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Types of Private Schools

There are a number of different ways to consider the types of private schools that may be a good fit for your child. Here are some ways to categorize and consider your choice of types of private schools.


Private schools often offer a wider array of choices about how students are grouped. You may find schools that only have kindergarten, or some other narrow grade/age range, or you may find a school that runs K-12. In the first case, the school can focus it’s entire attention on a particular stage of development and learning, but your child will have to shift schools after the program is over. In the second case, your child may receive a consistent and integrated education for 13 years, but the exposure to a variety of people, cultures, ideas, may be narrower.

You may be able to choose from schools that are graded, have multiple grades together (multigrade), or are ungraded or non-graded. Among the secondary schools, there are those that offer a post graduate year.

Number of students

The school size and class size can, in certain ways, “type” a school. Some school programs are fundamentally built around small classes and a great deal of individual attention. Other schools find ways to incorporate the diverse talents and approaches of a larger number of students into their program.

General Ed / Special Ed

Many private schools, like public schools, have a student body that includes both general education and special education students. This is often true of college preparatory private schools, which the majority of private schools are. In some private schools that by their nature have a very particular focus, many general ed as well as many special ed students will not be qualified for admittance. This is not discrimination: for example, the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vermont is a program for elite grade 9-12 girls hockey players; given its focus, it will only accept a very small number of students who have certain very clear qualifications. If you are interested in a school that serves a very special group of elite students and your child has special education needs, check your state’s laws and check with the private school to see what special needs they can accommodate.

A third group of schools is designed specifically to serve students with particular special needs, or a portion of those students. For example, there are schools for students with hearing disabilities, sight disabilities, students who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and special needs schools that focus on students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD) or learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD.

Segregated and Co-ed Schools

There are all-male, all-female, and co-ed choices among the private schools. Sometimes, as in the case of the hockey school mentioned, this choice has to do with the school’s primary function - in this case, to form a team. In the case of special ed private schools, it may provide a better social setting in which to deal with certain issues. In general education private school schools, it follows a long-standing tradition, and may exist to carry on that tradition, and/or to create and nurture the camaraderie that boys or girls can share when members of the opposite sex aren’t present.

Schools with a Special Curriculum

Schools can be typed by distinctive curricula or how they deliver instruction. Some schools have a distinctive and unique curriculum - one that was developed for the school in particular, while others are instances of a nationally or internationally acknowledged curriculum. Here are some examples: 

  • Coalition of Essential Schools 
  • Distance Learning Schools 
  • Learning Network Schools 
  • Montessori Schools 
  • Sudbury Valley School Model 
  • Waldorf Schools

These schools have the goal of carrying out the established philosophy and mission of the organization or approach they represent.

Schools with a Special Purpose

Sectarian. There are schools run by various sectarian interests, a variety of Christian schools, as well as Jewish yeshivas, and Muslim schools, and in each case, the faith involved shapes the curriculum. They are often college preparatory schools with an added faith element.

Military. Some college preparatory schools have a military program, or they may be run as a military institute. Some secondary military programs feed into a junior college with a military focus.

Performing Arts. Schools specializing in the performing arts (music, dance, theatre) are found among both public and private schools.

Trade or Vocational Schools. Training schools for a wide variety of trades and jobs are also found among both public and private schools.

Special Athletic Programs. Schools whose main focus is specialized athletic programs exist for a growing number of interests, including whitewater sports, downhill skiing, and hockey.

Working Farm. There are several working farm schools in the US. They may offer a semester of farm work or a residential experience, including 4-H. The Mountain School Program of Milton Academy (accredited NEASC) is a one-semester program on a working farm in Vershire, Vermont.

Written by Mary Elizabeth


Performing Arts High schools (public and private) -
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