There is a never-ending debate between going to public or private school. Is private grade school and private university really worth it? I’m not so sure in this day and age of high inflation and free online education.
Personally, I went to international private school while my parents were stationed abroad until I was 13. Then I went to public school for high school, public college (William & Mary), and public graduate school (Berkeley) for my MBA. I found each type of school to have its pluses and minuses.
In this post, let’s objectively analyze the decision to attend public or private school using real tuition dollars. We’ll also talk about the opportunity cost of paying so much to go to private grade school and private college.
Public Or Private School Dilemma
This article is for:
- Students who want to understand the true cost of their education and the sacrifices their parents make in order to make better choices with their careers.
- Parents who make too much to get financial aid, but not enough to feel like they can comfortably afford private school.
- Students and parents who feel bad for attending or sending their kids to public school or have a tinge of envy for those kids who do go to private school.
I’m going to share with you the actual cost of going to private school over public school. We can then have a more subjective discussion on which type of school is better.
My Bias Towards Public Schools
I’ve been a big proponent of attending public schools over private schools because I’m biased. In fact, I think more public schools will start ranking higher than private schools over time. As an example, the latest Forbes college rankings for 2021-2022 has UC Berkeley shooting up to #1.
I attended international private schools when I lived in Asia, attended a public high school, and went to a public college. Therefore, I’ve experienced a good variety of schools.
I found very little difference in education between my private middle school and public high school. Upon graduating from William & Mary, I got a job at the #1-rated investment bank in NYC. After 13 years of diligently saving and investing, I reached financial independence at 34. Life has been good post public school.
The Only Guaranteed Of Going To Private Schools
We all know there’s no guarantee of doing anything special or being anything special just because you went to a private school.
With the internet making education free, it’s hard to justify paying record high tuition for a private education unless you’re rich (make 10X the private school tuition per kid).
Yet, many parents pay for religious reasons, fear of missing out, the desire for smaller class sizes and more attention for their kids, and the need for a more customized program if their child has special needs.
These reasons all make sense, and I respect them.
However, if you send your child to private school and pay full tuition, there is one guarantee. It is that you will spend a small fortune if you don’t get grants and scholarships. A lot of parents who advocate for private school got grants for their children to attend. That’s wonderful.
But I’m talking about the parents whose children don’t get need based grants because they make a little too much, but not enough to feel wealthy. You know, those families making around $150,000 – $350,000 a year, depending on where they live and how many children they have.
Forgoing One Million Dollars To Attend Private School
Given I’m biased for a public education, let’s remove my bias by simply doing some math. Let’s calculate how much it will cost to send your child to private school from K-12 and four years of college.
Below is a graph I put together with the tuition costs of real private school tuitions in San Francisco. Further, families generally have to pay an additional $1,000 – $5,000 in donations, books, excursions and so forth. These tuition rates are very similar in other big cities such as New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Seattle.
The Cost Of Private School On The West Coast
As you can see from the chart, if you plan to send your little one to private school in San Francisco starting from Kindergarten, you will eventually spend at least $774,924 in tuition through college graduation. You can increase prices by 5% a year.
However, if you can earn just a 2% annual compound return during the entire private school duration, private school tuition actually costs over $1 million!
But if you returned a conservative 5.4% a year, the average return of a 100% bond allocation since the 1920s, your opportunity cost rises to $1,471,000.
Forgoing $1 Million To Send Your Kid To Private Schools
Therefore, it is highly reasonable to assume a total cost of over $1,000,000 for a private school education, especially since I haven’t even calculated the ever rising cost of tuition or the add-ons in my chart.
If you are like most investors, you’ll likely have a majority weighting in stocks over bonds. With a 60/40 stock/bond allocation, you might see a compounded 7% – 9% annual return leading to a total cost of $1,735,000 in 16 years for your child’s private school education.
Now of course you must pay for public college tuition in lieu of private college tuition. That amount comes to $13,500 a year for a school like UC Berkeley, which still makes the total private school cost over $1,000,000.
Related: The Proper Asset Allocation Of Stocks And Bonds by Age
The Cost Of Private School On The East Coast
Here’s another example I put together for a parent who wants to send their kid to The Dalton School in NYC and then Yale in Connecticut. You can easily bump up the figures by 10% for 2023.
As you can see from the chart, the cost of tuition is even more than my West Coast example. With a 10% annual compounded return, we’re talking over $2,000,000 in private tuition costs for your child!
Tuition Costs For Other Private Grade Schools Around The Country (2021-22)
This example of San Francisco tuition rates is comparable to other private grade schools around the U.S. Here is a snapshot of costs for other private grade schools during the 2021-2022 school year, based on tuition rates published on each school’s website at the time of this writing:
The Brearley School (K-12, NY, NY): $56,300
Horace Mann School (K-12, NY, NY): $57,200
Trinity School, (K-12, NY, NY): $58,505 – $59,170
The Cathedral School For Boys (K-8, SF, CA): $38,150 – $39,000
Lick-Wilmerding High School (9-12, SF, CA): $52,700, with Flexible Tuition based on income ranging from $700 – $46,200
Nueva School (Pre-K-12, Hillsborough, CA): $31,780 – $55,050
Forsyth Country Day School (K-12, Winston-Salem, NC): $14,990 – $24,990
Punahou School (K-12, Honolulu, HI): $27,716
‘Iolani School (K-12, Honolulu, HI): $26,150
Maret School (K-12, Washington DC): $36,780 – $42,355
Sidwell Friends (K-12, Washington DC): $45,610 – $48,050
The Roeper School (K-12, Bloomfield, MI): $23,550 – $26,450
St. Mark’s School (K-12, Dallas, TX): $27,881 – $34,862
The Bush School (K-12, Seattle, WA): $31,345 – $40,195
St. John’s School (K-12, Houston, TX): $26,545 – $31,820
St. Stephen’s Episcopal School (6-12, Austin, TX): $30,050 – $31,670
Harvard-Westlake School (7-12, Los Angeles, CA): $42,600(plus $2,000 new student fee)
Ransom Everglades School (6-12, Coconut Grove, FL): $43,420
Pine Crest School (Pre-K-12, Ft. Lauderdale, FL): $24,915 – $36,550
Phillips Exeter Academy (9-12, Exeter, NH): $45,859 (day), $58,714 (boarding)
Phillips Academy Andover (9-12, Andover, MA): $48,020 (day), $61,950 (boarding)
Private School Is Expensive Everywhere
As you can see, private school is expensive no matter where you live in the United States. Interestingly, adjusting for cost of living, private grade school tuition is relatively cheaper in expensive cities such as NY, SF, Honolulu, Seattle, and DC.
If you’re on the fence about sending your child to a private grade school, make sure to inquire about financial assistance. With a stronger focus on diversity, there should be more money available for different types of students.
For college, learn how to game the college financial aid system to get more free money. Learn what is including and not including in the FAFSA to make yourself look as poor as possible. This way, you’ll increase your chances of receiving grants and scholarships.
Imagine What You Could Do With $1,000,000
Instead of graduating with student debt, imagine if your parents said at the after party, “Congratulations for graduating college! You’re free to pursue your dreams, live wherever you want, buy a house, and even start a family because here’s a check for $1,000,000.” You’d be set!
If you graduated at 22 years old, invested the entire $1,000,000, saved and invested $20,000 a year, and earned a 5.4% annual compounded return, you would end up with $3,192,000 by age 40. Finally, you will have achieved real millionaire status. Making more money gets easier the more money you have.
Being financially independent by 40 with minimal effort is pretty nice. But what’s really wonderful is having the freedom to do whatever you want at the beginning of adulthood. Yes, there’s a possibility that having $1,000,000 so young will make you a dead beat loser.
On the other hand, having a financial safety net could make you the biggest success ever because you can take huge risks.
Look at Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who could afford to dropout of college because their families were already rich. Their safety net was kicking back at their respective family’s multi-million dollar vacation homes before going back to school.
Educate Your Kids About Money
The key to making sure your kid has his head on straight with regards to money is having regular conversations about all aspects of money. The more you can talk about various financial topics growing up, the less of a shock it will be when you hand over the $1,000,000 check.
You can always spread the money out into multiple tranches based on various conditions that need to be met if you feel your son or daughter still needs time to mature.
At the age of 22, I would have used $200,000 for a 20% downpayment on a $1,000,000 property in NYC. Then, I would have invested $100,000 in alternative investments like real estate crowdfunding. For the remainder, I would have invested $500,000 in stocks and $100,000 in bonds.
