University-preparatory school

University-preparatory school

A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (also known as tertiary preparation and usually abbreviated to preparatory school, college prep school, tertiary prep, or prep school) is a secondary school, usually private, designed to prepare students for a college or university education. Some schools will also include a junior, or elementary, school. This designation is mainly current in North America. In many parts of Europe, such as Germany, the countries of former Austria-Hungary, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, secondary schools specializing in college-preparatory education are called gymnasia and/or in some countries athenaea. College prep schools are usually a secondary school along with work for a host school, to help get in to a desired college. Most students attend a college-preparatory school but also accomplish the host schools work for a high school diploma.


North America

United States and Canada

College preparatory schools in the United States and Canada, commonly referred to as prep schools, are private independent secondary schools, funded by tuition fees and philanthropic donations and governed by independent boards of trustees. Prep schools may be day schools or boarding schools, or both, and may be co-educational or single-sex; however in both the United States and Canada, day schools are more common than boarding, and co-educational schools are more common than single-sex.

Top-tier prep schools are known for their selective admissions process, challenging academics, and reputations for sending students to highly selective colleges and universities. Tuition fees at some top-tier prep schools are comparable to the costs of attending an Ivy League university. (For example, the tuition at the Brearley School in New York City and the Hopkins School in Connecticut, both day schools, is just over $30,000 (USD) while tuition for students who board at the Groton School, Deerfield Academy, Tabor Academy (all of Massachusetts), Salisbury School and Lawrenceville School is up to an additional $15,000 (USD) on top of that.) The financial resources of private preparatory schools allow for sizable investments in facilities and equipment, hiring highly-qualified, experienced teachers with advanced degrees, and retaining these teachers in tenured positions. Top-tier prep schools often have sizable endowments, which finance scholarships permitting demographic heterogeneity.

Among the principal benefits of prep schools is a very low student-to-teacher ratio, hence, smaller class sizes than in public schools, often only 8 to 12 students per class. Like public high schools, most prep schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and many offer a large number of other advanced courses, such as IB (International Baccalaureate), beyond those typically found at a public high school.

The schools generally address all aspects of the "well rounded" person. This honors the classical ideal that is expressed in the Latin phrase, "Mens sana in corpore sano" ("A sound mind in a sound body") by providing rigorous academics and a strong emphasis on athleticism (see The Ten Schools Admissions Organization, Independent School Leagues or Ivy Preparatory School League). Many prep schools require students to participate in one or more of the school's sports team and some require students to participate in a sport during all three athletic seasons. Prep schools also provide many other activities, such as elaborate plays and musicals, and many other clubs and leadership opportunities that prepare the students for college.

Fewer than 1% of students enrolled in school in the United States attend an independent private preparatory school, a small fraction compared with the 9% who attend parochial schools and 88% who attend public schools. Some independent preparatory schools are affiliated with a particular religion or denomination, although unlike parochial schools, independent preparatory schools are not governed by a religious organization, and students are usually not required to receive instruction in one particular religion. While independent prep schools in the United States are not subject to government oversight or regulation, they are accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies for educational institutions.

A few prep schools have highly competitive, very selective admission processes. The Hun School of Princeton, Sidwell Friends School, The Peddie School, Western Reserve Academy, Milton Academy, Noble and Greenough School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Phillips Academy, Holland Hall, The Winsor School, Rutgers Preparatory School, Deerfield Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon School, The Loomis Chaffee School, Brunswick School, Faith Preparatory, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, The Birch Wathen Lenox School, The Hotchkiss School, Greenwich Academy, The Lawrenceville School, The Hill School, Harvard-Westlake School, Marlborough School (Los Angeles), Marymount High School, Georgetown Preparatory School, Cranbrook Kingswood School, University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, Canterbury School[disambiguation needed ], Groton School, The Hockaday School, St. John's School, Middlesex School, Hopkins School, Porter-Gaud School, Concord Academy, Buckingham Browne & Nichols, Sacred Heart Preparatory, Delbarton School St. Paul's School, St. Mark's School (Massachusetts), St. Mark's School (Texas), Mercersburg Academy, Menlo School, Pembroke Hill School, The Pingry School, Roxbury Latin, Salisbury School, Tabor Academy, Trinity-Pawling, Taft School, Trinity School[disambiguation needed ] and Kent School, Westminster School all have admission rates for their upper schools consistently under 30%.[citation needed] The application and attendance to these select top-tier schools is arduous, challenging and not open to all.

Recently, a group of 20 highly selective preparatory schools in the English speaking world was founded, namely The G20 Schools group. Participating schools in the United States include The Hotchkiss School, Phillips Exeter Academy, Phillips Academy, Harvard-Westlake School, Marymount High School, Deerfield Academy, The Lawrenceville School, and Buckingham Browne & Nichols.

The classic idea and image of the college preparatory school in the United States derives from New England prep schools, which are the oldest and most famous prep schools in the country.

Notable prep school graduates include U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and other prominent figures such as John McCain, Al Gore, John Kerry, James Baker, Howard Dean, Daniel Webster, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, William Randolph Hearst, Benno C. Schmidt, Jr., Edward Harkness, Bill Gates, Jimmy Wales, Walter Annenberg, Cyrus Vance, Ted Danson and Ben Brown[disambiguation needed ].

Columbia International College is Canada's largest boarding prep school, with more than 1,400 students from over 60 countries in the world.

Within Canada, the oldest university-preparatory schools include Ridley College, Upper Canada College, Branksome Hall School and Havergal College in Toronto, St. John's-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg, King's-Edgehill School in Windsor, and Lower Canada College and Selwyn House School in Montreal. Also Stanstead College, which pre-dates most of the schools listed here for Canada. Also Bishop's College School.



