Private vs. Public: How to Choose
Sept. 28, 2020

Private primary and secondary education has been an option for families in the United States for hundreds of years. In fact, our nation’s first private schools were Catholic, founded by Spanish and French missionaries. Ursuline Academy of New Orleans was founded all the way back in 1727!

The Boston Latin School opened in 1635, and is known as the first public school in the United States. It wasn’t until the 1840s when American education reformers Horace Mann and Henry Barnard pushed for free, compulsory education for all. Their adopted model still exists nearly 200 years later. And so, in 2020, American parents and students continue to have a choice.

Of course, some parents don’t think twice about whether to send their children to private school or their local or choice public school; they know exactly what they want for their children. Those choosing private schools often seek an environment that is safe, likely has smaller class sizes, and provides a community of focused and like-minded students and parents. Those choosing Catholic schools also value religious education, as well as faith development through prayer, worship, spiritual retreats, and service learning.

Other parents, however, wrestle with this decision. Recently we asked parents of students who transferred from public schools to Notre Dame to tell us what led them to make the change. We thought a window into their decision-making process might help other parents grappling with the same critical choice. A sampling of their responses follows.

Before you moved your child(ren) to Notre Dame, why did you choose public school?

  • “We chose to send our kids to a local public school because we heard good things about their developing curriculum at the time. They were just beginning the implementation of the IB program across all grades. It was also part of our community, so we wanted to build off that with activities for our family, like sports.”
  • “We wanted them to go to school with the other kids in the neighborhood and be part of the local community. We moved to Rochester specifically for the good public school system.”
  • We wanted to save money so we could send our child to private school for later years.”

When considering a move to Notre Dame/private schooling, what were you hoping you would find that was lacking in your public school experience?

  • “The two main driving factors to move were Notre Dame’s Christian mission—and application of that mission in its culture—and smaller class sizes. Notre Dame also has an excellent reputation for academics and extracurricular activities.”
  • “Smaller class sizes, character building and life-skill development, integrating faith-based lessons with daily life, technology.”
  • “Challenge in academics, academic offerings, school/parent partnership, close community.”

What do you think are the benefits of public education?

  • “Diversity, low cost, high educational standard for self-starting students.”
  • “It’s a glimpse into the real world: different religions, beliefs, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. Kids with special needs are mainstreamed into public school, and I think that’s good for all kids.”
  • “The money saved from not having to pay for private school education allowed funds for extracurriculars and travel.”

What do you think are the benefits of private education?

  • “High expectations, uniforms, service to families and students. (At our) public school (it) felt like kids were lost in the shuffle of hundreds of children.”
  • “Small class sizes. Better attention to students’ needs. Better communication with parents. A sense of place and belonging for the students and parents.”
  • “Clear expectations set by school and staff to family and students, and opportunities to establish stronger student-teacher relationships. Teachers can play a large role as mentors.”

What do you think are the benefits of Catholic education specifically?

  • “We like how the Christian mission of the school compliments our teaching at home. It is a consistent message. We also like the awareness it brings to the day-to-day environment. Having a religion course as part of the curriculum helps the students explore their own belief system and curiosities.”
  • “In a time (when) kids experience a lot of outside influence and noise, sometimes the strongest voice of all can easily become lost or ignored. Catholic education is a reminder that God is present in every moment.”
  • “I think it instills morals and values for life.”

Since Aug. 1, Notre Dame has enrolled 60 new students. Forty-five of those transferred from public schools. We asked the families of those students what impact COVID-19 made on their decisions. Of those who responded, 50 percent told us that COVID-19 had minimal impact, that they already were thinking about making a move. Twenty-five percent said COVID-19 made no impact on their decision, that the pandemic did not in any way affect their decision. The other 25 percent said it made a great impact, that they would not have made this move otherwise.

Deciding between public and private/Catholic school can present a challenge for some families. As in most things, there are pros and cons on both sides. At Notre Dame, we believe the positives of Catholic education are myriad, the greatest of which is a sense of belonging to a Christian community that values every person and cares about their formation as Christians, citizens and scholars.

If you would like to explore Notre Dame as an option for your child, we invite you to call our Office of Admissions at 248-373-1061, or email You also can complete an inquiry form here.

We hope you will join us for an upcoming session of our Virtual Admissions Series, which continues with a Notre Dame Prep (9-12) Admissions Preview on Tuesday, Oct. 6. We will follow that up with a virtual event focused on Notre Dame Middle School on Thursday, Oct. 8, and another on Notre Dame Lower School on Tuesday, Oct. 13. All three hourlong sessions will start at 2 p.m.

Finally, we encourage you to check back for future blogs related to the importance of diversity in a school community; comparisons of co-ed and single-sex schools; and questions parents should ask while researching schools.

We look forward to engaging with you!

Notre Dame Office of Admissions