Will a Christian Education Hinder an Elite College Acceptance?

Sep 13, 2019Blog

A pressing concern of parents considering a private Christian grammar and high school is whether attending this type of school will hurt their children’s chances of elite private college admission to schools such as Yale, Harvard, Berkeley or a military Service Academy.   In fact, though not true, the myth that attending public school with all of its extracurricular activities and AP classes increases the chances of elite university admission continues to be propagated. Let’s dispel this common myth. Yale’s entering class of 2021 included 37% who attended a non public school with 7% of those who attended a religious school.  Despite only educating 10% of US high school students, private schools accounted for almost 40% of Yale students!  Let’s break down why private Christian schools may raise students’ education prospects.     

Elite colleges and universities have very rigorous academic standards but they also seek candidates with similar academic achievements.  96% of entering Yale students were in the top 10% of their graduating public or private high school class. The majority had SAT scores greater than 750 and ACT scores greater than 32.  Turning to my Alma Mater, the United States Air Force Academy, the majority of students were in the top 10% of their class and had ACT scores greater than 30 and SAT scores greater than 650.  From these quick facts, we discover the majority of students were top ACT/SAT performers and were in their class’ top percentiles. 

But do private Christian schools help students accomplish these outcomes?  A Canadian research study following over 7000 15 year olds through age 23, found that private high school students scored 8-9% higher on standardized tests (like the ACT and SAT).  From this, attending a private school makes for higher test scores. The same study demonstrated that private high school students were more likely to complete college in 4 years than their public high school peers (35% to 21%).  While parental wealth and educational attainment partially explain the differences, the researchers noted that surrounding children with similar peers likely raised their educational prospects.   Private schools tend to have smaller class sizes, making it easier for high performing students to attain higher class ranks. So yes, for high performing students, attending private schools does increase the likelihood of elite university admission.

At my private Christian school, Redwood Christian, most of the 67 graduating students attended college.  My best friend went to UC Berkeley and attended the Air Force Academy. From the same school, years later, among other elite university admissions, two other individuals attended the Air Force Academy.  Importantly, this school is not known as a ‘pipeline’ school for attendance to elite universities, but like Heritage Oak School and other affiliated Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) schools, this school’s rigorous academics and low teacher to student ratios facilitated elite admission success.  

But my attendance at a private Christian School went far beyond mere academic preparation.  More important than this preparation, was the assistance Redwood Christian provided to build a comprehensive Biblical worldview.  In a university Biology class, a professor stated his goal was to teach us to “compartmentalize” our faith by essentially ignoring it when a contradiction with established “science” arose.   In other words, science held the keys to ultimate truth and all other truth, including the revealed word of Scripture, was subordinate (and could be ignored). I realized then the superiority of the Biblical worldview’s unity of knowledge, theology and philosophy to a schizophrenic compartmentalization championed by this professor.  I am confident my Christian education enabled my effective and winsome defense of Christianity throughout my college years. My gratitude to Redwood Christian for preparing me to face worldview challenges extends to this day.  

In summary, admission to elite colleges and universities is predicated on rigorous academic achievements such as test scores and class rank.  Based on demographics, attending a private school in no way hurts a student’s chances (and likely helps it). For a variety of reasons, test scores and class rank tend to be higher for attendees at private schools.  Finally, while elite college preparation is important, being prepared to defend one’s worldview is of much greater and lasting worth.


  1. Facts and Studies. Council for American Private Education. Accessed from http://www.capenet.org/facts.html on 16 Sept 2018
  2. Yale College Class of 2021 First year class profile.  Yale University. Accessed from https://admissions.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/class_profile_2021_final.pdf on 16 Sept 2018.
  3. Demographic Profile of the class of 2021.  United States Air Force Academy. Accessed from http://www.neoafapa.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/2021_-_Demographic_Profiles.224160126.pdf on 16 Sept 2018.
  4. Frenette, M. and P. Chan. 2015. Academic Outcome of Public and Private High School Students: What Lies Behind the Differences? Accessed from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/ pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2015367-eng.htm on 16 Sept 2018.
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