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What Is a Prep School?

While it’s possible in many states for any private school to call itself a prep school, generally speaking, a prep school is designed to better prepare students for entering post-secondary education, including the most selective colleges and universities. Of course, every high school is tasked with getting its students ready for their next steps. However, their best efforts may not be enough. Colleges are increasingly finding that their incoming freshmen are less likely to have the skills, self-awareness, and maturity that they need to succeed.  

When people think about prep schools, they often think about uniforms or boarding facilities. However, prep schools can look and feel quite different from one another. Some prep schools, like Saint John’s Prep, have a religious affiliation, while others do not. Saint John’s Prep is also open to male and female students, while others may only admit one gender. We also offer a state-of-the-art residence hall for students grades 9 – 12 who would benefit from a 5-day or 7-day boarding school experience. However, 75% of the school’s students live in the surrounding area.

While all prep schools are not the same, they tend to have similar advantages over public schools in a few key areas. Let’s explore these differences in more detail.

Prep School vs. Public School

Prep schools are typically associated with more rigorous academics than are typically found in a modern public high school. Many prep schools, including Saint John’s Prep, put a special emphasis on writing, as well as math and science. Therefore, students are better prepared to write more competitive college admission essays, as well as the research and term papers they’ll need to produce on a regular basis, depending on their major. 

Prep schools also have more freedom about how and what they teach. For example, at Saint John’s Prep, our teaching is guided by our Benedictine values. We encourage our students to develop a deeper understanding of their world and a greater sense of compassion for themselves and others. While we are very proud of our high ACT and SAT scores, we are equally proud to see our students develop a greater sense of who they are, their passions, and their unique gifts.

8 Unique Advantages of Prep Schools

While some public high schools have excellent facilities and are highly rated, prep schools offer many advantages that most public schools are unable to provide.

1. Small Class Sizes

Like many prep schools, Saint John’s Prep offers a small class size. Our average class size is 18, whereas public high schools throughout the rest of Minnesota average 29.2 students each class. With a smaller class size, students receive more individual attention from their teachers and are more likely to participate in class.  Our teachers get to know their students exceptionally well; they know their strengths, their challenges, and how and when to push them. They can also make adjustments to their course, pacing, and projects so students can be prepared for what lies ahead in their future.

2. Access to Additional Staff

In addition to benefiting from valuable interactions with their instructors, our students receive individual career and college counseling beginning in sixth grade. This allows them to connect their interests and their talents with their own long-term goals, providing excellent internal motivation to learn and grow. Education is seen as an incredible opportunity for them to pursue their dreams and not a set of meaningless exercises that must be completed.

3. Challenging Academics

As we indicated earlier, prep schools are known for providing more challenging courses than public schools. At Saint John’s Prep, our Aspire to Excellence (A2E) curriculum is designed to prepare upper school students for college either in the United States or abroad and places high value on a depth of knowledge, research, writing, critical thinking, and values. Our students can also take honors courses and AP courses, and attend classes at the College of Saint Benedict or Saint John’s University.  

4. Broader Curriculum

Private prep schools have much more freedom in how and what they teach than public schools do. At Prep, our teachers are empowered to build their students’ critical thinking skills by discussing current events and inviting discussions that include different perspectives. We don’t tell students what to think; we teach them how to think.

5. Excellent Facilities

The condition of school facilities has an enormous impact on the overall health, well-being, and cognitive function of students and staff. Prep schools typically offer impressive facilities, and offer a wider variety of athletic programs, performing and visual arts activities, as well as co-curricular activities. 

At Saint John’s Prep, students are encouraged to pursue their interests outside of the classroom so they can try new things, build community with other students, and build additional skills. We’re proud to report that 100% of our upper school (grades 9 – 12) students participate in at least one activity during the school year.

6. More Opportunities to Develop Leadership Skills and Make New Connections

In addition to our athletics, co-curricular, and fine arts programs, our school also encourages students to propose new special interest clubs. We hold a club fair every September, where students propose to lead new clubs with the help of a faculty member. 

During any school year, students might choose to launch, for example, a music appreciation club, a medical interest club, and a cup-stacking club; during the last school year, we even had a tea-drinking club. These clubs provide an excellent way for students to try new things and form new relationships in a low-stress, low-key environment. They are also excellent leadership opportunities to build their resume.

7. A Highly-Focused Classroom

At prep schools, students tend to be highly engaged in the classroom and motivated to learn. That’s certainly true at our school. Inappropriate behavior isn’t tolerated by our school staff, and it’s also not tolerated by other prep students. Because they are more confident in the classroom, they tend to speak up and regulate each other. 

Of course, students in grades 6 – 12 are still learning valuable social skills; they’ll occasionally make mistakes and experience bad days. But at Saint John’s Prep, when a student does make a mistake, they’re typically reflective and want to do better next time.

8. Option for Boarding

Many, but not all prep schools offer boarding programs. At Saint John’s Prep, we offer a day school, as well as  5- and 7-day residential options for students in grades 9 – 12 to board at the newly renovated Saint Michael Hall, which is connected to the school. While boarding is a necessity for our international students, boarding is also helpful for busy local families who would like their children to be able to pursue more co-curricular activities than their schedule allows. We have students from all over the U.S. and typically have 10 – 15 countries represented in our residence hall in any given year!

