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private vs charter

Private Schools vs. Magnet Schools

You might think that private schools and magnet schools have little in common. And in many ways, you’d be right. Still, both are popular alternatives to traditional public schools, so it’s worth comparing these two very different choices.

In a Nutshell

Private schools are independently-run schools that are not administered by local, state, or national governments. 

Unlike public schools, private schools do not accept public funding of any kind. Instead, they rely on tuition as their main source of funding. However, private schools must adhere to basic state guidelines (such as agreeing to teach reading and math, and adhering to building codes.)

Private schools are typically selective about which students they enroll, and admission often involves a more in-depth application process, which may include entrance exams and interviews.

Explore private schools in your area

Magnet schools exist within the traditional public school system but offer a particular academic focus alongside the standard curriculum.

Magnet schools are open to all students within a school district or designated metro area, regardless of address. Their curriculum centers around a particular specialization, such as STEM, performing arts, or world languages. Magnets are accountable to the local school board and to the state, just as traditional public schools are, and are held to the same academic standards.

Admission to a magnet program may require an entrance exam or audition, or may simply be decided by a lottery.

Suggested Reading: Is a Magnet School Right for Your Family?

Explore magnet schools in your area

Basic Statistics

By the numbers, private schools make up a significantly larger portion of the American education landscape than magnet schools do. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 34,576 private schools in the United States, which is roughly 25% of all U.S. schools. Those schools educate nearly 5 million students, which is 10% of the entire student population.

Per the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), just over 40% of private school students attend a Catholic school. This is down from more than half in the 1989-90 school year. About 21% of private school students go to a school with no religious affiliation, up from about 13% in 1989-90.

Conversely, according to Magnet Schools of America, there are just 4,340 magnet schools currently operating in the United States. Still, they serve a large number of students — about 3.5 million. This suggests that magnet school populations and class sizes tend to be larger than those of private schools.

Comparing Private Schools and Magnet Schools

The biggest difference you’ll notice between private schools and magnet schools is the price tag: Magnet schools are free, since they’re within the public school system, but private schools charge tuition. The average cost per year of private elementary school is $9,263, and for high school, it’s $14,017, per the Private School Review.

However, Catholic private schools tend to be lower in price. According to the National Catholic Education Association, the average cost of Catholic elementary schools is $4,400 per year, and for Catholic high school, it’s $9,840 per year.

Suggested reading: Why You Might Consider a Catholic School (Even if You’re Not Catholic)

The other major difference between private and magnet schools — that informs most of their more granular differences — is who regulates them. Magnet schools answer to the state and must adhere to their regulations. Private schools must adhere to some basic state guidelines, however they’re otherwise autonomous, meaning they have flexibility when it comes to the application process, curriculum, teacher accreditation and more.

Category Private Schools Magnet Schools
Category Costs
Private Schools Families are charged tuition
Magnet Schools No tuition to enroll
Category Funding
Private Schools Funded independently through tuition, grants, alumni, and community
Magnet Schools Publicly-funded
Category Government Regulation
Private Schools Autonomous at the federal level but must adhere to some basic state guidelines. Accreditation is optional.
Magnet Schools Regulated by the state and subject to the same standards and requirements as traditional public schools
Category Teacher Certification
Private Schools Teachers don't necessarily have to be certified
Magnet Schools All teachers must be certified by the state
Category Curriculum
Private Schools Flexibility with curriculum
Magnet Schools The curriculum has a focus such as STEM, the arts, or world languages
Category Application Process
Private Schools Application process can be rigorous, based on entrance exams and interviews
Magnet Schools Lottery is typical, though some schools require an entrance exam, interview or audition
Category Selectivity
Private Schools Can be selective about which students to enroll (e.g. all-girls schools)
Magnet Schools Cannot legally discriminate against students

Want to learn more about the private and magnet schools in your area?

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

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.