The $1,000,000 would probably be worth $4,000,000 today. The NYC property alone would be worth ~$2,500,000 and be fully paid off.
Now Imagine What Parents Can Do With An Extra $1,000,000
If you decide not to give your child $1,000,000 upon graduation, think what an extra $1,000,000 can do for your retirement timeline.
You could literally retire 10 years earlier based on a $100,000 annual spend. And for some folks who live in an expensive coastal city and average closer to $200,000 a year in expenses, saving five years off work hell could be a godsend.
Saving time is truly the best thing you can do when you have a financial windfall. Each year you live takes up a larger percentage of time you have left. Think about how much money you’d be willing to give up to rewind time or live a life of leisure.
If you want to try and contain inflation, then one solution is to send your kid to public school, trade school, or community college.
Deciding To Go To Public University
I decided junior year in high school that I was going to attend a public university. William & Mary only cost $2,800 in tuition. This way, my parents could retire earlier if they wished. Further, I could pay them back more easily.
I knew their rough salaries as federal government employees. Therefore, to attend private university just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t understand how they could afford $20,000 a year in tuition at the time. Nor could I easily pay them back if I graduated with a regular $30,000 a year job.
Given I’ve been unemployed since 2012, having an extra $1,000,000 wouldn’t dramatically change my life. But it could help improve the lives of others. I’d use some of the money to treat my parents and in-laws to a luxurious round the world cruise.
My father in-law always wants to update his old log cabin in the woods. And then there are several charities dealing with underprivileged youth I’d donate to. With what’s left, I’d conservatively invest the rest to help pay for my son’s education through a 529 plan. Even public universities can now cost an arm and a leg over four years.
Public Or Private School Is Your Choice
If you’re rich or have awesome merit based scholarships, then send your kids to private school all you want. But for the majority of people who don’t have an endless amount to spend or who aren’t as academically gifted, it’s good to run the numbers like I have here.
Make sure you go to the school that best fits your child’s needs. I personally think trying the public school route first to see if it works is the best bet. Then apply to private school if public school isn’t a good fit.
The only downside is that by the time you apply to one of those K-12 private schools, there might not be any spots left for you. Deciding between public or private school is a personal choice. Find the school that best fits your budget and your kids learning style and you’ll be set.
Private Or Public School During The Pandemic
One thing to realize about private schools during a pandemic is that, overall, they are hurting. Small businesses are getting shut down and many families are trying to save on private school tuition. As a result, there’s been less applicants for private schools. Therefore, if you want to go to private school, you should have an easier time getting in, at the margin.
Further, many families, such as ours, have decided to home school our children until there is herd immunity. So far, we’ve been saving $2,000 a month in preschool tuition since March 2020 homeschooling our almost 4-year-old. We ended up doing so for 18 months.
We’ve found that homeschooling is wonderful, albeit exhausting. You get to teach at your child’s unique pace. You get to go on field trips whenever you want as well. If your child has any type of disability, you will easily provide better accommodations.
Providing your kids the best education possible is a gift. The irony is that homeschooling might be the best education of them all and its free! If you are a college-educated parent, you might as well unlock your education’s full value by teaching your children everything you learned in college.
At the end of the day, every parent just wants their children to have the best education possible. When children are happy and thriving, the ability to pay private school tuition goes way up.
Related posts about the public or private school debate:
What If You Go To Harvard And End Up Doing The Same Thing As Everybody Else?
How To Stop Worrying About Your Child’s Future In This Brutally Competitive World
How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School
The Differences Between Private School And Public School People
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My husband and I went to public school through our MBAs (with scholarships). We used the money we saved to buy real estate in NYC while our private school peers were paying debt. That being said…I wasn’t satisfied with most of my education (MBA was ok). There was a heard sink or swim mentality that left me feeling jipped…especially as a female in science. My girls are in an expensive SF private school and while the economics may not make obvious sense…they LOVE being at school and at aftercare (giving me peace of mind when at work). There is no price you can put on the experience they (and we) are getting as part of our school community. Philosophically, it’s a sad statement that the richest part of the US can’t create a decent public school system. I wholeheartedly agree with the person who commented about reality vs a spreadsheet. The public schools in SF are underwhelming at best.
Hugh Campbell says
Here’s the big problem I have with private education (and I’m saying this as a graduate of a prestigious boarding school):
I’m a data / finance guy and I believe in ROI. There are always a lot of “sample size of one” anecdotal stories, i.e. “I went to public school and look at me, i’m doing fine!”
To my knowledge, however, the studies that have been done on private schools (both HS and college) show zero value-add by the institution itself – it’s all due to the inputs. In other words, if you accept a bunch of smart, high-achieving kids, you will produce smart, high-achieving graduates. The type of kid that gets into Groton, Lawrenceville, Stanford, or Harvard is going to do just as well as her peers even if she goes to suburban public HS and Penn State.
There is no measurable ROI in terms of life outcomes (earnings, educational attainment). Is there an ROI in terms of happiness? I don’t think anyone knows but I can’t imagine there is. What is certain, however, is that the cost is astronomical.
Financial Samurai says
Yes, the ROI is higher if you go to public school b/c your peers will be less wealthy on average, and the hurdle and pressure to be successful is lower due to the cost.
I specifically talk about this in my post: https://www.financialsamurai.com/should-i-go-to-public-school-or-private-school/
My fear and guilt of going to private university was high, so I went to public. I feel incredibly HAPPY that college only cost $2,800/year in tuition a year, not burdening my parents or myself, and getting a job at Goldman Sachs upon graduation. I felt even happier when we rejected 90% of applicants whom I interviewed during my second year who came from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. I couldn’t believe it!
If all your peers are super smart, high achieving, wealthy kids… your hurdle is so high it’s like driving a BMW as your first car. Forget it! Starting with a beater is the way to go.
Ricardo Ribeiro says
I am thankful to live in Switzerland. There is almost no such debate here. The public schools and universities are great. Besides, with 3 kids, private education costs would be huge.
The CFO says
Any stats on the NPV of salary levels following a private education vs public one? I Wonder how that might compare to the FV of a 1 million Investment on graduation?
The private school experience is better for the PARENTS, and that is what they pay for, irregardless of the benefits to the child.
The social events at and around the private school my children attended in London, and the interesting people we got to know, plus the resources we had access to as parents– the counselors, the sports facilities, the social clubs– made our experience with this school a delight.
I used to feel guilty that my parents had the extra cost of putting me and my siblings through Catholic school.
Now I realize they did it mostly for themselves, because they preferred to associate with other families with the same values and socio-economic status.
Where we live now there are no private schools. Getting used to life outside the bubble of privelege is hard. We chose to do it, because we thought it would be best for the kids. Sucks for me as the parent though.
Financial Samurai says
Well said. But I don’t think it’s mostly for the parents… maybe 30% of the reason for private is for the parents.
It definitely is nice to associate with folks who can be great referrals for anything in the future. I see that very clearly as at least three parents on my tennis team are on the board of the school, and their day job roles are quite powerful, one in particular.
Education is a nice thing to get but it’s the child that should want it and not the parents. There is a reason so many students go to a university and less than 50% will graduate and most likely with a degree that does not match their future long term career.
The US which is a nation of immigrants can be explained very simply. The 1st generation parent comes and starts a business running school busses or a grocery store or starts a construction business. He works very hard and long hours and had no fancy MBA. He makes a very good living and becomes financially independent. Yet he will spend a fortune to educate his child or grand child to become a lawyer or a whatever white collar employee. The end result is that this child will likely be less successful than his parent.
So don’t blow money on a “proper” education. Let your kid decide. If he wants to be a bum so be it and accept it. Spending $1M on him getting to Harvard is not going to change the outcome.
You are better off teaching him (or her) values.
More businesses are started by immigrants than 5th generation Americans. Plenty of successful businesses flourished with the owner having never gone or never finished college.
So save the $1M and spend it on someone’s dream to start a business instead. Hopefully it will be your kid.
I will say it is simpler terms. You can give seafood to a child but if he prefers burgers no point in buying lobster over and over. Private school is the lobster.
As a parent I understand that it is upsetting since you want your child to be successful based on your own distorted reality field.
Financial Samurai says
I donno about that. How do kids know what they want when they hardly know anything about life? It’s up to parents to guide and provide different scenarios and options. If we can explain the various options properly, then at least the kid has a better chance of making the right decision.
Hence, it’s worth asking your kid the question of whether they’d be willing to work hard in public school and get $100,000, $250,000, $500,000, $1,000,000 when they graduate to help kickstart life. It can be in the form of a house, an education fund for their future child etc, and not just a check.
