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.
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. Fewer than 1% of students enrolled in school in the United States attend an independent, private preparatory school, compared to 9% who attend parochial schools and 88% who attend public schools.
Public and charter college preparatory 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.
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. 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. Unlike the public schools which are free, they charge tuition ($10,000 to 40,000+ a year in 2014). 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.
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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|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, prestigious graduate schools. Unlike American prep schools, 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. As a result, 90% of the students in the scientific classes préparatoires eventually become engineers or scientists. High school graduates that attend classes préparatoires have the choice between 3 main curriculums: Science, economy or literature.
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. 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 curricula have 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 such as Art History and Drawing) and Liceo Linguistico (focusing on foreign languages such as English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese).
Other kinds of high schools, usually referred to as "technical institutes", offer the possibility of attending university but as part of their purpose of providing professional prospective after graduation.
In the Netherlands, the official term is voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs (or VWO), meaning "preparatory academic education". VWO can be either the atheneum or gymnasium variant. Identical in duration (six years) and level of education, they differ only in that 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 funded by state for both public and special (private, parental-run) schools.
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 and 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".
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 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.
- 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 called basic lyceum (Turkish: temel lise).[note 1] They formed in 2016 as a result of anti-cramming movement initiated by the Turkish government. These are subsidised by the Turkish government for conversion and to boost student enrolment.
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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.
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 dollars per year even if it is a private school.
- 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.
- Yednak, Crystal, "What does "college prep" school really mean?", GreatKids, GreatSchools, retrieved 7 April 2016
- Laneri, Raquel (29 April 2010), "America's Best Prep Schools", Forbes, archived from the original on 8 April 2016, retrieved 7 April 2016
- Sarah Alexander Chase, Perfectly prep: Gender extremes at a New England prep school (Oxford University Press, 2008)
- Lisa R. Bass, "Boarding schools and capital benefits: Implications for urban school reform." The Journal of Educational Research (2014) 107#1 pp: 16–35.
- Peter W. Cookson Jr, and Caroline Persell, Preparing for power: America's elite boarding schools (Basic Books, 2008).
- 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.
- William K. Cummings, Education and equality in Japan (Princeton University Press, 2014).
- The Independent Schools Directory (Global)
- National Association of Independent Schools
- Independent Schools Association of the Southwest
- Canadian Association of Independent Schools
- The Association of Boarding Schools