Private School 101: Answering Common Questions

By Chris Comella, Principal of Pilgrim Lutheran School

Ask most parents in Chicago, and they’ll probably tell you that choosing where their children attend school can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and downright anxiety-provoking!  

For families who are fortunate to have a variety of options, the first major decision to tackle is whether to select a public or private school education.  Both offer specific benefits, and both can provide the “right fit” – depending on a child’s individual strengths and challenges.   

We want to help families just starting the decision-making process – or considering a switch – so we’re providing answers to some frequently asked questions about private schools! 

Are private schools more academically rigorous?  

Students at private schools typically benefit from a smaller class size and a lower teacher to student ratio.  For instance, at Pilgrim, that ratio averages 1:10 in our Early Childhood program – and 1:16 in first through eighth grades.  This enables teachers to get to know their students’ academic interests and learning styles. As a result, Pilgrim produces above average test scores and a 95-percent acceptance rate to competitive enrollment high schools.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, private school students outperform public school students on a variety of measurements. This includes fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading and math, eighth-grade writing, and the reading, writing, and math sections of the SAT. 

Is a private school education affordable?

Undoubtedly a major advantage of public school is cost. Even with fees for supplies and extracurricular activities, public schools are more budget-friendly than their private school counterparts.  Per, the average tuition for private schools in the United States during the 2016-2017 school years was $19,310.  Funding methods account for much of the disparity in cost. Public schools receive money directly from federal, state, and local governments – while private schools rely primarily on tuition, fundraising, and donors.  

At Pilgrim, we believe that high-quality education is a gift that should be accessible to all children. We work hard to keep our tuition as low as possible (currently $8,602/year for first through eighth grades).  We also offer multiple-child and other discounts, as well as scholarships and financial assistance based on need.

What type of “extras” do private schools offer for the investment? 

According to Private School Review, public schools are often prevented from spending more than a certain percentage of school funds on the Arts due to government regulations.  As private schools are not subject to these restrictions, they have more freedom to develop and expand programs that fall outside core curriculum.  Pilgrim’s “whole child” approach encourages students to explore areas beyond the primary academic subjects.  Spanish language instruction begins in PreK, and local professionals teach visual arts, music, band, and theater.  All grade levels gain cultural knowledge and a wider world view through field trips. Students enjoy visits to places like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. 

Does my family need to be religious to attend a private school? 

The majority of private school students in the United States enroll in religious affiliated schools. The National Center for Education Statistics says that – as of 2015 – only 24 percent of these students attended a secular private school.  While many families find that attending faith-based private schools aligns with their values, it’s not necessary to be affiliated with a particular religion – or even to be actively religious – to find a home at such schools. 

For instance, Pilgrim welcomes all students, regardless of faith, race, gender, or orientation. Although we practice the Lutheran tradition, half of our families do not identify with any form of religious practice. Faith development is part of the growth of our students, but we equally emphasize other characteristics as well. This includes building character qualities, nurturing social-emotional wellbeing, and helping our students successfully achieve positive roles for themselves in society. 

In the end, there are many factors that play into the decision between public and private education.  It’s important to do the research, talk to teachers, administrators and other parents. Follow your gut instincts about where you believe your child will thrive academically and socially.  

As you look into options for the 2021-22 school year, I welcome you for a personal tour of Pilgrim. This is a great opportunity to learn first-hand how we embody academic excellence with a heart in a private school setting.  You can also talk to a Parent Ambassador, who will answer all your questions, and share their Pilgrim experience with you via phone or email.  Connect with us at for more details!