College-preparatory school

A college-preparatory school (shortened to preparatory school, prep school, or college prep) is a type of secondary school. The term can refer to public, private independent or parochial schools primarily designed to prepare students for higher education.

North America

United States

In the United States, there are public, private, and charter college preparatory schools and they can be either parochial or secular. Admission is sometimes based on specific selection criteria, usually academic, but some schools have open enrollment.[1] Fewer than 1% of students enrolled in school in the United States attend an independent, private prep school, compared to 9% who attend parochial schools and 88% who attend public schools.

Public and charter college prep schools are typically connected to a local school district and draw from the entire district instead of the closest school zone. Some offer specialized courses or curricula that prepare students for a specific field of study, while others use the label as a promotional tool without offering programs that differ from a conventional high school.[1]

The term "prep school" in the U.S. is usually associated with private, elite institutions that have very selective admission criteria and high tuition fees.[2] Prep schools can be day schools, boarding schools, or both, and may be co-educational or single-sex. Currently day schools are more common than boarding, and since the 1970s co-educational schools are more common than single-sex.[3] Unlike the public schools which are free, they charge tuition ($10,000 to 40,000+ a year in 2014)[4] Some prep schools are affiliated with a particular religious denomination. 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.[5]


In most parts of Europe, such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Scandinavia, there are state-funded secondary schools specializing in university-preparatory education. These go by many names depending on the country but may be called gymnasia, athenaea, a lycee or a liceo, depending on the nation.


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. Unlike American prep schools then, they begin after high-school graduation. The most famous French classes préparatoires are exceptionally intensive and selective, taking only the very best students graduating from high schools but generally not charging fees. Nevertheless, there exist many less prestigious classes préparatoires. As a result, 90% of the students in the scientific classes préparatoires eventually become engineers or scientists.


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.

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 tuition 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 in the jurisdiction of Berlin 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 attending a Gymnasium.[6]

However, according to a 2012 Forsa study for the Berlin Newspaper, the majority of the people in Berlin think that the performance in primary school should dictate whether or not someone can be enrolled at a Gymnasium. A total of zero percent was in favour of the lottery.[7]

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". The name comes from "Lyceum", the Latin rendering of the Ancient Greek Λύκειον ("Lykeion"), the name of a gymnasium in Classical Athens dedicated to Apollo Lyceus. This original Lyceum is remembered as the location of the peripatetic school of Aristotle.

Until 1969, the Liceo Classico was the only secondary education track that allowed a student access to any kind of Italian university, while other secondary education tracks allowed only a restricted access path; nowadays it carries the reputation of being a highly formative school, one of the few European secondary school types where the study of ancient languages and their literature are compulsory.

There are four main types of Liceo: Liceo Classico (focusing on classical subjects, such as Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek studies, and traditionally divided in two years of "Ginnasio" plus three years of "Liceo"), Liceo Scientifico (lacking Greek to devote approximately equal time to the remaining classical subjects and scientific subjects), Liceo Artistico (focusing on artistic subjects as Art History and Drawing and Liceo Linguistico (focusing on foreign languages such as French, German, Spanish, Chinese: two of these are added to the study of the mandatory language, English).

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.


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 duration (six years) and 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.


In the Slovak Republic, gymnázium is one of the school types providing secondary education that leads to the maturita exam, a prerequisite for higher education. Gymnáziums are the main school type to prepare students for tertiary education (vysoká škola).


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. It recognizes the IB diploma as academically equivalent to "Titulo de bachillerato español". 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-renowned. Each student’s performance is measured against well-defined levels of achievement and high standards of academics. 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, and the Bellver International College in Mallorca. These are internationally recognized by the IB Diploma Programme and academically ranked accordingly.

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, biology and history. The curriculum also varies from one international school to another.

In addition to disciplinary and interdisciplinary study, the Diploma Programme features three core elements that broaden students’ educational experience and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills. Students can study and take examinations, in English, French or Spanish.

United Kingdom

Notes: In the UK, "preparatory school" refers to a tuition-based school for children ages 8 to 13. In England and Wales, "public school" refers to exclusive and private, tuition-based secondary school for children ages 13 to 18.

Comprehensive schools and sixth form colleges, which are both funded by the state, prepare students for university, as do fee-paying public schools (so named as they are open to the public, as opposed to being restricted to a religious denomination). Historically grammar schools would prepare some or most of their pupils for university entrance. Most have since been converted to comprehensive schools although 233 remain in England and Northern Ireland. The only other 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.


In Turkey, university-preparatory schools are private schools and called basic lyceum(Turkish: temel lise).[note 1] They are formed in 2016 as a result of anti-cramming movement initiated by Turkish government. They are subsidised by Turkish government for conversion and to boost student enrolment.



In China, many top universities have high schools "attached" to them. The university usually admits graduate from those "attached" high schools at a higher ratio. The famous ones include The High School attached to Peking University, The High School attached to Tsinghua University, The High School attache to Fudan University, The Second High School attached to East China Normal University, and etc.

