How Private Schools Work

Types of Private Schools

Just as every child is unique, so, too, are the different types of private schools. No matter your child's abilities or your family's personal beliefs, you're likely to find a private school that meets your needs.

Most types of private schools can be categorized based on the source of the school's funding. They may be classified as independent or nonprofit, which usually means the school answers to a board of directors or some other private overseeing body. Proprietary schools are for-profit, and the school's directors typically are not subject to ruling by a governing body or board. Finally, parochial schools are funded by a church or religious group, and are often managed by an affiliated board or by the religious institution to which they belong.


The source of funding for a private school can have a tremendous effect on annual tuition costs. According to, independent school tuition can range from a few thousand to 10 thousand dollars a year. Because parochial schools are partially subsidized by a church, tuition ranges from $1,200 to $7,500 a year, while for-profit proprietary schools have the highest tuition rates of all -- often as high as $30,000 per year at top-rated schools [source: Boland].

Beyond these three basic categories, private schools can be broken down further by the school's basic philosophy, as well as by the grade levels offered. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 30 percent of private schools are affiliated with the Catholic Church, while an additional 50 percent are associated with a non-Catholic religion. Just 20 percent of private schools in the United States are nonsectarian [source: National Center for Education Statistics]. Any of these three types of schools may offer education at the elementary, middle or high school level only, or for children of all ages.

Parents investigating different types of private schools should also compare day schools to boarding schools, where children sleep overnight and attend classes during the day.

For children with special needs or interests, there are a multitude of private schooling options available that cater to specific disabilities, military preparation, the arts or specific academic fields. Some private schools are even based on specialized philosophies. Schools based on the Waldorf or Montessori curriculum, for example, offer vastly different educational programs than traditional schools and are aimed at developing a child's natural curiosity, ability to focus for an extended period, leadership skills, social skills and personal responsibility. Under the Montessori model, children don't begin formal classroom instruction until the second grade.