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How Much Does High School Cost?

Last Updated on January 28, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

The cost of high school education can vary widely depending on whether you attend a public or private school. While public schools are free, private schools can be quite expensive with tuition fees ranging from $10,000 to over $50,000 per year.

Even attending a public school comes with costs for supplies, activities, transportation and more. Understanding the full range of expenses is important for budgeting and financial planning.


The cost of high school education can vary widely, but being aware of the expenses involved allows families to plan and budget accordingly. Here are some key takeaways:

  • For public school, expect to spend at least $2,500 per year on supplies, activities, transportation and other costs.
  • Private school tuitions range from $10,000 to over $50,000 annually, with additional fees on top.
  • Budget for expenses like extracurriculars, supplies, textbooks, computers, transportation and more.
  • Take advantage of financial aid opportunities through scholarships, loans, tax credits and payment plans.
  • Start saving early and consider educational savings accounts.
  • Online schools offer a lower cost alternative at $2,000-$4,000 per year.

How Much Does High School Cost?

The most significant factor in high school costs is whether you attend a public or private institution. Public high schools are funded by local, state and federal government and provide free education. The only costs for attending a public school are related to supplies, transportation, food and extracurricular activities.

Private high schools are independently funded and charge tuition. Private school tuition fees commonly range from $10,000 to $25,000 per year though some elite schools cost over $50,000 annually. These fees help pay for facilities, faculty, programs, supplies and more. Some private schools also charge application fees and deposits.

While public schools are the more affordable option, some families choose private school for factors like curriculum, prestige, school culture, networking and increased access to resources. Weighing the costs vs. benefits is an important part of choosing between public vs. private education.

According to the US Career Institute, online high school program prices can range from up to $20,000 to less than $1,000. This covers courses, diploma, class materials, and other expenses. A legitimate diploma from an online school should cost between $1,500 and $5,000.

The Best Schools notes that Stanford OHS operates on a traditional school calendar. The yearly tuition is $22,850 for full-time enrollment (4–5 classes). Each course costs $225, and for full-time enrollment (12 semester courses), yearly tuition is $2,700.

Average Tuition and Fees

For students attending public high school, tuition is free. However, many schools charge fees that help cover programs and operational costs. These may include:

  • General activity fees – Usually under $100 annually to cover basic student activities.
  • Specific club dues – Varies by activity, typically $20-$50 per club.
  • Parking fees – Often $50-$100 for a yearly parking pass.
  • Sports fees – Between $100-$300 per sport to fund equipment, travel etc.
  • Event ticket fees – Varies per event, often $5-$20 for plays, dances, games etc.

Some public schools also request voluntary parent contributions to help fill budget gaps. While not required, donations are encouraged. Amounts range from $50-$500+ per family per year.

For private high school, expect to pay tuition fees ranging anywhere from $10,000 to over $50,000 per year. Extra fees may include:

  • Application fees – Typically $25-$100 just to apply.
  • Enrollment deposits – Can be up to $1,000+ once accepted.
  • Activity fees – Similar to public school clubs/parking/sports.
  • Technology fees – $100-$300 for laptops, tablets, wifi, and software.

Understanding the full tuition schedule including deposits, fees, and required contributions is key when evaluating private school costs.

Extracurricular and Supplementary Costs

Beyond tuition, attending high school involves a variety of additional expenditures. Even when tuition is free, these extra costs impact the overall budget.

Extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, and events often require fees for supplies, travel, and more. Expect to spend $100-$500+ per student per activity. Academic field trips may cost $25-$100 each. Dances and proms have ticket prices from $15-$50 per event.

School uniforms are required at many public and private schools. Outfitting a student can cost $200-$500 upfront with additional uniform purchases throughout the year.

Textbooks are provided free in many public schools. But students may need to purchase books for $100-$600 if not provided.

Computers are essential for most students with laptops costing $200-$500. Computer accessories, software, and printing add more.

For daily school supplies like pens, notebooks, calculators, backpacks, and more, budget $50-$150 per semester.

All these extra expenses add up quickly and should be accounted for in your high school budget.

Cost of School Supplies and Textbooks

School supplies and textbooks are essential materials that also impact budgets. Public schools often provide the basics, while private schools may require families to purchase their own.

Typical school supplies needed annually per student may include:

  • Notebooks – $10-$20
  • Pens, pencils, markers – $15-$30
  • Folders, binders, organizers – $20-$40
  • Backpack – $40-$80
  • Scientific calculator – $15-$50
  • Basic supplies – $15-$30 more

Textbook needs vary greatly by district, school, and course schedule. Many public schools provide textbooks for free. But costs can range from $100-$600+ if parents must purchase texts for:

  • Math – $80-$150 per book
  • Science – $100-$200 per book
  • History – $75-$125 per book
  • Literature/English – $50-$100 per book
  • Foreign language – $50-$125 per book

Used textbook purchases can save 25-50% off new. Online texts also cost less at around $20-$75 each.