South Korea

In South Korea, many high schools designated as foreign language high or science high are often considered university-preparatory schools.[8]


Indonesian High Schools with college preparatory specialized are called Senior High School (Sekolah Menengah Atas). Most of Indonesian’s high school students have to participate in national-based University admission’s test (SBMPTN) to get an admission for a public university.


The Malaysian Higher School Certificate, or more popularly known as the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) is one of the two major pre-university systems for admission to Malaysian public universities. STPM students are housed at selected regular secondary schools and are known as Sixth Formers. The other Ministry programme is a one-year Malaysian Matriculation Programme, where students attend Matriculation Colleges. Both fall under the Ministry of Education. Candidates technically may apply for admission to degree-level courses with a variety of pre-university examinations considered equivalent with STPM, including A-Level.


In India, junior colleges substitute preparatory schools.


Aitchison College, Sadiq Public School, Cadet College Petaro, Cadet College Hasan Abdal, Army Burn Hall College, and Lawrence College Ghora Gali are notable preparatory schools in Pakistan.


The Brent International School and similar schools were founded by Americans upon the American college preparatory model in the early 20th Century during the country's American colonial period.


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

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, some schools offer the 2-year Advanced-level Matriculation Course particularly, such as Hang Seng School of Commerce, Po Leung Kuk Vicwood K. T. Chong Sixth Form College.


In Japan, prep schools are called "shin-gakkou" (進学校), which literally means a school used to progress into another school. Prep schools in Japan are usually considered prestigious and are often difficult to get into. However, there are many tiers of prep schools, the entry into which depends on the university that the school leads into.[9] Japanese prep schools started as "chu-gakkou" (中学校), secondary schools for boys, which were founded after the secondary school law in 1886. Later, "koutou-jo-gakkou" (高等女学校), secondary school for girls (1891), and "jitsugyo-gakkou" (実業学校), vocational schools (1924), were included among "chutou-gakkou" and were legally regarded as schools on the same level as school for boys, but graduates from those two types of schools had more requirements on college entrance. In the modern period, many Japanese secondary schools were five-year schools except for during a short term from 1943 to 1946. The social status of "chu-gakkou", or "kyusei chu-gakkou" (旧制中学校), secondary schools for boys under the old system, didn't disappear even after the new system (6-3-3) took effect in 1947. Plenty of "shin-gakkou" are six-year schools these days, and many of them have their origins in "kyusei chu-gakkou" and "kotou jo-gakkou", or ones attached to universities. Japanese pupils who aspire to a prep school education take written examinations when they are in sixth grade in each prep school. Other than six-year prep schools, the top municipal senior high school (three-year schools) in each school zone and some high-ranked private senior high schools (ditto) are also regarded as "shin-gakkou". In the 21st century, some trial cases that connect public junior and senior high schools are seen in each region, too, which broadens education for college entrance. As Japanese government provides grant-in-aid to private schools, the tuition is 5,000 - 10,000 US dollar per year even if it is a private school.


New Zealand

Some of the elite private and public schools in New Zealand, for example Kings College (an Anglican independent school) and Auckland Grammar School (a prestigious state-school in the elite central Auckland suburb of Epsom), profess their purpose to be the education of their students to attend university in preparation for a career in the professions or in the service of the nation.

See also


  • Peter W. Cookson Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell, Preparing For Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools (1987)
  • Adam Hochschild, Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels (Syracuse University Press, 1997), "World on a Hilltop," pp. 123–139.


  1. 1 2 Yednak, Crystal, "What does "college prep" school really mean?", GreatKids, GreatSchools, retrieved 7 Apr 2016
  2. Laneri, Raquel (29 April 2010), "America's Best Prep Schools", Forbes, archived from the original on 8 April 2016, retrieved 7 April 2016
  3. Sarah Alexander Chase, Perfectly prep: Gender extremes at a New England prep school (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  4. Lisa R. Bass, "Boarding schools and capital benefits: Implications for urban school reform." The Journal of Educational Research (2014) 107#1 pp: 16-35.
  5. Peter W. Cookson Jr, and Caroline Persell, Preparing for power: America's elite boarding schools (Basic Books, 2008).
  6. Heinz-Peter Meidinger: "Berliner Schullotterie". Profil 07-08/2009 (August 24th. 2009)
  7. Klesmann, Martin. "Forsa-Umfrage: Berliner sind gegen Schullotterie". Archived from the original on 2 March 2012.
  8. Kim, Kyung-keun, and Soo-yong Byun. "Determinants of Academic Achievement in Republic of Korea." in Korean Education in Changing Economic and Demographic Contexts (Springer Singapore, 2014) pp. 13-37.
  9. William K. Cummings, Education and equality in Japan (Princeton University Press, 2014).
  1. Turkey had a school type called generic lyceum(Turkish: genel lise), or straight lyceum(Turkish: düz lise) until 2014. Basic lyceum's curriculum resembles generic lyceum's in many regards except for electives and university preparation aspects.

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