This is a great article, and I’ve made the same argument to many of my relatives and friends. I also often point out the private school prestige benefit over the great start to financial independence your kids could enjoy by starting life with a million dollars, or two.
The article also gives great advice on how to educate your kids about money.
PS. While my conclusion is the same, my numbers are about 20% different than Sam’s because I take into consideration inflation. This, inflation omission or the mixing of inflation indexed and nominal funds, seems to be a persistent issue with FS articles. Sometimes the effect of this omission is small, sometimes not so small.
To be more specific I would subtract the inflation rate (at least 2%) from the compounding returns at the end of the tables presented. If, say, your private education really has an additional $683k lifetime value over a public education (unlikely but not entirely impossible) and that $683 is invested at 2.85% which is roughly the tate of inflation then you are not really making any real money on that investment, so the differential value of your private education vs public would still be higher.
PPS. There will be a new backlash against FS for promoting the creation of kids who “did not earn their money” although their parents did. To many people, intergenerational wealth transfer becomes a societal issue where the public must intervene (with taxation, of course!). The criticism typically comes from a crowd with a lot of overlap to what Dan calls “the real estate haters”.
PPPS. Another food for thought: The amount of real estate taxes you would pay as a “middle income” family in an expensive coastal city over a lifetime is also around $1,000,000 – and that is before compounding! Think what you could do if you could jettison or minimize that burden!
PPPPS. The additional housing cost in an expensive coastal city is also around $1-$2 million. So, all else being equal, that also extends your working slavery by 5-20 years.
Hugh Campbell says
In order to be consistent here, though, you would have to ADD inflation to the tuition numbers (since both private schools and university tuition has been growing at significantly MORE than inflation for many years and is expected to continue that trend)
Not really. Once the education is in your brain you are insulated from tuition increases.
Agreed, but it will cost a lot more to put that education in your brain in 10 years than it does now. FS used today’s costs. Historically those costs have risen faster than inflation, and there’s no indication that will stop (if anything, it’s increasing). So he’s probably significantly underestimating the cost of a private education.
Financial Samurai says
This is why I’ll publish a new post at least every three years with new stats. Who knows the future!
Such a difficult question to answer. Logically, I would totally agree with taking the $1 million rather than private school. But it’s such a gamble – I went to a public school and feel like I was incredibly lucky to end up where I have, compared to most of my fellow classmates. I could see so many scenarios where life could have gone very bad from the environment I was in. But there’s no guarantee with private schools either – they have plenty of their own issues.
Love the way you frame this question though – hopefully gets many more parents thinking about what’s best for their kids, rather than just assuming private school is a must to give your kids the best chance at life.
Randy Hill says
Is this post part of your rational on what you might do with your child? I do agree that the number of kids definitely effects how and what you might spend on them. If you do end up just having the one child are you going to spring for a better education experience and opportunity or just do public school? I do say better education experience and opportunity as that is what you are paying for. It does not guarantee your child will be any smarter or any more successful but going to a good school can open doors up and simplify some things later in life. I do have two kids in private school. My oldest who has been in private school her entire life is now in a very exclusive Prep High School. She was interviewed and selected as a candidate as they only allow so many kids in. She has 60 kids in her entire Freshman class and less than 300 kids in the entire school.
My younger child is still in a private grade school the same one my oldest went to. My oldest is very bright and will most likely look for a IV league school to go to. Both of my kids are much further ahead when I compare them to their cousins who go to public school and are older than them. I can’t say this is because my kids are smarter than their cousins but in part that they have had the benefit of smaller classrooms, teachers who answer questions to home work through 10pm at night, and have much better technology for the kids to learn on. For me this is well worth the money I spend on it. It also doesn’t hurt that I can afford these things for them. Sam you might be underselling your own education as you may not understand what your own early private school education may have taught you that others here in the US don’t understand. I was a product of public schools and I have to tell you that these schools are more about survival than they are about education.
Financial Orchid says
I absolutely AGREE here.
For instance, one of the most prestigious private high school in my city has a $50K endowment for their high school students to actively manage a portfolio under guidance of a school math teacher. We’re talking 13-18 year olds who are already showing their thought process on what individual stock position to take and calculating ROIs. UMMMM when I was in UNDERGRAD only a selective “gifted” students according to the faculty were selected to actively manage the university’s 9MM endowment portfolio. These private schools were doing this that public school kids didn’t even have an inkling of until UNDERGRAD business school.
For comparison I looked at an elite girl’s private school in NY who were already offering the girls courses in advanced mathematics in their REGULAR curriculum which public schools taught in AP/IB program or 1st year university equivalent.
Secondly, students in private schools have a LOT more opportunities to access “special” summer/spring break programs like engineer day camps or gifted student programs offered by ivy leagues because predecessors at the same school had been to those program whereas in public school most kids wouldn’t have an inkling and you had to more actively dig into those programs.
Take an extreme comparison – if the kid is going to a public school in a ghetto district for instance, the school feels success that their kids can all graduate on time and stay out of prison. That’s success for them already. Whereas private schools obviously have a higher bar to achieve. So that brings us back to “what neighbourhood you grew up in” essentially dictating where a child will get the most serendipitous collisions.
You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. That’s particularly true for a child. They usually find that inside their home, in their extended family, or somewhere within walking distance of their home and school. Social psychology already identifies early childhood friendships form not by choice but by proximity.
Whether the kid grows up to be genius or mediocre, the early childhood bonds becomes a lifetime impression.
Even if I’ve amassed millions in my lifetime, I would see zero meaning in the commas on my back account screen if all those digits didn’t translate to better opportunities and richer experiences for my next generation.
Private education definitely offers greater experience for those willing to pay the admission fee.
Not to be a brand whore. But why are private banks still operating when there’s credit unions and no fee online banks?
Better EXPERIENCE in the form of service of course!
I would like to point out that there’s nothing stopping a parent from giving his/hers kid 1000 dollars to manage on the stock market when they are 13-14 years old. I plan to do just that, no need to pay private school tuition for it. And I bet a parent would be a lot more invested in teaching their kid to invest than any teacher. Also, the kid would be a lot more invested in learning, since they get to keep the results.
I might agree with you if there were some evidence of this (beyond anecdotes). There is a huge cognitive dissonance in play with many parents here (if I’m paying $50k per year, it MUST be great, otherwise I’m an idiot!)
Does private education result in higher achievement (e.g. earnings and educational achievement), especially when you account for who is getting in to private schools (i.e. high-achieving smart kids)? The studies say no – those kids are going to do well anyway.
Does private education result in happier, more balanced adults with more / better friends? I’m not aware of any studies that have been done on this.
Financial Samurai says
Most definitely this post is to help my wife and decide what is the proper path to take for our son, and to concurrently help others who are thinking of this exact same topic now that admission letters have been sent.
Of course if the public school is so bad where students don’t listen, are beating each other up, and is only about survival, I will not let my son go there. Disruptive kids really bring the classroom down. I am a HS tennis coach and the disruptive kids are like a virus, b/c the path of least resistance is to goof off.
Maybe I am selling my private international middle school in Kuala Lumpur short. I’ll have to think about that. But I do know that I got in A LOT of trouble in HS… so this great middle school discipline and education did not help me mature and be wiser.
Randy Hill says
One might surmise the trouble you got into in H.S. might have been because of the greater opportunity for trouble in a public school versus a private school. Also even good and smart kids get into trouble. Every kid has to push the envelope to understand the boundaries and rules. You just hope that they don’t push so hard that they can’t recover from their poor decisions to understand those boundaries and rules. I know that in my life I had enough of my friends and family get into trouble that I didn’t have to in order to understand these boundaries. Then as I got older I had responsibilities in my life with family and even employees that relied on my decisions which weighed in and helped me to navigate my exposure to pushing the boundaries. I have been in a position most of my life to learn from others good or bad moves. This is probably a reason why I read this blog as I learn a lot from your experiences and to be honest I don’t have a lot of people to share personal finance with and probably why blogs like yours are very successful.
Financial Samurai says
That is a great point. I do wonder if I would have gotten in less trouble in a smaller private school. Maybe… hard to say. The kids at my public school were in general, fine.
I think having more conversations with my parents and other mentors about the repercussions of XYZ would have helped more.
I don’t think there’s a huge educational difference between most good public schools and private schools. Certainly there are some exceptionally poor schools and some great ones but on average a wash.
What is an advantage as many have pointed out is forming connections.
