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4 Ways That Prep School Differs from Traditional High School


4 Ways That Prep School Differs from Traditional High School

For many, the phrase “prep school” brings up images of strict uniforms, prestigious alumni, and talented kids, something reminiscent of Zoey 101 and Gossip Girl. While this isn’t entirely incorrect – many prep schools do require uniforms and boast accomplished alumni – it doesn’t exactly leave you crystal clear on what a prep school actually is. So, what is a prep school, and who wins when you compare prep school vs high school?

What is a Prep School? 

The term prep school is short for college preparatory school. In essence, prep schools are institutions specifically designed to prepare students for college and send them to some of the best universities in the nation. You may be thinking, “wait, isn’t that what every high school is supposed to be doing?” Ideally, the answer here is yes. However, not every high school prioritizes college preparedness in its curriculum and approach. 

Prep schools tend to deeply value a college education and believe that it is one of the keys to personal and professional success. Because of this value, they focus on teaching students what they need to excel in college and expect that all or the majority of their students will pursue higher education.

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

It can be difficult to pinpoint how prep schools and traditional high schools differ. Here is a look at the top 5 distinguishing factors. 

Student Selection

Traditional public high schools serve the students in the surrounding areas and are funded by local tax dollars. This means that traditional high schools are typically open to all kinds of students, from the highly motivated to the least motivated. In contrast, college prep schools often have a selection process to admit students. 

The process may involve testing, interviews, an application process, or another form of selection to identify students aligned with the school’s values. That doesn’t mean that only the best students go to college prep schools. Traditional high schools can have strong curriculums and academic opportunities for students as well. But, it does mean that college prep schools tend to be made up of highly motivated, high achieving students who want to go to college. 

Class Sizes 

It’s no secret that many public schools have larger class sizes than private schools. The same sentiment rings true for traditional public schools when compared to prep schools, though prep schools aren’t necessarily all private. 

The average U.S. public high school has a student-teacher ratio of 16:1, though this varies from state to state. On the other hand, college prep schools tend to intentionally maintain smaller class sizes so teachers can provide personalized attention and instruction to students. 

Academic Expectations 

Both prep schools and traditional high schools strive to hold their students to a high academic standard. However, due to prep school’s emphasis on college readiness, students are academically pushed beyond the status quo, so they have the grades and GPA necessary to apply for elite colleges and universities. 

College prep schools may also have support services to help struggling students and activate these earlier than a traditional high school. At times, traditional high schools may be more focused on helping students graduate than on helping them attend college. This can lead to a difference in academic standards and expectations. 

College and Career Counseling

College and career counseling can make a huge difference for students. Many students don’t know what they want to pursue or where they want to attend college. So, this type of support can help students identify their interests, research universities that may be a good fit for them, and understand the requirements to get into those colleges. 

Some traditional high schools offer college and career counseling, but it may only come into play during a student’s senior year. In other cases, a traditional high school may have a college and career counseling program, but with resources spread thinly over a high volume of students, someone may not be able to get the personalized support and attention they need. Prep schools like Seattle’s King’s Schools often have thoughtfully designed college and career counseling programs that aren’t limited to a student’s senior year. They work alongside students and parents to ease anxiety around the college application process and ensure every student is prepared. 

Benefits of Prep School 

The benefits of attending prep school are endless, but one of the most important ones goes back to what these institutions are focused on – college preparedness. Going to a college prep school will help prepare you for higher education. The lessons learned, classes taken, skills developed, and achievements made can make you more competitive in the application process. Plus, you can rest assured knowing you’ll have support along the way, which can be particularly comforting for students who may be the first in their families to pursue college. 

Other benefits include being surrounded by other academically-minded peers, access to unique electives and extracurriculars, and all of the things we previously discussed. 

Is Prep School Worth It? 

Now you know what a college prep school is, and you may be wondering, is prep school worth it? When it comes to prep school vs high school, does one consistently come out on top? If you dream of a stellar college education for your child, prep school may be the way to go. High school is a very important time, and it can come with a whirlwind of distractions. 

Knowing that your student’s school is focused on their success and college preparedness can help you breathe a little easier. Additionally, many prep schools with tuition and fees have financial aid opportunities for qualifying families. It’s worth doing your research and looking for prep schools in your area to see what they may have to offer. If you’re in the Seattle area, consider King’s Schools, a Christian college preparatory academy.