Public vs private high schools in Connecticut: Which is the better value?

private vs public schools in connecticut

You want your bright, ambitious, kiddo to get into Harvard, right? So what’s the better deal: spend more on a house in an area with top-notch public schools? Or, live in a less pricey area and pony up for a fancy private high school? 

We set out to answer that question. We legit wanted (needed) to know: we’ve got kids and about half our company lives near Fairfield County, Connecticut (Tomo HQ is in Stamford, btw). Our boss Greg has his own kids in one of these schools and we were a little afraid doing this math would earn him some dirty looks at the next basketball game. But it was time to turn our lives into spreadsheets and see what happened. 

We found that when you get past the sticker shock on the top private schools, and start to factor these expenses against the all-in costs of a new home in areas like Greenwhich or Westport, one of those $50,000 top-tier private schools might even look like a bargain?

How we crunched the numbers

We looked at college “commitment” data from each of the schools in Fairfield County, compared it to their class size, and then figured out the odds of a grad going to an elite college or university. You can see the full list of the Connecticut schools that give you the best odds of getting into an Ivy League school here

Then, we looked at median single-family home value for each of these areas (this data is from January 2024), estimated the costs of insurance and taxes, and finally broke it down again by assuming 20% down and the going 30-year fixed mortgage rate for someone with good credit (as of Feb 29, 2024). 

Finally, we looked at which was the better value: paying to live in an area with great public schools, or sending your kids to private school and living in an area with more affordable homes in Fairfield County (a blended average of Bethel, Danbury, Norwalk, and Fairfield). 

So, what’s the best deal?

All our kids are brilliant and will no doubt go anywhere and do anything. But… with an economist’s hat on, when you sort by the “commitment rate” at the top schools (i.e., it doesn’t count all the kids who might be on a waitlist somewhere and haven’t locked in a favorite school just yet), Sacred Heart in Greenwich (an all-girls school), rises right to the top of the list by a pretty wide margin. And, since you don’t have to pay a small fortune to live somewhere like Greenwich, the 4-year total cost is actually lower than sending your kids to public schools.

High SchoolHousing
Elite College
Commit Rate
Sacred Heart Greenwich$46,451$54,70038.7%
Greens Farm Academy$46,451$53,78027.6%
King School (Stamford)$46,451$47,63023.6%
Greenwich Country Day$46,451$54,98016.7%
St Lukes (New Canaan)$46,451$54,96016.6%
Darien HS$142,98910.8%
Weston HS$87,9939.3%
Greenwich HS$163,1248.9%
Staples HS (Westport)$135,9568.4%
New Canaan HS$145,2807.3%
Fairfield Warde HS$53,5784.2%
Fairfield Ludlowe HS$82,1663.8%
Wilton HS$82,4003.7%
Westhill HS (Stamford)$63,5342.8%
St Josephs (Trumball)$46,451$18,7502.2%
Fairfield High Prep School$46,451$25,1502.0%
Stamford HS$62,2931.9%
Danbury HS$38,5331.2%
Immaculate High School$46,451$20,0051.2%
Norwalk HS$50,2671.2%
Bethel HS$43,4250.4%
*Housing costs reflect the median single-family home value in Jan 2023. Private school housing costs use an average of housing costs in Bethel, Danbury, Norwalk, and Fairfield.

The same thing holds true for several of the other top private high schools in the area, like Greens Farm Academy and King School. But the private school edge starts to diminish a bit when you see the success of some public schools like Weston High School—roughly comparable rate of success as a school like Greenwich Country Day, at about $30,000 less cost over four years. And some of the lower cost private schools like Immaculate High School, St. Joseph’s, and Fairfield Prep have no real advantage at all. You’d be better off living in an area zoned for Fairfield Warde or saving a lot more and living in Danbury. 

Here’s another way to look at the same data. Where the green line jumps above the bars, you’re looking at a great financial option.

cost of connecticut high schools vs acceptance rate in ivy league schools

Now, let’s start gambling a bit with our kids’ future—what schools rise to the top in this balance of “most likely to get into an elite college” and “most cost effective for the family.” We did some weighted scoring to identify the top-five high schools in three different scenarios:  

RankIf you mostly want
the lowest cost
If you mostly want
the best colleges
If you want
a balance of both
1Danbury HSSacred HeartSacred Heart
2Bethel HSGreens FarmGreens Farm
3Norwalk HSKing SchoolKing School
4Fairfield WardeGreenwich
Country Day
Danbury HS
5Sacred HeartSt. Luke’sFairfield Warde

Or, to think about this a different way: let’s say we wanted to buy some 1-in-100 odds raffle tickets to get our kid into a college like Brown or University of North Carolina. How much would each high school charge for one of these elite college raffle tickets?

That’s what we’re looking at in the chart below. If you want your kid to have a 1% chance of getting into an elite college, here’s what it’ll cost you over four years of high school. 

To put it in terms your kids will understand: if you were to go to Bethel High School, and you wanted a 1% chance of getting into an elite college, it’ll cost you about the same as buying 12,000 Stanley Tumblers.

So, is it better to go public or private?

We know, choosing the right community for you and your family is about a lot more than the schools. And a great school is about a lot more than which college you can get into. And not every kid gets into one of these elite high schools—they can be as challenging to get into as some of these universities. And even incredibly smart and talented kids with all the extra-curriculars and everything else still don’t get into some of these elite colleges. And the elite colleges themselves aren’t the only places you can get a great education (though, as Forbes points out, they do help you earn more money). And we’ll set aside questions of access and equity and admissions practices for another time (lots to unpack there).

But if you want to give your kids the best chance of success later in life, you’ll want to love and accept and support them in all the things they want to do, but maybe consider alternatives to the “top rated” school districts. The math might work out for you.

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