At this point in my life I realize the value is that if I’m looking for a job opportunity for my kid then an entry is a phone call away in pretty much any major field.
Financial Orchid says
The math and business case is solid as steel.
However to strengthen your argument you can also downplay the reasons WHY people opt to pay so much more.
One obvious reason that comes to mind is that the earlier u get into the upper class elite circle the more solid the relations become. Aside from people who move around a lot consider the kids who stayed friends since kindergarten to ivy league. Not surprisingly they become business partners, private lenders, and anyone who has been to an ivy league knows the deep networks formed. The sooner in the easier it is for the kid to adjust. Of course that can all happen later in life but the chances become increasingly less.
It’s no surprise prince William’s closest confides are childhood friends though he didn’t meet his wife until undergrad.
There are merits for private school or else anyone could attend. In Manhattan it can start as early as getting into the right play group.
In Hong Kong it’s even more extreme. There’s a documentary on YouTube about 胜在射精线 basically translates to the race to success commences at ejaculation . Talk about hyper competitive socialite societies.
Financial Samurai says
I wonder if it is possible to shelter a kid from grad school all the way through to post college life by just sending them to private school.
Maybe once you get that job at Google, then you get to rent that nice place in Palo Alto, then eventually by that nice house, find a rich spouse, and then repeat the cycle w/ private school again.
Maybe this is what the rich are thinking! Shelter all the way.
It’s crazy how much the expenses add up for private schools! If I was a kid again and had the choice I would take the money unless the public school was so bad that my safety would be really at risk. As for my kid I think it’ll depend on where we are at school age time. If we can go the public route and have access to good teachers and the kids are well behaved and respect one another that would be fantastic.
I grew up going to a combo of both a private school(K-4 and HS) and public school(5th-8th grade) in SF and from my perspective it varies on public schools because it’s based on their reputation. I went to public school where their were a good number of my classmates that were cutting classes and/or verballing attacking teachers and other superiors. It wasn’t a great influence to witness that as a pre-teen.
But at the same time, my parents weren’t that involve in how I was doing when I went to public school so I could have had a different experience if they were more engaged.
Now that I have a 2 y/o, I would take that million bucks and have him go to public school where I would be more involved with what he is learning, volunteer at his school and give him some advice to any dilemmas he will have whether it be with his school work or fellow classmates.
Financial Samurai says
Teachers need to get paid more and be more respected. It is often a thankless job where parents should be more thankful. I’ve dealt with some difficult issues as a HS coach already where I thought, “I don’t need this BS right now.”
The problem w/ SF is the lottery system. It would be nice if our property tax dollars could pay for the public school in our neighborhood.
Their are so many great teachers out there and unfortunately some can’t display their full knowledge in the classroom because of the distractions by students that don’t really care. With that in mind, teachers in these tough environments need to have an intimating presence for themselves in order get respected by students.
With the lottery system in SF, maybe a solution is to have percentage system in which Wallenberg High for example, 70% of the student enrollment will come from the nearby neighborhood and the remaining 30% will be lottery. That way students that do not want to go their neighborhood high school still have a chance to go to the school of their choice in SF.
Sober Finance says
While the numbers presented are certainly eye-popping, there are a couple of items I would flag that have been left out. For the most part, school at the university/collegiate level is just branding. The education that you will receive from, say, a Harvard is not superior than that of a University of Texas. Everyone uses the same text books and, while I might be generalizing here, at a prestigious research institution such as Harvard classes are going to be taught by TAs, not professors.
BUT, the the rolodex that can be developed by the “best and brightest” going to the same handful of schools should be mentioned. if you want to understand how this country works, read the “The Power Elite” by the sociologist C. Wright Mills in which he suggests that it is actually the private high schools (i.e., Andover, Exeter, Groton) that grooms the “elite” of the country. That’s the true purpose of these schools.
But if we’re talking about living a life worth lived and being able to spend time with friends and family, then I would agree… why spend the money when you can get what you want without the 50K sticker price?
Hugh Campbell says
Having gone to one of these schools, I would definitely agree HOWEVER i’d say it’s mostly self-reinforcing the elite status rather than enabling social mobility (Maybe that’s a point of the book you mention). Instead of “best and brightest”, i’d say “rich and richest.”
If you are an uber-rich family from Seattle and you send your kids to Exeter, they will mix with other uber-rich kids from all over the country and the world, which is really good for careers and business prospects. If you are a smart inner-city kid who happens to get a scholarship to one of these schools, you are not going to be accepted into their circle.
They can sniff out class distinction from an early age. Where do you ‘summer’? Are you skiing in Aspen this year or in Switzerland? It’s a tight private club and they’re not interested in new members.
I personally know a lot of millenials that had parents making 300-600k a year gross who attended those boarding schools and became so entitled that after going to overpriced, 40-50k a yr private liberal arts colleges they are living at home in their late 20s and early 30s.
It cuts both ways. Give your kids too much without expecting anything and they can just lose motivation for anything. On the other hand private schools can give you many connections which is what you need for *real* money and power. You don’t get that going to the “public ivy league colleges” like the UC system.
How does one send one’s children to boarding school. Unimaginable to me!
Hugh Campbell says
In my case it was an amazing experience. I lived in a small town with only one terrible public school. Boarding school friends are still my closest friends, and my education was more rigorous than college.
Whether it was worth the cost is another question altogether. The school I attended now charges $65,000 per year for boarders.
Financial Samurai says
Or The College of William & Mary, the original public ivy! :)
The “quality” of the public school is of minor importance, if the parents are engaged the children will be fine. My kids went to poorly rated public schools and still attended universities for free on academic scholarships. Incidentally they also earned money in college tutoring their private school educated classmates. Helicopter parents may feel they are helping their kids by shielding them from the real world of public education but they are rising making snowflakes instead. I am sure there are exceptions, but that is what they are. Public schools are by and large adequate. Plus privileged parents pulling their children out of public schools make them worse for those who attend.
Financial Samurai says
How much do you think parental support helps? I ask b/c I truly want to believe my wife and I can make a difference in our son’s education by spending as long as he wants or as long as it takes to provide after school tutoring and explaining of things.. but I’m not so sure.
It is huge! My wife volunteered in the schools and that let her unofficially”pick” which teachers the kids got. Plus we worked with them on assignments offering tips but never doing the work for them. We encouraged science fair projects and as an engineer I explained the knowledge economy we live in. We encouraged reading and tried to make school fun. Getting good study habits instilled was a big part. I won’t deny having the kids with a high IQ helped. They have six degrees, three in engineering, one in business, one in adult education and one medical doctorate.
Out of curiosity, why did you only look at the tuition for USC and Yale and not the cost of attendnace? The cost of attendance at both places is $72,777 and $70,570 respectively, which only furthers your point. Unless you just assumed that the other costs (room and board, food, books, etc) were about equal and regardless of where you go, you have to have somewhere to live and eat.
I like the ideas expressed though. After a lifetime of private school (some of which were considered very elite) through to two separate bachelors, and now pursuing a Master’s at a very cost-friendly public school, I don’t think the hype of private school is worth it. The cost of private school, particularly at the college level, is completely ludicrous in the US.
Financial Samurai says
Just wanted to make things as apples to apples as possible. The other costs are fixed costs. If you compare only tuition, you can make a better argument… like comparing EBITDA numbers and multiples when analyzing competing companies.
Now of course, going to NYU/Columbia will be much more expensive due to living costs.
With all your education, can you share what you are doing now with it? thx
Long story short, I went back to school to become a registered nurse.
I went to a prep school for high school (partial scholarship, but still needed to take out loans for high school) and spent four years at “elite” private colleges (two years at a Top 5 – at the time liberal arts school; and two years at a top 5 Ivy league school at the time), which were incredibly affordable because we qualified for aid and my mom worked at said Ivy league school (which helped me get in – twice – and also provided 70% off tuition there, or 40% off their tuition elsewhere).
I then decided after graduating that I didn’t want to pursue medicine – partly because I would have had to go back to do a post-bac program just to be competitive as my undergrad numbers weren’t impressive enough. I found nursing offered me a lot of the same things and, arguably most importantly, work-life balance which I sought that is very rare in medicine. Since, I’ve tried out a few different jobs in nursing and have been moving more towards a hospital administration/efficiency path. This has led to a low six figure salary (not just because I live in an expensive area, but have found a niche), a work-life balance, and led to the need for a master’s degree, only because it will serve as a technicality/pre-req for certain jobs.