You might also like our articles about the cost of school uniforms, homeschool teachers, or school supplies.

Between supplies and books, high school students may need $200-$800 per year, depending on what’s provided. This is an important part of the overall education budget.

Transportation and Other Expenses

High School ClassUnless a student has the option to walk or bike, transportation costs need to be factored in. Options include:

  • School bus – Often free or very low cost for public schools. Private schools may charge $100-$600 per year.
  • Public transportation – Varies by location but expect $50-$150+ per month.
  • Driving – Gas, insurance, maintenance and parking fees apply. Easily $100-$300+ per month.

Lunch is another expense if not brought from home. Cafeteria lunch costs $2-$5 per meal, so $100-500+ per year.

Field trips, school events, fundraisers and other activities may involve small fees throughout the year. Budgeting a few hundred dollars provides flexibility.

Miscellaneous costs like graduation events, yearbooks, prom tickets, electronics and more should also be planned for in the annual high school budget.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

For families struggling with high school costs, a variety of financial assistance options exist:

  • School vouchers – Government funds given to pay for private school based on need.
  • Tax credits – Receive tax credits up to $2,500 per year for private school tuition.
  • Scholarships – Private and non-profit scholarships help cover tuition fees.
  • Loans – Private education loans help pay high school costs.
  • Savings plans – 529 Plans let families save and invest for future private school costs.
  • Financial aid – Private schools provide aid, grants and tuition remission based on need.
  • Payment plans – Private schools may offer flexible installment payment schedules.
  • Work study – Working part-time at a private school can offset tuition costs.

Taking advantage of these options makes expensive private high schools more accessible for families. Public school students can also benefit from tax credits, scholarships, jobs and savings plans.

Budgeting for High School

Given all the direct and indirect costs, budgeting for high school is essential. For public school, expect to spend at least $2,500 per year for basic supplies, activities, transportation and other expenses. Budget more if involved in extracurriculars.

For private school, plan on at least $10,000 in tuition, plus $2,000-$5,000 more in fees, deposits, supplies, transportation and expenses. Up to $30,000+ per year for elite private high schools.

Tips for budgeting and saving for high school costs:

  • Start saving early in a dedicated high school savings account.
  • Take advantage of tax-advantaged 529 savings plans.
  • Seek out scholarships and financial assistance opportunities.
  • Compare costs across school districts and schools to maximize value.
  • Consider buying used textbooks, supplies and uniforms.
  • Choose public transportation or carpool when possible.
  • Pack lunches instead of buying.
  • Limit extracurriculars to only essential activities.

Planning ahead and researching ways to optimize costs will help families best afford a high school education.

Impact of Online High Schools on Costs

Online high schools provide a lower-cost way to get a high school diploma and access expanded course options. Tuition for accredited online high schools ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 per year.

Benefits of online high school include:

  • Lower tuition – The average online high school costs $2,500 vs. $11,000 for private school.
  • No commuting – Saves time and transportation costs.
  • Flexible scheduling – Allows working, pursuing hobbies, or accelerated pace.
  • Wide variety of courses – Choose from advanced STEM, AP, electives and more.

Things to consider when evaluating online vs. traditional high schools:

  • Socialization – Online has less in-person interactions.
  • Sports/activities – Fewer options for clubs/teams.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is high school free in the US?

While public high schools in the United States do not charge tuition, attending is not completely free. There are still costs for supplies, activities, transportation and other expenses that families must pay out of pocket. However, public school does provide a tuition-free education that makes high school accessible for most families in the US.

What is the most expensive high school to go to?

The most expensive high school in the United States is Horace Mann School in New York City with tuition and fees totaling over $54,000 per year. Other elite private schools costing over $50,000 annually include Riverdale Country School (NYC), Trinity School (NYC), Collegiate School (NYC) and Spence School (NYC).

For families wanting private education, many more affordable options exist, with average private school tuitions ranging from $10,000-$25,000 per year nationwide.

What is the #1 best high school?

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia is frequently ranked as the best high school in the United States. It is a Virginia state chartered magnet school with a focus on STEM fields.

Admission is highly selective, with only about 15% of applicants accepted. Other top-ranked high schools include Academic Magnet High School (SC), The Davidson Academy (NV), Payton College Prep (IL), and Carnegie Vanguard High School (TX).

Rankings vary across publications based on factors like test scores, college acceptance rates, curriculum, graduation rates and more.

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