Benefits of a Boarding School

While Saint John’s Prep welcomes a mix of day and boarding students, and the boarding school experience isn’t the right fit for every student and every family, boarding offers many unique benefits for students. .


Our role at Prep is to support parents in raising their child. In addition to keeping our students safe, we are also committed to helping our students grow and develop good habits. At Saint Michael Hall, we have full-time college-educated adult staff who are experienced with young people and work collaboratively to create a respectful, healthy, and safe living community.

A Comfortable Learning Environment

One misconception people may have about boarding schools is that their facilities are austere; however, many incorporate all of the comforts of home without all of the distractions that make it especially difficult for young minds to focus. 

Our residence hall is fully equipped with flat-screen TVs, a community lounge, computers with internet access, laundry facilities, and kitchens, so students can still bond with their peers in much the same way they did prior to boarding.  

Our boarding students have more structured evenings and weekends, with a good balance of study and recreation. Our residence hall has plenty of great places for study groups to meet, but our students can also take advantage of the Saint John’s University library, which is just a stroll away.  


Boarding school often provides students with an easy stepping stone toward independent living. By the time they go to college, they will already have taken on more adult responsibilities, and learned organizational and time management skills. When they graduate, they will have the life skills necessary to make the transition to college much easier. In fact, when we survey our recent alums, many of them comment on how well they were prepared — much better than their peers. Some have even said that their freshman year was easy compared to their senior year at Prep!

Opportunities for Deeper Friendships

At Saint John’s Prep, our resident and day students get many opportunities to bond and interact outside the classroom. Our boarding students also have the opportunity to go on various outingstrips throughout the year, that may includeing professional sporting events, music concerts, skiing, camping, ethnic restaurants, professional theatre, and shopping.

What to Ask a Prep School

Which Secondary Schools Do Your Graduates Attend? 

Because in many states, any school can call itself a prep school, it’s helpful to understand the school’s college acceptance rate, and which institutions these students attend. At Prep, we are proud of our 100% college acceptance rate among students who choose to apply, and we provide a full list of the colleges and universities our students have been accepted to in the past five years.

How Do Your Students Perform on the SAT and ACT? 

While we don’t focus solely on these tests when we teach, they are obviously important, especially for students looking to enter highly selective colleges and universities. Last year, our students had an ACT composite average score of 28, versus the statewide average of 20. Our students also excelled in the SAT, with a reading/writing mean of 671 and a math mean of 702.

Apart From Test-Taking, How Do You Prepare Students? 

Excellent test scores are helpful, but students entering college today are often at a loss as to where those test scores are really leading them. 20% – 50% of incoming students are undecided on a major, and 75% will change it at least once. At Saint John’s Prep, our students start to identify career goals, interests, and strengths early, so they can enter their next phase of education with a better idea of what they’re working towards.

Does Your School Offer Honors, AP, or IB courses? 

Honors and Advanced Placement classes look good on paper, but depending on the school, they may not actually differ from regular high school classes. It’s always a good idea to verify that these courses are actually challenging; one way is to find out how well students enrolled in AP classes do on related AP exams. At Saint John’s Prep, our newly-enhanced A2E curriculum was developed after consulting some of the most selective colleges and universities across the country. We offer AP and honors courses, and our students can also attend classes at the College of Saint Benedict or Saint John’s University.  

Is a Prep School Worth It?

It’s a myth that prep schools offer some kind of “automatic advantage” when it comes to college admission. Admission staff do not automatically give preference to prep school graduates, and they understand that talent, discipline, and intelligence can come from anywhere. They are ultimately trying to bring together a diverse student body that they believe will succeed at their school.

However, many within the education field are finding that public schools are failing to prepare students for secondary education; admission professionals have reported that many public school graduates lack critical thinking skills, self-awareness, and maturity, and lag behind prep school graduates in science and math. So while a prep school diploma isn’t some kind of golden ticket to an Ivy League school, and many public high schools provide challenging courses and excellent facilities, a prep school will help your child become a stronger candidate for highly selective secondary schools. 

At any rate, the concern behind this question is often one of cost. At Saint John’s Prep, we aspire to admit students who demonstrate academic promise, leadership, and extracurricular and community service interests, regardless of their families’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ways to Make Prep School More Affordable

There are many ways to make a prep school experience affordable for your family. In addition to work-study opportunities and merit-based scholarships, we also offer interest-free payment plans and variable tuition rates. To calculate what tuition rates might be for your family, we have created a simple tuition calculator.

It’s also important to note that, unlike some private prep schools, our experiential learning opportunities and co-curricular activities are included at no additional cost.

Is Prep the Right Fit?

The best school for any child is the one that provides them with the best education within an environment that helps them be their best selves. 

Fortunately, there’s a relatively easy way to find out if a prep school might be a good fit, and that’s to schedule a visit. At Saint John’s Prep, we offer different types of campus visits. In addition to exploring our 2,900-acre campus, your child can get to know our faculty and connect with other students who share their interests. Our staff can help you plan a campus visit that will help you and your child get a feel for our community, and how our values work together to create thoughtful, kind leaders and inspire lifelong learning. 

Schedule a Visit