I probably wouldn’t trade the path I took, but I also recognize that I was incredibly lucky because 1. my mom’s job paid for a lot of our private education and 2. we qualified for aid. Now that I am paying for it all out of pocket, it led me to find a grad school that is reasonably priced for an MBA – the University of North Dakota online. It will cost me right around $15,000 for the whole degree. Since I am looking at an area where the prestige of the school is less important, the lower cost is worth it to me. The school also has a decent reputation, but certainly not like the top B schools around.
One of the things that frustrated me while looking into grad school was the complete disregard for transparency in pricing/cost. It’s as if many of these schools realize their costs are ridiculous and just tell you a part of the cost which makes it seem less so. Hence my desire to discuss the cost of attendance vs. just the tuition. In Pennsylvania (where I live), some of the state schools are still approaching $40K for cost of attendance for in-state, which is absurd.
I’d love to keep my nose down and ride out my jobs for a few more years, but like you with tennis, I have a passion for sports, namely football and lacrosse. I’ve been coaching at the high school level for many years since graduating and have actually also been looking at ways to leverage my experience/knowledge into a potential job in the sports arena. All that is to say that while I am on a nursing path with my education and job experience, I have the privilege enough to consider moving towards an entirely different path that interests/excites me, and always having a lucrative path which I like decently enough to fall back on.
I’ve been a reader for awhile and love the articles. Keep up the great work.
Financial Samurai says
Good stuff Joe. I commend you for being a nurse. It was one of the most honorable, important, and hardest jobs period.
Let me ask you the following:
1) Can any child of an employee at the University get the huge tuition discount? Or is it just certain level employees? e.g. can a janitor’s son get a discount?
2) What percentage increase in chance do you think your mom working at the Ivy college gave you to get in? e.g. you had a 30% chance to get in (vs. 15% acceptance rate), but your mom gave your chance a boost to 60%.
As someone who is unemployed, but who offers educational material online and coaches HS tennis for 3 months of the year, I’m seriously considering getting a job at a private grade school or college to help my son. I love academia now that I don’t have to study for it (haha), and I think it would be a win-win. Thoughts?
Thanks for the thoughts on nursing. It isn’t for everyone, but it really is a great profession with a lot of opportunities.
Here are my thoughts…
1) this is a tough question to answer. I think each school does this differently and this has also change a fair amount over the past 20-30 years, probably not too dissimilar to the changes we’ve seen with pensions. For our family, my mom had been with the school long enough (20 or so years by the time I started in college) that she had the choice to remain grandfathered in to the original program or choose the new one. Her options were 1. the plan she was on – 70% off tuition at Penn (I’ll just say the school for ease) OR 40% off Penn’s tuition anywhere else. OR 2. 100% off the tuition at Penn and nothing anywhere else. She made the smart decision to stick with #1 for many reasons. What were the chances that all of her kids would want to go to Penn and also be able to get in? As it worked out, my older sister went to four years of expensive private school elsewhere, which gave her a huge tuition break, and then Penn for grad school, which gave her a huge break for grad school through our mom.
There was also a rumor that it made it easier for your kids to get into Penn for two reasons – 1. it was an alleged benefit for working there and 2. the school was cheap, so rather than pay out money, they would just “write it off” if your kid stayed there. I’m not sure of the truth of either, but that was the common thinking.
2. It’s really hard for me to say how much it increased my chances. I was certainly competitive – I had the extracurriculars, GPA, and came from a feeder school. Every year about 8-10 kids from my school went there of a class of just north of 200. Penn also features a lot of kids from local south NJ and Philadelphia schools. I’m not sure if, or how much, they lower the academic standards, but there were more kids from Philly – working class, blue collar, private and public school kids. You’d be much less likely to find that demographic from say Los Angeles or Seattle at Penn.
If I had to put a number on it, I guess I’d say it was in the 15-30% range. I had to be in that pool of acceptable candidates to begin with, so I think it might have accounted for another extracurricular or two.
I graduated high school in 2000, so we’re talking nearly 20 years. My sense was that there was a pool of kids who could conceivably get in, and there was a bit of randomness in that pool and certain things that increased your chances. As an example, I didn’t get in to Boston College, though a kid who cheated off me for three years of Spanish did get in. Somehow they figured out that BC was his first choice, whereas for me it wasn’t a reach school, but a school I thought I’d get in to and would consider then. Then at Penn, a kid from my high school got in with SATS of around 1090. He, however, had a high GPA and was on the Henley winning varsity 8 crew team.
It’s kind of funny to hear you reference yourself as “unemployed”. I know it’s true in the normal use sense of the word, but having read this blog for so long it still seems a little odd.
I would highly recommend getting a job at a school. Some places even offer it for part-time, but long-serving coaches. One of the football coaches I coach with has an arrangement worked out that if he’s still the defensive coordinator his kid will get in with an entrance score above X% (lower than the normal acceptance score) and he will receive a certain amount off for him to go. That’s only for the defensive coordinator of the football team. so he is a casual employee of the school for part of the year. But he arranged that when he signed on.
For others, I really think they should at least explore working for a school, college or university. From my experience, albeit limited, the pay isn’t drastically different, but they perks (tuition being one) have often outweighed the potential perks of other places. It’s also something for adults to consider for their own tuition reimbursement.
So yes, I agree. complete win-win!
Current state of education in America is infuriating.
Why is education so expensive now in America?
$32k per child for a Kindergarten tuition?! Seriously!? How much of that tuition is actually going to salaries for the teachers actually teaching the children? I’m disgusted.
For-profit education is broken. As a parent of two children, I recommend that parents recognize that you are the first and perhaps most important teacher in our childrens’ lives.
Formal education (i.e. where I have to pay $32k a year to be part of the system), I believe, is losing its efficacy as the gatekeeper for financial success and economic mobility. Information is largely free. Don’t need a piece of paper and rubber stamp any more to do something meaningful and change the world.
Financial Samurai says
Kindergarten is only ~$21,000 – $25,000 in less expensive cities though :) But that’s not bad since daycare is around $24,000 – $30,000 a year, so it’s a wash.
This logic is valid assuming there is a tradeoff that will be material to the family. For example, a wealthy family who needs X amount to be financially independent comfortably. Having 3X, 5X or 10X really does not matter in practical terms. Sure, having 10X what you need is good but if you can get even a small incremental edge in terms of education for your children and end up at 9X, it’s worth it. The value of the incremental edge in terms of network and insight could one day make a difference for your child.
There is a Chinese story about a student who drew a picture of a dragon. Yet, something was missing, the Dragon looked flat, not dynamic, not real. Then his teacher walked by and asked to borrow his paint brush, with a few strokes, he drew the eye of the dragon and the spirit of the painting became alive. Nuances matter, it is the difference between the massive winners and everyone else. Those nuances can be gained through decades of in the trench experience taught by highly qualified teachers/professors and passed onto their small team of pupils.
With that being said, a great education is really up to the individual student, after all, the material is the same no matter where you go. The difference is that good teachers and learning settings can enable substantial acceleration of learning and utilization of those skill sets. What is important for sure is to avoid bad school settings where threats of violence and “disruptive other kids” hinder the learning process for your own children.
If there is a good public school, it should be perfectly fine to attend. If not, private schools would be a good alternative.
Financial Samurai says
Love the story of the dragon. I’ll have to look that one up.
But what is the END goal of education? Is it money? Is it being more well-rounded? Is it happiness?
If it’s money, then having $1M upon graduation to start solves the money issue right there. And if it is everything else, you can find them easily among a more diverse group of people.
After you get beyond around a $3M net worth.. there is no more happiness. I should write a post about this.
The vast, vast majority never get a good ROI from expensive private schools. The absolute value (not NPV) of a college degree vs no college degree is ~$1m and going from a college degree to a top college degree adds even less (when adjusted for the same IQ). When you put an NPV on it at say a 5% discount rate, the value is completely eliminated. Shoot, for that kind of money you could hire a 1×1 tutor for your kids for a couple hours after class every single day. If you live in a really crappy public school district that’s one thing but there really are a lot of good to excellent public schools out there. I agree the mostly likely to do extremely, extremely well will come from private schools but the vast majority end up, adjusted for IQ and family background, in the same spot as public school kids.
Sara Silzer says
I’m going through this right now with my daughter’s college. She got accepted to Northwestern which will cost $280,000 (we make too much for any type of aid), or she can go to our state’s university for free. I would love to be able to reward her for all of her hard work, but that sure is a lot of money. Not sure it’s really worth it.
Financial Samurai says
I’d be curious to know what she would say if you told her you’d give her $200,000 if she attended the public college.
