or transportation costs to a public school other than the one allocated to their child.
A family of four earning up to $99,375 annually could qualify for a private school scholarship. The scholarship is based on the student’s location and grade. Also, kindergarten students and those entering the first grade must be five and six years old, respectively, by September 1.
Also eligible for scholarships are siblings of kids receiving the Family Empowerment Scholarship, including those with special needs and dependents of U.S. military personnel, including reservists.
The Opportunity Scholarship is designed to help families, who make below a certain amount of income, pay tuition at participating nonpublic schools. It covers tuition and fees and awards up to $8,000 annually. Scholarships are awarded by lottery.
The child must be attending a North Carolina public school or will attend one the Spring semester before the scholarship begins, and the family meets the income requirement to be eligible.
Pay it Forward Scholarships are for K-12 private school students in Georgia. Parents must provide their most current tax return and must reapply every year.
Students residing in Georgia and are in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st-grade are eligible. Those in the 2nd grade and up must have either a prior scholarship, six weeks of public school before private school, or a year of homeschooling before entering private school.
The Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program is provided based on financial needs, not household income. Families must present proof of eligibility when applying for the scholarship at a participating school.
Students must have attended a Georgia secondary or primary public school for at least six weeks before obtaining a scholarship or tuition aid. Exceptions to the six-week attendance requirement include:
A Better Chance helps academically gifted adolescents of color to access the best middle and high school options. A Better Chance does not grant scholarships per see but helps families through the college preparatory school admissions process, guiding them through financial aid processes and leveraging scholarship funding.
Students in grades 4-9 who identify as persons of color (Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, or Multiracial and are citizens, or permanent residents of the U.S. are eligible. Their Math and English skills must be consistently above grade level. They must have a B+ or better academic average, are in the top 10% of their class, engage in extracurricular activities, and show leadership potential.
The Pie Scholarship Program offers partial scholarships to eligible students to bridge the financial gap. PIE awards an average of $2,000 scholarship.
Recipients are those who typically cannot afford a Catholic school, has a reading/math literacy that may not always be at grade level but within a year or two, consistently receive substantial parental/guardian support as evidenced by guardian’s willingness to work with schools, live in Baltimore City.
K12 Scholarship Program offers two types of scholarships–We Stand Together and K12 Private Academy Scholarships–for K12 Private Academy students.
We Stand Together Scholarship supports the Black community. To apply, students must be in K-12, identify as Black or African American, have a 2.0 GPA (letter grade C on a 4.0 scale or equivalent), and demonstrate financial need (e.g., qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch). Some of these scholarships are reserved for kids in grades 6–12.
K12 Private Academy offers up to four tuition-free full-time enrollment scholarships to new or returning ninth-grade students who demonstrate academic potential and family financial need. They must have a grade point average of 3.0 (letter grade B).
The Tax Credit Scholarship for K-12 students covers 100% of private school tuition up to a limit of $14,491.98, which is the statewide average. Students with particular learning requirements, such as brilliant students, ESL students, or special education students, may be eligible for more significant scholarships worth up to $28,983.96 annually. This program is 100% need-based.
Applicants must be from households whose previous year’s total annual income does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level. They should be residents of the focus district, had received a scholarship from a scholarship granting organization during the previous school year, or siblings of students currently receiving a scholarship.
Some people might say that despite the steep average cost of a private school in the U.S., a private school is better than a public school since its students outperform those from the latter on practically every topic in standardized tests. (NAEP, 2015) It is also true in all subject areas in college entry tests. (NAIS, 2016)
Based on the American school statistics presented thus far, it would appear that private school education is indeed worth it. However, the cost is only one factor in deciding where to send kids. Teachers’ training and development, class sizes, and even personal costs incurred by students when invited by affluent classmates, who commonly dominate private schools, are other considerations to make.
Perhaps the most vital factor in deciding if private schools are worth it is the children themselves—the type of environment in which they learn best, their natural talents and interests, and the type of social environment in which they thrive. Ultimately, whether private schools are worth it depends on whether they can meet parents’ and children’s unique needs.