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San Francisco Schools

Public or Private?

As both a parent and the writer and publisher of several books on choosing schools, I recommend parents consider both public and private schools in San Francisco. The City has a wide variety of both, including public magnet schools and charter schools.

Choosing a school is both an art and a skill. The skill involves research, stamina, and perseverance through both the public and private school selection process (and consideration of what is best for your child and what will best meet your expectations as parents). The art is being able to sense what school both you and your child will be comfortable in.

Private school admission in San Francisco is quite competitive in terms of the numbers of applications schools receive. Private independent schools are usually somewhat more competitive in that regard than private parochial schools. All private schools look for children who will succeed in their programs and families who will support their particular educational philosophy (and not expect to change it). So if you are looking at private schools it is very important to find a school that meets your educational philosophy (and if you don't have one yet, you should do some soul-searching and ask what you expect from a school). You must also have confidence in the administration.

Parochial schools in San Francisco, such as Catholic parish schools, cost approximately $3,000-$4,000 per year for K-8 and $8,000 for high school. Private independent schools charge around $13,000 for elementary (K-8) and up to $20,000 a year for high school. In addition to tuition, parents need to budget for fees, after-school care in elementary school, and (nearly automatic) tuition increases of approximately 6% a year. Schools often fundraise aggressively and some schools have an expectation that each family will donate to the annual fund. (It is unethical for schools to solicit donations from parents who have applied to the school and are awaiting decisions.) Nearly all private independent schools have financial aid. Some give sizable grants that result in a more socioeconomically diverse student body; other schools give many small grants that help out families who could "almost" afford the school without the grant. Because of high tuitions and selective admission, private schools tend to have a narrower range of students than public school in terms of ability, behavior, and sometimes ethnic and socioeconomic background. They usually have fewer resources for children with disabilities than public schools.

Think about what you want for your child, then find as many schools as possible that could provide that and that meet your needs in terms of cost, location, single sex or co-ed, religious affiliation, etc. Visit every school, public and private, that meets your criteria. Based on your visits you will narrow it down. Apply to those. I always recommend that parents applying to private schools for their children have a public school "backup."

The school admission season begins in the fall of the year prior to the academic year your child will start. (Thus, for kindergarten, when your child is four.)

Susan Vogel
Author, Private Schools of San Francisco & Marin Counties (K-8)
Private High Schools of the San Francisco Bay Area

  • Pince-Nez Press: Susan Vogel has researched and published an extremely useful series of books describing and rating Bay Area private schools, as well as books on finding nannies and preschools. Any parent considering private schools should read these books. pince-nez.com
  • School Wise Press: A commercial website with particularly good performance indices for schools and good coverage of California education-related news. schoolwisepress.com
  • GreatSchools.net: A well researched nonprofit online guide to both public and private schools, K-8. greatschools.net
  • GoKid.org: A community-based website created by a group of SF moms. Very good resource for advice, events, and ideas. gokid.org

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