Just the fact that she got into Northwestern should give her the confidence needed to be anything and do anything she wants.
I really think acceptance letter alone does wonders. I think that’s it! Apply to as many prestigious private schools as you want. Get excepted, know that you belong, and then save money and crush it at public school.
I think it depends on your desired path.
If you want to be a doctor, a lot of state schools have 6 year MD programs for talented students. You can get a free education, save two years, and not really have to worry about the prestige of your university too much. That’s a win-win-win.
If you want to work in finance or consulting, going to state school might leave you with a uphill (if not impossible) battle. You’re probably better off burning the $280k upfront and monetizing in the long run.
FYI it’s very difficult to get into those combined BS/MD programs. When I was in HS they required a near perfect SAT or ACT so most don’t qualify. You also have to be sure that you want to do medicine.
Studies show that the best ROI is that of people who were accepted to ivy league colleges but opted for the very high-quality public state colleges.
Financial Samurai says
Good point about the difficulty of getting in. Maybe folks should just let destiny determine their fate too, with obviously financial constructs.
My nephew is going to public school in NYC b/c he didn’t get into the 4 private schools he applied.
I’m pumped for him! :)
I would offer one other comment on this point. The purpose of an undergrad education is not to prepare someone for medicine. That is what medical school is for. For those who want to go into medicine, it is a waste to spend all of his or her undergraduate time in the biological sciences; study art, dance, history, philosophy, just not medicine. Do the pre-reqs yes, but learn something else or you will be the most boring, uneducated physician. There are already too many.
I find combined BS/MD programs sad due to the opportunity costs of young minds.
Hi NLG. You bring up some valid points regarding the utility of an undergrad education in lieu of a medical profession for example. I went to a small New England liberal arts college. Core required classes expanded my horizons greatly. Critical thinking and cogent reasoning gave me a solid foundation that I apply every day. I ended up becoming a dentist and I believe that I’m a better dentist for it.
These combined BS/MD program are indeed interesting. I can’t help but wonder whether students who enter these programs are pushed more by their families than an individual desire to pursue medicine. On the other side off the coin is the European system; high school grads can enter med school directly (though it’s 6 years from what I know).
From a financial samurai standpoint, sometimes I wonder whether an internal medicine specialist is better off financially come retirement than a firefighter with a good pension who happens to do general contracting work on the side. Or a dentist :-)
If your daughter wants to be an engineer absolutely pick NWU over UIUC. There’s no comparison for the environment as a woman engineer. NWU breeds strong women engineers, I don’t know many women who enjoyed UIUC engineering and I know an awful lot who dropped out to psychology or English. (If she wants psychology, UIUC is the obvious choice as it is top notch. For Econ NWU is better and none of her profs will try to sleep with her.)
I am a woman engineer and greatly enjoyed UIUC engineering. I don’t have any experience with Northwestern.
I really wanted to go to MIT but couldn’t afford it. So UIUC was not my first choice but I have to say I had an excellent experience there.
I came from a smaller high school and really enjoyed taking advantage of the opportunities at a large university. Class sizes are big at first but narrow down as you get to the higher level specialized courses. There were plenty of opportunities for me to do research and connect with professors even as an undergrad. Also I got enough AP credit to graduate in 3 years.
David Michael says
Private schools are way over priced and touted as a solution to one’s future. Maybe, probably not. A year after graduation, you are like everybody else hustling for good jobs out there.
Having gone to several private schools for undergraduate (Georgetown and Duke) and graduate degrees (USC), the social charm lasts a year or two after graduation and then you are like every body else. In my day, college costs were $2000 a year for everything, which I made by working three jobs (day, evening and weekends) during the summer. Now that’s impossible.
My recommendation is to send kids to community college (where I used to teach) to get a great foundation, and then state college. Save the money for graduate school and a year abroad. That’s where private schools make the most sense these days. By the way, I have two kids who are MD’s. They both went to public school and their kids go to public school.
Hugh Campbell says
We have three kids and are pulling them out of private schools.
Our view is that we could take 1/3 of what we’re spending on tuition and spend it on other enriching things for the family (e.g. travel) and SAVE the rest, which will put us all in a better situation.
The one thing we do like about private schools is that they are VERY low maintenance and high convenience. Before school and after school care is very flexible, there are no teacher or bus strikes, and when you call them you get a phone call back immediately. Public schools are much lower convenience and usually require more involvement. We both work so this is an important consideration for us.
Financial Samurai says
Do you think the decision to send your kid to private schools easier if you only had one kid?
Hugh Campbell says
Yes, definitely! It becomes a huge cost x 3, and all after-tax dollars. Gross it up and you’re talking $120k per year earnings required to pay for all three!
Financial Samurai says
How fearful of you of pulling them out of private school and adjusting to public school? What grades are they getting pulled out from?
David Michael says
So much has to do with the mission, quality and size of your local public or private school plus funding and location.
I went to Catholic private schools for much of my early life until I attended a coed international high school in Athens, Greece, for my junior year in high school. That was by far my best educational experience ever! Primarily, because the classes were small (15 in a class), we all had to participate in sports, student government, drama classes, and field trips every month around Greece. And, students were from all over Europe, mostly kids of diplomats. I was prepped for the best private or public colleges in the USA.
However, here is what I found sixty something years later. It didn’t matter what schools we attended. The private school students found it easier to get into college. But once in college, the public school students did as well or better by sophomore year. Success and wealth were dependent upon the individual. At some point, we all have to take responsibility for how our life has turned out. The nice thing about aging, is that we have a chance to redo things over and over again, whether it is school, marriage, work, etc.
For $30,000, I went back to grad school at age 65 for a year to study and get a Master’s Degree in ESL (English as a Second Language) so I could teach overseas for my retirement career. I loved every moment of it, hanging out with fellow students half my age, and playing on the college soccor team. I am not rich…not even famous…but damn, it’s been a great ride.
Public or private schools? At age 80 no one gives a rip. Breathe, enjoy the moment, and be kind. It’s all good!
Financial Samurai says
Such a wonderful comment. Thanks for sharing your journey!
I felt this way about two years after college. Nobody gave a damn about where you went, just how you got along with colleagues and how you performed.
I’ve never attended a private school. Conversely my wife went to a private school most of her life. We both have great careers and educations so I don’t see the difference there. I do see better facilities as my wife points out when our three year old visits a private school for play time. But honestly that’s not that important. Add to that my wife believes most of her co graduates were stuck up snobs who get ahead via their parents and not their hard work. Not a glowing recommendation.
Lily | The Frugal Gene says
“Therefore, to attend private university just didn’t feel right because I couldn’t understand how they could afford $20,000 a year in tuition at the time…”
That’s very mature of you Sam! I was a dumbo, I went to a more expensive private school because I thought I would be better off. The kids were just more snobby I think. I didn’t fit in.
The other famous school beside Bush school around here is the Evergreen school that Bill Gates went to. Tuition is about $35k/year.
I’m definitely going the public route (which that poll is heading big time). I’m going the public route because I do fear since we are frugal and not very rich…would kids really fit in? Would they get a complex? Unless I had $20 million I would choose public school.
Financial Samurai says
I don’t know if it was mature on me, or dumb on you, but to me, it was obvious that we were middle class. We lived in a humble looking townhouse (pic of my HS house), my parents drove an 8 year old Toyota Camry, and I went to a public high school. Then their salaries were pretty obvious as government employees. $20,000 for tuition alone seemed nuts, just like $50,000 a year seems nuts today.
Did you grow up in a nice house with a nice car and did you go to private grade school? If so, that’s all you ever knew and having your parents spend mega bucks for college would seem natural.
It’s kinda like the new engagement ring buying rule I have. If the guy drives a Porsche 911, well heck yeah a $100,000 engagement ring sounds about right. But if he drives a Honda Fit, perhaps $10,000 is good enough.
I didn’t like public grade school, but my public college education was first rate. I’d be happy to compare it to any alternatives in quality, expected ROI, etc. Public education can be great. There are some locations where I understand why people would favor private options (but excepting the preferences you outlined) it seems more rational to spend [likely a fraction of] the $1,000,000 to move to an area with better public schools.
My outlook on life is that time is ultimately much more valuable to me than incrementally more dollars. We home school (single earner household — for now) and love the flexibility for location and travel. The kids love getting school done in 2-3 hours a day. There are tax advantages (as you’ve outlined here) and many time advantages to being a single earning household if the secondary income earner isn’t going to make a large or comparable income. Homeschool works for us and it’s a big privilege to enjoy, but it also seemed odd to me to value my time so highly without showing some consideration or similar option for my children’s time.