In France, certain private or public secondary schools offer special post-secondary classes called classes préparatoires, equivalent in level to the first years of university, for students who wish to prepare for the competitive exams for the entrance in the Grandes écoles. French classes préparatoires are exceptionally intensive and selective, taking only the very best students graduating from high schools but generally not charging fees.


A Gymnasium (plural: Gymnasien) is a particular type of school in Germany and other countries in Europe, with the goal to prepare its pupils to enter a university. According to the PISA examination the Gymnasium is the best school form in the world, because it is by far the number one in the PISA league table.[1] However some hold the opinion that "that this success came at the cost of a catastrophe in the Hauptschulen".[2]

The γυμνάσιον (gymnasion) of Ancient Greece was a place for physical and eventually also intellectual education of young men. The later meaning of intellectual education persisted in German and other languages, whereas in English, the older meaning of physical education was retained. The German Gymnasien are selective and competitive schools. They enroll students after completing 4th or 6th grade (depending on the "Bundesland", i.e., state) and prepare them for college. The vast majority of Gymnasien is public and does not charge tution fees. Article 7, Paragraph 4 of the German constitution, forbids segregation of students according to the means of their parents (the so called Sondierungsverbot). Therefore, most private Gymnasien have rather low tuition fees and/or offer scholarships.

Recently, there has been some debate about the Gymnasium and some people put forward the opinion that the Gymnasien are not enrolling enough students from non-east-Asian immigrant families and from working class and lower class families. As a result of that discussion, the Senate of Berlin ruled that the Gymnasien should only be able to pick 70% to 65% of their students, the other places at the Gymnasien are to be allocated by lottery. Every child will be able to enter the lottery, no matter how he or she performed in primary school. It is hoped that this policy will increase the number of lower and working class students atteding a Gymnasium.[3]

Germany's oldest Gymnasien include Gymnasium Paulinum (founded around 797), Gymnasium Theodorianum (founded in 799) and Gymnasium Carolinum (founded in 804).


In Italy, there are several kinds of high schools, both public and private, whose curriculum has as a primary aim the preparation for university. These are called "Liceo", plural "Licei". Other kind of high schools, usually referred to as "technical institutes", also offer the possibility to attain university after graduation, although they also form students to have some kind of professional prospective after graduation. There are four main types of Licei: Liceo Classico (focusing on classical subjects, such as Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek studies), Liceo Scientifico (lacking Greek to devote approximately equal time to the remaining classical subjects and scientific subjects), Liceo Artistico and Liceo Linguistico.


In the Netherlands, the official terminology is voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs (or vwo) meaning "preparatory academic education". The vwo is divided into the atheneum and gymnasium. These are identical in level of education, except that the gymnasium includes Latin and Ancient Greek as compulsory subjects in the first few years, and a pupil must include at least one of these classical languages in his final exams. In the Netherlands, education is usually public.


The International Baccalaureate's Diploma Programme in Spain was created in 1968. It is a demanding pre-university course of study that leads to examinations. It is designed for highly motivated secondary school students aged 16 to 19. The programme has earned a reputation for rigorous assessment, giving IB diploma holders access to the world’s leading universities. The Diploma Programme is rigorous and is world renown. Each student’s performance is measured against well-defined levels of achievement. These are consistent from one examination session to the next and are applied equally to all schools. The International Baccalaureate has shown that students are well prepared for university work. They are accepted by universities in more than 110 countries.

One school is the Academy School in the Balearic Islands, which is a member of the National Association of British Schools in Spain. It is inspected regularly both by British Inspectors and Inspectors from the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. Among other prestigious schools are the Hastings School in Madrid, the Caxton College in Valencia, and the Bellver International College in Mallorca.

The International Preparatory Schools are ranked and recognised by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) and all teach a minimum level of Spanish language, science, literature, geography and history. The curriculum also varies from one international school to another.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the concept of a university preparatory school has never existed as such. In British usage a preparatory school, more commonly "prep school", is an independent private fee paying school that a student attends prior to the move to senior school, and thus has nothing directly to do with university entrance. The only institutions specialising in university entrance are crammers for (usually) privately educated pupils who have failed to gain entrance to their university of choice directly from school, and whose parents are willing to pay for a year of specialist tuition to give them a second chance, but no-one attends these as a first choice option.

Historically independent secondary schools ("public schools" in British usage), and (mainly state sector) grammar schools would prepare some or most of their pupils for university entrance, though this was not explicitly their mission. With the introduction of comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s, all secondary schools had a responsibility, at least in theory, to prepare their more academically able pupils for university entrance (unless they were located in one of the relatively small number of places where state secondary schools only cater for under 16s, and sixth form colleges are responsible for the academic education of 16–18 year olds). In practice, in the late 20th century, some comprehensives in working class areas actually sent very few students to university. In the early 21st century, with the expansion of university education, most secondary schools are sending significant numbers of pupils to university: a school that does not do so risks being classified as a "failing school" and closed or placed in special measures.



Korean Minjok Leadership Academy Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies


The Habib Public School is a notable preparatory school system in Pakistan.


In Singapore, prep schools for universities are known as "junior colleges".

See also

School.svg Schools portal


  1. ^ Wetzlar Kurier. 6. Januar 2006. "Einheitsschulen — das falsche Rezept für PISA"
  2. ^ Jan-Martin Wiarda: "A new class of education". Guardian. 21 September 2009 [1]
  3. ^ Heinz-Peter Meidinger: "Berliner Schullotterie". Profil 07-08/2009 (August 24th. 2009)


  • Adam Hochschild, Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels (Syracuse University Press, 1997), "World on a Hilltop," pp. 123–139.

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