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Private Schools vs. Independent Schools: What’s the Difference?

While the terms “private school” and “independent school” are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re not exactly the same. Here, we break down how the two are similar, and not.

How Private Schools and Independent Schools Differ

All independent schools are private schools, but not all private schools are independent schools.

A private school is any organization that is funded and run by a non-governmental entity or entities. (This includes independent schools — more on that in a minute.) A private school can be run by a for-profit company, a non-profit company, or a church or diocese or some other non-governmental organization.

Conversely, an independent school is considered private, but is run by a board of governors or trustees that is independent (hence the name) of any other entities.

To give an example, a Catholic school that is not associated with a specific church is likely an independent school, whereas a parochial school, which is run by a church, is private, but not independent.

Additionally, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) adds, “Independent schools are non-profit private schools that are independent in philosophy: each is driven by a unique mission.”

The number of independent school in the U.S.
The number of students at independent schools in the U.S.

Like all other private schools, independent schools don’t receive government funding, They’re funded instead by tuition as well as charitable contributions. Despite not getting money from the government, independent schools are accredited by the state.

According to NAIS, as of June 2015 (their most recent data) there are 1,541 independent schools in the United States serving more than 675,000 students. While that sounds like a lot, there are almost 55 million school children in this country, so it’s really quite a small population.

What Kind of Independent Schools Exist?

Independent schools can come in many forms: they can be co-ed or single-sex, day schools or boarding schools, religious or not religiously affiliated. What makes an independent school is its governance and its mission, not its structure.

Comparing Private and Independent Schools

Private Schools Independent Schools
Private Schools Can be governed by a for-profit, non-profit, or religious entity
Independent Schools Governed by a board of trustees
Private Schools Not run or funded by the government
Independent Schools Not run or funded by the government
Private Schools Can be co-ed or single-sex, day or boarding, religious or not
Independent Schools Can be co-ed or single-sex, day or boarding, religious or not
Private Schools Can serve pre-K through high school students
Independent Schools Can serve pre-K through high school students

Want to learn more about different kinds of schools near you? Here are links to additional articles that break down differences between them:

Find a great private school in your area

Author: Ali Trachta

Ali is the former Content Writer/Editor at Niche. She's a content strategist and award-winning writer, as well as a former editor at LA Weekly and NEXTpittsburgh. As a mom of one who's lived and worked all across the country, she's glad to have once again found her niche in her hometown of Pittsburgh.