This is all said with the recognition that not everyone has the opportunity to look at it this way. I get it. It’s where I am. Maybe later I’ll be elsewhere. =)
Randy V says
Not sure Gates and Zuck are the best examples given they both attended private school!
Dave @ Married with Money says
$1M is an absurd amount of money to pay for a kid’s education IMO. If I had kids I’d happily accept a million bucks to put them through public school. Maybe I’d move to a place where the schools were top notch (they’re still great where I am) though.
“If I had kids”
This is an incredibly easy decision to make with theoretical kids. It’s much harder with REAL kids; kids in whom your whole life is basically invested for two decades (and beyond). If you have the flexibility to just move to a great school district, then yes, you should just do that. Not everyone has that flexibility though, or they face steep trade-offs in doing so (long commutes for instance).
Financial Samurai says
I agree. And school administrators KNOW this, which is why costs keep going higher faster than inflation. I think the operators of schools are taking advantage of parent’s fears and inelastic demand curve to pay whatever it takes to get their kids the “best” education possible.
I hope this post allows people to take a step back and think about the benefits of public school more.
I have kids, one starts Kindergarten this year. Public school was a NO BRAINER and I can easily afford private schools. We have some of the best private schools in the nation near us, and I still think it’s a massive waste of money. Our schools are cheaper than SF, but it still compounds out to $750k or so per child, and I’m not including college. I can buy them a great house, cash, and fund their retirement with $750k. $250k into a retirement account for an 18 year old, at the stock market average of over 10%, ends up at well over $10M when they hit retirement age (50’s). Plus a $500k house (which is upper middle class where we live)… Or a questionably better education? Right. Private school is a huge waste of money for most. This is a great article. My kids won’t have the burden of a mortgage or have to worry about retirement. That’s putting them on one heck of a great trajectory.
Financial Samurai says
Sounds like a no brainer to me. We would make a huge dent to the student debt problem and the housing affordability problem.
But then again, I wonder if only the super wealthy, the super smart, or the super poor go to private school….
I’m a strong advocate for public schools. Both my wife and I are products of public school education including undergrad. We both ended up with a career that could support our family. It’s always possible that private education could have led to a better career but I don’t think I’d bet that the difference would account for the costs you’ve documented.
One move we have made is to make sure the public schools our children will attend are top notch. We may pay a little extra in taxes to live in an area with good schools but that price is well worth it to us.
Charles A Sarahan II says
The quality of public schools is all over the place. I had one of my kids go to Catholic high school while the other went to public school. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.
The schools you didn’t include but should have for the DC area is DeMatha, Gonzaga, and St Anselm’s Abbey School. The former and middle can handle most students. The latter is if you have an off the charts brainy kid. Maret is a fine school but there are other cheaper options.
Financial Samurai says
What do your kids do now and where did they go to college?
Go Mclean High School! Public of course.
For those living in area McLean HS and Langley HS are both great options and should your kid be on brainiac side Thomas Jefferson is the place to be.
All above mentioned High Schools are public and provide excellent education.
Chuck Sarahan II says
My son went to Radford. My daughter never went to college.
David Michael says
I went to Gonzaga College High School(College Prep School) for three years in D.C. and an international high school for junior year abroad. Gonzaga at that time was all boys and an hour commute for me by public transport.
To be honest looking back 60 years ago, the classical curriculum did prepare me for getting into college but taught me little about real life. It was way too much work and
and too little play having no girls present. I wish I had wood and auto shops, time to participate on varsity teams, learn about finance, and especially about relationship building and marriage. In other words, something real and practical instead of studying dead languages like Latin and Ancient Greek. I did take French and German in college but the American curriculum rarely goes for fluency like courses in Europe.
Public schools pose a greater challenge at an earlier age, but for those that succeed, college, grad school and work will be easier in the long run IMHO. If I had to do it all over again, public high school followed by public colleges in the present cost structure would be an easy choice. Thus, housing location and school district selection are worth a greater investment for your children’s future.
Solo Prosperity says
The debate should consider the geographic reality that most families face in private versus public. For example, I live in a hcol area where the public schools, for the most part, are so-so. A lot of friends of our send their kids to private school because of it. The money part hurts but the decision is more so made on what the parents perceive as giving their kids a better education (I have a lot of thoughts on this). The network and prestige advantages help as well, but most people tend to downplay that part because it sounds snobby.
For my kid to go to a highly rated public school once he is older, we would have to move about 15-20 miles further away from the city…which is what we will do when the time comes, but we are also fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us to me more mobile. Most people do not.
Lastly, asking the kids this question, at least until around high school ages, is not really possible. Weighing the decisions outlined in this article is a bit too much to be asking of an 8 year old imo.
Financial Samurai says
I’ve taken into account “so-so” public schools in a HCOL area to account for accepting $1,000,000 or more upon graduation.
It’s worth asking an 8 yo the same question. But it’s definitely most worth asking the parents who are forking over this amount of money the question today.
The only people who care about prestige are those paying paying big bucks for education while in school. After you graduate, prestige doesn’t matter anymore. It’s what you do with the education that counts.
But, I will acknowledge that whatever choice a parent makes, will be believed to be the best choice for their child at the time.
It will be interesting to see if you change your mind as your child gets closer to school age. My wife and I were heavily leaning toward public school until 3 months ago when we started actually touring schools in NYC. Even the good public schools had huge class sizes, uninspiring facilities, and un-personalized education, not to mention a vexing propensity for spending a lot of time preparing for standardized tests. Private schools were a huge breath of fresh air by comparison. I’m not sure where we’ll shake out, but the public school decision is very easy when you’re staring at spreadsheets, but much harder when it comes down to deciding where you’re child will spend the majority of their day for the thirteen+ years of their life.
A lot of people in the comment section have good public school stories (including myself), but realize there’s a huge selection bias. People reading and thoughtfully responding to a personal finance blog aren’t a random cross section of the population.
Financial Samurai says
I’m sure my views will change the closer we get to making a decision. If we only have one child and our net worth continues to grow over the next 5 years, then private school will probably be the winner.
But as of now, we want to apply to the public school lottery system, see if he gets into a well rated one, and have him attend and see how it goes.
I will set aside the saved tuition each year he goes to public school to give to him in some responsible way after he graduates HS or college.
What does the “prestige” of going to a private school before college buy you? I can understand that a more prestigious college may mean something depending on your career goals.
In theory, a prestigious private school funnels you into prestigious universities.
Financial Samurai says
It’s a good theory, but I have spoken to the athletic director at a prestigious SF private HS, students, and parents, and there is also a limit to how many kids so and so college can take from so and so school.
There is a massive focus now on taking more unique kids who aren’t all on the same socioeconomic background and path.
Hugh Campbell says
Connections. You are surrounded by kids who are rich and who are going to be very successful, on average.
I went to a very prestigious boarding school, and many of my friends were wealthy and / or connected. I have had direct business dealings with some of them, and if I wanted to raise money to start a business, I could snap my fingers and do it.
The school I attended now costs $65,000 for boarding students. I won’t be able to afford to send my kids there.
Financial Samurai says
Connections are important indeed. It’s sometimes what all that matters now.
If you cannot send your kids to a $65,000 a year boarding school after attending a $65,000 your boarding school, does that mean attending the $65,000 a year boarding school wasn’t really worth it?
Hugh Campbell says
My alternative was a TERRIBLE public school (no private options where I grew up).
I chose a different career path, but if I had chosen to go to wall street and work in private equity or hedge funds, that path was certainly open to me through my connections (in which case I’d be making 7-figures by now).
Financial Samurai says
Got it. So maybe one should try to decide on the school based on what they want to do b/c the internet, people, and life in general can teach a lot where paying $65,000 a year might not be needed, and probably isn’t needed anymore.
The quality of K-12 public schools is all over the place. There are public schools that are just as good as the top quintile or decile of private schools in America. These days, when it’s so easy to move, you’re better off finding a neighborhood with a good public school and keeping your $1M. Especially since you’re paying for public school either way (through state and local taxes). What do you think?
The Alchemist says
Totally agree. I attended private school through 8th grade, then public high school and then public University (one of the top in the nation). I think private school at the start gives you a great leg up to be able to succeed no matter where you continue your education, because you learn how to think, study, and be disciplined.
That being said… everything depends upon the quality of the local public schools, which I’m afraid has only continued to deteriorate over time, especially in expensive urban areas. There’s a story in the SF Chronicle today about a student who was passed all the way through his senior year while failing every single class he ever took. Yet he was never held back! Another stellar example of San Francisco’s whacked out “progressive” ideas. But it’s no joke when those ideas result in hideously poor education in public schools.
