Counting the Costs: Exploring the Financial Impact of Private School Education

For many parents, the question of private school education sparks a complex financial balancing act. Private schools offer many benefits, including smaller class sizes, specialized programs, and a focus on well-rounded development. But these advantages come at cost, with annual tuition potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars. This raises an important question for long-term financial planning: How does a comfortable retirement coexist with a private school education for your children?

It’s not a simple answer and requires a deep understanding of your individual financial situation to help make your retirement last. Certain factors like the specific private institution—as well as additional costs associated like uniforms, extracurriculars, and transportation—your risk tolerance, and any alternative schooling options are just a few you may weigh when asking yourself this question. It’s why retirement planning is so important.

By analyzing this complex relationship between a comfortable retirement nest egg and your child’s potential private school education, you as a parent may avoid common retirement mistakes and see how a personalized strategy may help balance these two important aspects of your life.

What is the Difference Between Public School and Private Schools?

It’s a question often asked: What’s the difference between a public school education versus that of a private school? When weighing your options regarding your child’s education, your choice between public and private schools depends on your individual priorities and circumstances. Public schools offer a free, accessible education, while private schools may provide a more specialized learning environment or cater to specific needs. 

Let’s look at some of the more common factors associated with the distinction between public school and private ones.

Funding and Cost

Public schools are primarily funded by the local, state, and federal government. Attendance is free for residents within the designated school district.

Private schools rely on tuition fees paid by parents and guardians, with some receiving additional funding from religious organizations, endowments, or donations. Scholarships and financial aid may be available depending on the school.

Admissions

Public schools are open to all resident students within the designated school district of a city or town. There may be enrollment caps in some cases.

Private schools may have selective admission, and students typically go through an application process that may involve testing and interviews.

Class Size and Student Body

Class sizes of public schools may vary depending on location and funding, but they tend to have a larger student body due to their open enrollment policy.

Private schools may have generally smaller classes, allowing for more individualized attention from teachers. The student body may be more diverse in terms of socioeconomic background or religious affiliation depending on the school's focus.

Curriculum and Philosophy

Public schools adhere to state-mandated curriculum standards, ensuring a baseline level of education across the public school system.

Private schools may have greater flexibility in curriculum design and philosophy. Some may focus on religious education, a specific teaching methodology (think Montessori), or cater to students with particular talents or interests.

Extracurricular Activities

Public schools typically offer a variety of extracurricular activities, but funding limitations may restrict the scope and availability.

Private schools may offer a wider range of extracurricular activities due to their smaller student body and potentially larger budget for such programs.

Accountability

Local school boards and state education departments typically hold public schools accountable. Performance is measured through standardized testing.

Private schools are held accountable by their governing boards, which may be composed of parents, religious leaders, or appointed officials. Standardized testing requirements may vary.

It’s important to know that individual schools, both public and private, may have their own rules and regulations. The above information isn’t meant to be uniform across all private and public institutions, but you may take away a general idea of how private schools differ from public ones.

The Benefits of Private School

Many of the key differences that separate private schools from public schools are the benefits touted by private school advocates. For many parents, private schools may offer a richer educational experience for their children, offering benefits like:

  • Personalized learning with smaller classes to allow teachers to focus on each student's strengths and weaknesses, tailoring lessons for a deeper understanding and a more engaging learning experience.
  • High standard of academics with often challenging curriculums and a focus on achievement, preparing students for top colleges. Some may offer specialized programs for gifted students or those with unique learning styles, ensuring all students can thrive.
  • Extracurricular activities from arts and sports, to robotics and language immersion, so students may explore their interests and become well-rounded individuals. This may foster a love of learning that extends far beyond textbooks.
  • Community and values through shared values and character development, creating a positive environment where students may thrive and feel a sense of belonging.
  • Specialized learning may provide a variety of educational approaches beyond the traditional curriculum, including Montessori or religious instruction, to cater to different learning styles and student needs. This wider range of specialized learning environments may benefit students who thrive in non-traditional settings.

These may be just some of the benefits of a private school education. Experiences vary depending on institutions and the individual needs of your child.

The Cost of Private School

Understanding the true cost of private school is crucial for any parent working to balance their retirement with their child’s education. There are a lot of factors to consider when talking about price. Tuition is the starting point, but you may want to factor in application fees, uniforms, extracurricular activities, transportation, lunch programs, and what types of financial aid may be available. Private school is also a multi-year investment which may impact your ability to consistently save for retirement.

According to Education Data Initiative—a team of researchers collecting data on the U.S. education system—their 2023 report showed the following statistics regarding the cost of private school:

  • The average cost of private school from kindergarten through four years of high school costs $312,026.
  • Out of 22,440 private K-12 schools, the average annual tuition was $12,350.
  • Average private high school tuition was $16,144.
  • Out of 161 private boarding schools, average tuition was $37,590 (including room and board).
  • The nation’s top boarding schools can cost up to $60,000 per year.

Costs may vary depending on state and institution, but the above statistics may give you a baseline idea of what you may be paying if you and child decide to move forward with private schooling.

The Impact of Private Schooling on Your Retirement

Sending your child to private school may impact your retirement. The statistic noted by the Education Data Initiative in a 2023 report that the average cost of private school from kindergarten to high school is $312,026 could be a significant chunk of your earning years. You may consider creating a detailed retirement savings plan that factors in private school costs, or explore scholarship opportunities and adjust your budget accordingly. You may also consider public schools which offer a quality education, and you may supplement your child's learning with after-school activities or online resources.

Interested in learning more about retirement and how private school may affect your financial future? Consider attending one of our retirement seminars or webinars, hosted by experienced financial advisors who can assist with all your retirement planning needs.