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Exploring Private High Schools in New York City

Competition for top schools is significant, but so are the rewards.

Glen Justice | Wednesday, February 16, 2022, at 9:48 a.m.

For most New York families, the attraction to private high school centers around college admission and readiness. Parents and students are looking for the rigorous academics, robust extracurriculars and professional counseling that provide an edge on college applications. (Getty Images)

In New York City, home to some of the most cutting-edge – and expensive – private high schools in the country, consultants say interest in private education has expanded in the wake of the pandemic.

“In response to COVID, we saw an uptick in private school applications and an uptick in the number of public-school families who are making a transition to private school,” says Whitney Shashou, founder and president of Admit NY, an educational consultancy.

For most New York families, the attraction to private high school centers around college admission and readiness. Parents and students are looking for the rigorous academics, robust extracurriculars and professional counseling that provide an edge on college applications. Many are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in annual tuition and thousands more to consultants who can help find the right high school and increase students’ chances of getting in.

Other families are simply looking for a better education for their children, with smaller class sizes, personalized instruction, and in-person learning when public schools were remote.

“We definitely had clients who made the switch,” says Tamar Lindenfeld, founder of Chalkdust Inc., which provides tutoring, supplemental learning and academic consulting. “During COVID, they were so disappointed with how their public school dealt with virtual or hybrid education, and they just felt like their child was not getting what they needed. Private schools pivoted and pivoted really well.”

Competition for admission to private high schools in New York City has always been high. But for those who get in, proponents say the educational opportunities are difficult to match.

“You can’t really compare the level of education received from a top private New York City school to any other school in the country,” says Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education. “You just can’t.”

New York’s top private high schools regularly send graduates to Ivy League colleges (although so do its elite public high schools, like Stuyvesant). For example, The Brearley School, a well-known K-12 girls school in Manhattan, sent 28 students to Harvard University between 2017 and 2021.

“A lot of it is college readiness,” Shashou says. “It’s having access to interesting course opportunities, unique community service initiatives, programs and travel abroad learning experiences that you may not get access to in a public school.”

On the downside, admissions experts note that universities are only going to take so many students from a single high school. A larger pool of accomplished students means more competition for slots at top colleges.

“In the past, more parents thought that if you attended an elite private school in Manhattan, that your chances are significantly higher at getting into an Ivy League school,” Rim says. “Now, that’s simply just not the case. You have to do a lot of work on top of that. Grades and test scores are just not enough. You have to go above and beyond. And I think more and more parents are realizing that now.”

As is the case in many major cities, the primary barrier to private education in New York City is the price tag. Average private high school tuition in New York State is about $22,500 a year, according to the Education Data Initiative, and in the city it can be more than twice that. At the Horace Mann School, for instance, high school tuition is more than $57,000 a year, according to the school.

Of course, financial aid is available at most schools. At Horace Mann, for example, about 15% of students receive assistance totalling about $12 million a year, according to the school. But many consultants say that, in New York, there is no shortage of ultra-wealthy families willing not only to pay full tuition, but to donate money for scholarships and school improvements on top of that.

“For these families, paying $50,000 is really not an issue at all,” Rim says.

Plenty of families do not fit that profile, but there’s no guarantee that they will receive help. One common scenario is families who have enough money to live in New York City, but not so much that they can comfortably afford tuition. Yet those same families may have trouble qualifying for need-based financial aid.

“You’re making a decent living, but … you may not actually qualify for financial aid because you’re making too much,” Lindenfeld says. “It puts you in this weird middle ground.”

Private High Schools in New York City

For those looking to explore private high schools in New York City, here’s a sample of what’s available:

  • Avenues: The World serves about 1,750 students from nursery school to 12th grade. In addition to New York, the school has campuses in Brazil and China and has a campus set to open in Silicon Valley.
  • The Brearley School is an all-girls K-12 school serving about 770 students, including about 255 in high school. About 60% of the student body are students of color and the student-to-teacher ratio is 6-to-1.
  • The Browning School is an all-boys school serving about 400 students in grades K-12. The student-to-teacher ratio is 7-to-1. The school’s 62nd Street campus is “422 steps” from New York’s Central Park.
  • The Dalton School is a K-12 school serving about 1,325 students. The student-to-teacher ratio is 7-to-1. Dalton also features about 80 clubs and activities in high school and 50 sports teams in middle school and high school.
  • Horace Mann School is a PK-12 school serving about 1,790 students, including about 735 in high school. The school has two campuses in New York, as well as the 320-acre John Dorr Nature Laboratory in Bethlehem, Connecticut, which serves as an outdoor education center.
  • Lycée Français de New York is a PK-12 school offering bilingual education in French and English. The school receives more than 150 visits from artists and authors every year.
  • Riverdale Country School is a PK-12 school serving about 1,200 students. The student body represents more than 70 nationalities. The school has a student-to-teacher ratio of 5-to-1.
  • Rye Country Day School is a PK-12 school serving about 940 students, including about 430 in high school. The student-to-teacher ratio is 7-to-1 and the average class size in high school is 15.
  • Trinity School serves about 1,040 students in grades K-12. The school, founded in 1709, has a student-to-teacher ratio of 13-to 1.
  • The Winchendon School serves about 330 boarding and day students in grades 9-12. With an average class size of eight, the school offers two campuses: one in New York City and one in Winchendon, Massachusetts.

US World News

Originally published on U.S. News & World Report on Feb 16, 2022

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