I’m also really concerned about the tendency for teachers’ political biases to get injected into their work in public schools, which is utterly wrong. I think private schools have more control over that.
My kids are in public school in Silicon Valley and they have gotten an incredible education. Meanwhile, our house has appreciated more than those in surrounding towns because the schools in our town are known to be good. So, a win/win for us.
I’ve always wondered why some parents here put their kids into private schools. Teachers in private schools are paid LESS than in good public school districts AND don’t get a pension! Teachers are rational and have financial concerns of their own. If you were a smart, well-qualified teacher with a choice of jobs, where would you teach?
My wife and I sent went to public school and send our son to public school (in Silicon Valley). However, my dad teaches at one of those private schools on the list. He makes *significantly* more than a public school teacher. At least twice as much. Obviously with the much higher pay he’s been able to build up his retirement investments at a much higher rate than any pension would be able to provide. He’s a former economist and has advanced degrees in math. If you want your kids to have access to people like that you’ll pay – I’m not personally sure its worth it but his students certainly make up the “upper crust” of society. Finally, there are certain places where public schools are not a comparable option, like Hawaii. So while living in Silicon Valley it may seem like a no-brainer, it’s not as straightforward in all locales.
It’s all about the connections in private school. If you’re gunning to have your kid go to an IVY, then yes you will spend the money to send your child to Deerfield, Choate, Exeter, Lawrenceville, Hotchkiss and so on. Distinguished faculty at these premiere institutions have inside connections with the admissions department at elite universities.
With 600k or so, maybe you can just donate your way into the Ivy’s. They are money grubbing paper pushers whose values are totally skewed. These are schools that (1) systematically and intentionally racially discriminate against Asians (2) and Harvard and Yale competed to see who can admit a Taliban member. Sometimes I wonder what the appeal of these schools are… the same way I wonder what the appeal of a LV bag is. I see there is some quality, but the price is too high for that quality.
The way I see it, the these schools aren’t always adding to the student, rather the graduate adds donations to the school. So, if you jump start the donation process, they may realize, the student can be as valuable as the graduate.
A lot of teachers would choose the private school over public. The parents are richer and the students are typically smarter (or at least more motivated, since their parents value education, they value it too). In addition, there is more freedom of curriculum, if you care about such things. The resources are greater… no student lacks for the latest edition of something written in 1850. And the paperwork less.
You make less money, but you can tutor or coach on the side.
In addition, the teachers themselves are more motivated. They are there because they want to be there, not for the extra buck. They have a hand in choosing the students, albeit indirectly. When they sit in the break room, they aren’t all talking about their pensions and when they are quitting. In addition, the kids they teach go to Harvard and Yale, every year. They had a big hand in that. They aren’t just someone who pushed through 25 failing students to appease the political hack of a School Tsar, and happen upon 1 gifted student destined for great things no matter what.
Perhaps, but it can cut both ways. If you have only one kid, you may be able to move to a less expensive neighborhood and actually save money by sending the kid to private school vs the expensive neighborhood with good schools. With 2 kids+ however, it’s almost always advantageous to move to a good school district.
But sometime it’s a lifestyle choice. The best public schools are usually in the suburbs, and that may not be the trade a happy city-dweller wants to make (especially if it demands a long commute for one or both parents). Though, public schools in places like New York are getting better and better.
I’m going through this process in New York, and I’d already done this math and it sort of makes me want to puke a little, even though we can afford private school. Ultimately, if you really believe that private and public educations are largely comparable then the decision is a no-brainer. But the value of education is immense, and it goes beyond just things like earnings capacity. It can literally dictate the kind of person you are and how you interact with the world. That’s a hard thing to “cheap out” on. FOMO here isn’t like FOMO in other areas of your life. Missing out on a good education is a real disaster. Some highly intelligent and motivated kids can make the most of any environment, but it’s hard to tell a-priori whether that’s going to be your kid or not. I went to public school myself (and it was good enough to get me into a very fancy University) but public school feels like a tough gamble to me.
Despite the implicit (explicit?) argument for public schools that Sam makes,. I’m guessing he’ll send his kid to private school. If you’re the kind of person who’s willing to spend $60,000 on a Land Rover because it’s “safe”, you’re not the kind of person who is going to shove your kid into a urban public school (even a good one), with 30 kids in a class with one teacher and hope for the best.
I would agree with both of you! As a parent of 3 daughters who went through private schools (even though we live in a decent public school district on the north side of Chicago), they have learned discipline and a great moral compass. I have not regretted our choice although it was crazy expensive and we’re driving 10 year old cars. The public school system everywhere I’m guessing is slipping due to pension issues, union fairness, overcrowding, etc. Plus I love the uniform idea! There’s just a level of extra “class” taught in the private schools. They can drug test, kick kids out, etc. Can’t do that in the public sector. Sorry… just my experience.
Calamity Jane Austen says
I’m guessing that in some cases, if you had to choose between buying a house in a good school district or buying in a poor school district but sending your kids to private school, the cost difference wouldn’t be nearly as extreme as Sam calculates here. In order for the numbers to really be persuasive, he’d need to include the higher cost of living in a good school district as well as the higher property taxes (assuming one buys).
Financial Samurai says
Buying a house in a great school district in order for your kids to go to public school while also seeing the house appreciate due to high demand for good school district housing seems like a NO BRAINER.
But in SF, we socially engineer outcomes, and have a LOTTERY system for public schools.
Good school districts don’t outperform bad school districts indefinitely. The good school premium is already baked in. My parents bought in a great school district 30 years ago at a large premium. The schools are still great, and some of the neighboring areas are still mediocre, but property hasn’t outperformed on a percentage basis. In other words, the bad school district houses used to trade at $200k, now they trade at $400k. The good school district houses have gone from $500k to $1mm. Depending on the price of private school and the opportunity cost of capital, you didn’t do better buying in the good school district. The REAL MONEY is in buying in bad or mediocre areas that become good. I.e. gentrifying areas. But that’s (a) a much tougher nut to crack and (b) doesn’t help if you want your kid to have a good free education now. I know that your fairly narrow geographical and temporal experience with real estate is that premium real estate becomes even more premium, but that’s generally not true of most places over most periods; it’s a process that can’t and doesn’t continue indefinitely.
The OP Parent says
“Good school district” is both misleading and a misnomer in so many ways because it deludes parents into thinking that the source of this goodness is the school system – it’s not, but rather it’s the families that make up the “district” more than the teachers/admin themselves. If you were to transport a “good school” and drop it in the middle of Compton or South Central LA, the school’s scores would drop to what it was before. No differently, you take the worst school in Compton (teachers and all) and drop it into a high performing district, this school suddenly outperforms. Why? It’s the parenting and family environment of the district. So when you choose to move into a “good school district”, what you are doing is moving into a neighborhood of academically minded families who prioritize schooling and success. With that in mind, enrolling your child in private school (not college, just talking about K-12) is in the hopes of connecting with an environment that increases the child’s likelihood of success in life beyond just grades and scores (which is the ONLY focus of public school). So if you’re only focus is grades and test scores, a good public school district is fine. However, I would like my school to also focus on ethics, leadership and character – all of which are sorely lacking in all public school curricula.
Financial Samurai says
Got it. So public school and districts Have suboptimal parents and a suboptimal environment in your opinion.
Where did you send your kids and what are they doing with their lives now?
I totally agree with OP. The most important factor in a kids education – moral and academic – is the parent. Parents who have high morals and value academics tend to be richer, and tend to live in richer ‘hoods. (Duh, right?). That is why it is so hard for a kid from a working stiff family to fit in into a “rich kid” school. As my friend said, he doesn’t want his kid to be the poorest kid in the best school.
And the cost of the “good school” is baked into the price of the home. Which also means that the price of good schools is baked into property taxes. Which also means that – outside of CA, which limits property tax increases – one should move out of the good school ‘hood as soon as your last kid graduates high school. You then monetize the school premium, and avoid the good school expense.
That’s the way to go. Living in a good neighborhood in a good school district has more benefit than just the school. The quality of life is usually better. Living in a not so good neighborhood and sending your kids to private school is okay if that’s the only choice.
Of course, parents need to be involve and encourage the kids to study as well. It’s not all the school’s fault that the kid get through school with minimal learning. Parents need to work with the school to educate their kids.
Buying a house in a good school district is better if you can afford it.