Is Private School Worth The Cost?

When you move into a new city and have children, one of the biggest questions you will ask the local real estate agent is “how is the local school system?”    As you ponder the notion of living in the city or potentially moving out to the suburbs, where your kids will be educated can be the subject of heated family debate.    Even if you live within an existing area now, you may be faced with the challenge of whether to move to a suburban area with good school system to avoid the cost of private school or determine that private school is a must for your children.   With many private elementary, middle, and high schools charging rates that rival college costs it can leave you with an extremely arduous decision around when to do private or when to do public.    Is private school really worth the cost?   Here are my smart money moves to think about.

  • COST – Let’s look straight up at the math on this.   If you pay for private elementary, middle, and high school in any major city, let’s assume the cost is $20,000 per year.   If your child starts today in 1st grade and spends twelve full years in private school, you’ll be spending a total out of pocket cost of $318,343 with a 5% annual inflation rate on school costs.   This doesn’t include what it might cost you for fundraising efforts from the school or other functions you will be expected to pay for as part of the freight for being in private school.    What would $318,343 be worth in retirement for a 22 year old that never touched it until they were 60?    Public school will be part of your overall real estate tax cost.  Depending on your county and city taxes, you can easily determine which areas would give you a better bang for your buck.   The big question for parents is merely asking yourself what toll the private school cost will take on your ability to be able to retire comfortably.
  • BOOK SMARTS / STREET SMARTS – One of the more interesting paths to go down is analyzing the main purpose why you would want your child to go to private school.  Is it a family tradition?  Do you like that there is a smaller teacher/student ratio?  In your area, can you find a quality education at a public high school?  Does your child have special needs?  Do you see this as a networking grooming ground for their future?   We can debate all day about whether private school kids do better in life than public school kids, but one of the questions that should be important to discuss is about book smarts vs. street smarts.   In public high schools you will normally get a more of a cross section about what you will face in life.  People of different socio economic back grounds, ethnic backgrounds, etc.     In private high schools, you may get a more limited view of the world.    Will this be an important part of helping you do better in life?   As I get older, I wonder about the merits of having streets smarts vs. book smarts as both are important skills to learn if you want to be successful in life.   Many people who send their kids to private school will argue that their children are learned at an advanced curriculum against kids at the same level in public schools.
  • PRIDE –  One of the main reasons many people get into debt is because they have a “keep up with the Jones’” mentality.   Remember that sending your child to a private school education because your neighbor down the road tells you it is the best is not really a reason at all.    In fact, you may want to think about how many kids in your neighborhood will be at the local public school vs. the private school and how that may affect the social life of your child.   Will your kids have an easier or harder time making friends if they aren’t going to the same school?   In different aspects, kids in both public and private schools can be unforgiving if social situations go sour.  My main point is don’t let pride dictate your wallet.    Your child isn’t going to make a career limiting move if they don’t attend private school when your neighbor tells you that their kid was at the birthday party of some actor, politician, or famous CEO.

Since my mother was a fifth grade school teacher her whole life, I’m not a believer that private school (unless needed for special needs/skills) is an investment that will make your kids do better in life.   I went to one of the worst public high schools in New Jersey and now some of my best friends are extremely successful as the head coach of Princeton University, CEO’s of well run businesses, and SVP’s of Fortune 500 companies like Time Warner.    Your children’s success will be a function of their personality, how you do as a parent, and their desire to learn everything they can in school.   So put a few more dollars in your pocket and save some money to send them on a few trips abroad when they get older.    The bottom line is that for most people private school just isn’t worth the cost.

Written by:

Ted Jenkin

CFP®, AAMS®, AWMA®, CRPC®, CMFC®, CRPS®

Editor in Chief of Your Smart Money Moves

Co-CEO and Founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc – The Leaders in Gen X & Y Financial Advice and Services

Ted Jenkin  is one of the foremost knowledgeable professionals in giving financial advice to the X and Y Generation.

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2 Comments

  • Jim B.
    January 25, 2013

    All valid points.

    Cost is relative, if you are seriously debating the value of a private education then I’ll assume you have the means to consider it. Lots of pros and cons but bottom line is you’ve got to spend it somewhere.

    Pride, if this is a factor then you are into that arena already and stuck with competing with the Jones and spending the money on the mortgage and car payments.

    Book Smarts vs Street Smarts, this is life. The folks with the moxie and know how are going to move ahead.

    The value of a private education to a student is setting standards and establishing relationships, birds of a feather. If you are fortunate to live in a zip code that is high income then your standards are set and the public education system will likely provide. If not, then the private education world provides the opportunity for the deserving student to see how the other 3% operate and adapt to that world.

  • April 30, 2015

    In the cost, you may add the donations to get preferential path:

    “At least two sources connected to the Stanford admissions process – who requested anonymity – told us the threshold for preferential treatment was $500,000. Stanford officials refused to give a specific figure for this article”

    http://patch.com/california/paloalto/inside-stanford-s-exclusive-admission-path-c38ea20a

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