Back to School: Is Private School Worth the Price?
The college admissions scandal of 2019 highlighted the ways that elite private school students are using their resources to secure admission to top tier colleges. This week we focus on whether going to private high schools really improves your chances of getting into a top tier college. And if so, what colleges enroll the most private school students?
Prior to 2005 only 40% of the students at top 20 universities were from public schools, but since then there has been a steady increase to 60%.
The top 100 universities show a wide range of differences in the percentage of students from public high schools. Below, we show the relationship between the prestige of the universities and the share of students at the university from public schools. There is a clear trend that shows that the higher ranked universities have a proportionally lower share of public school students enrolled. Universities above the trend line have more public school students than their peers, and universities below the line have less public school students than their peers. For example, schools like Caltech and UCLA are ranked in the top 20, but enroll about 80% of their students from public schools.
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Many colleges enroll a majority of their students from private schools. The figure below shows the 25 US universities that enroll the lowest percentage of students from public schools. Among the most elitist institutions, there are many Ivy League schools that recruit more than half of their student body from private schools.
On the flip side, when we break down the high schools whose students have the highest probability of attending the top 20 colleges, Hunter College High School is the only public school among them. Notably, most on the list are prep schools in New York City.
- The share of public high school graduates that enroll in top universities has been rising since 2005, but it still remains low.
- The higher ranking the college, the more private school students they typically enroll. Caltech and UCLA are outliers among highest ranking universities in terms of admitting more public school students.
- NYC prep schools appear to have the best placement among high schools, confirming the stereotype popularized by shows like Gossip Girl. Hunter College High School in NYC is the only public high school represented in this list.