Prep School vs High School: What’s The Difference?

Is your child about to finish middle school? Do you find yourself facing the dilemma of what should be the next step in your child’s academic journey? Many parents find themselves in the same situation as they try to make critical decisions for their child’s educational future. One of the most challenging decisions during this time is to pick the right school. 

Although high schools have been a norm for students seeking traditional education, there’s another choice of schools, known as prep schools serving as an alternative path to achieving academic goals. But deciding which school is the best for your child is not just a matter of choice. It would help if you analyzed both types of schools and carefully considered your child’s interests and ambitions before deciding which school would best fit them.

While a high school and prep school may appear similar, there are quite a few distinct features that set them apart. In this article, we will see how a prep school differs from a traditional high school so you make an informed decision on which school will align with your child’s unique needs and career aspirations. 

Prep school vs. High school: Which is the best fit for your child?

School’s Approach

The main objective of prep or college preparatory schools is to prepare students for college. So, their focus is to provide them with the right academic inputs so they can comfortably appear for college entrance examinations and acquire admission to one of the top-notch colleges and universities of the nation. As prep schools aim to prepare their students to excel in college, their entire curriculum is designed to help students develop the competencies they need to get into a college of their choice. 

On the other hand, high schools also prepare students for college. They even conduct college readiness activities for high school students.  But, they may not be able to be more focused on driving acceptance in college because high schools have students with diverse backgrounds and different interest areas. Not all may be interested in going off to college. So, high schools basically prepare students for life so they can either pursue higher education or a professional career right after getting their diplomas based on their inclination. 

Public/ Private Institution

High schools, specifically public high schools, are run by specific school districts and state governments and are funded by public tax dollars. These schools are open for all high-school-aged students in the school’s designated local area. No student can be denied admission to their local high school. 

But prep schools are private institutions with their own governing and administrative bodies. These schools are often expensive and supported by tuition fees paid by students every year. Some may even offer financial aid to students, but that is highly school specific. So one can get in touch with the school to know their options. 

Duration and Class Size

High school typically goes on for four years, starting from grade 9 and ending at grade 12. However, some prep schools can have a duration of up to five years, so students have prepared for an extra year to get into their favorite college programs. 

Regarding the class size, high school classrooms have more students, sometimes close to 30, as they must accommodate all students in their area. Whereas prep schools have smaller class sizes, which means every student gets personal attention, and it’s easier for teachers to address individual student weaknesses and help them improve. 

School Structure

High schools are mostly day schools where students come in the morning, attend school, and return home after the school day is over. Many prep schools are also day schools, but you can also find some which are boarding schools and require students to stay on campus.

Also, almost all high schools are co-educational, meaning boys and girls study in the same school. But some prep schools are single-sex schools catering to either boys or girls. 

Selection Process

As mentioned earlier, high schools are open to all local students. There is no selection process, and all students are welcome. But prep schools do not follow the same approach. Every prep school has its own selection process, including tests and interviews, which students must qualify to be able to attend that school. This implies that prep schools tend to select only those students who are highly motivated to attend college in the future.

Academic Expectations

Even though a high school also strives to ensure college readiness, the mix of students it caters to, all with different interests and aspirations, can pose a hindrance. Sometimes, the focus may shift to helping them clear their high school diplomas with good grades rather than explicitly targeting college admissions. 

But in prep schools, students who are already motivated to attend college are selected. So, they are expected to strive for excellence and achieve scores that will open their doors to leading colleges. Students here are encouraged to think critically and complete challenging assignments throughout their prep school journey to be well-prepared for college.

Student Attitude

In prep schools, the selection process ensures that only students genuinely interested in attending college get a seat. That means the entire bunch of prep school students are strongly inclined towards college, and each one is motivated to do their best to crack the competition. 

On the contrary, not all high school students may be driven toward college. Some may have different plans, like getting into vocational studies. So, student attitudes vary in high school, and the essence of working toward the same goal may be missing.  

Support Services and Career Counseling

Career counseling and support services are available at all high schools to guide and help them identify careers that will suit their interests and find colleges with their entry requirements. But usually, these services are offered during the last one or two years of high school. Plus, the sheer number of students requiring counseling is high enough to devoid students of more personalized career guidance. 

However, prep schools are better equipped to offer support services and handle career counseling. They have specialized career counselors who work with parents and students from the start, making the college application process more accessible and manageable. 

A Quick Summary

Prep School High school
Main objectiveTo prepare for collegeMaybe day school or boarding school 
Public/ PrivatePrivatePublic
DurationUp to 5 yearsUp to 4 years
Class sizeSmallLarge
Day/ BoardingMay be day school or boarding school Day school
Selection ProcessYesNo
Career CounselingStrong and personalized supportSupport available

In Conclusion

Deciding which school will suit your child is a serious affair. You must take many things into consideration, like your child’s academic capabilities, where they see themselves in the future, what they want to do, your financial status, and more. Give these points a thought to decide if your child will fare well in a traditional high school and maybe, attend SAT prep summer programs for college admissions or if they can benefit from the extra boost that prep schools provide so they can work toward their dream of getting into one of the elite colleges in the country. 

In the end, remember that choosing between prep and high school is not about which is superior. It is more about personal goals and ambitions. Both educational institutions have their own advantages, catering to different learning styles and preferences.

High schools are a conventional choice that offers well-rounded education and prepares students for a wide range of opportunities. On the other hand, prep schools provide a focused and challenging environment filled with like-minded peers who have a common goal of attaining a high-quality college education in the future.

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