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Top 10 U.S. Metros with the Highest Private School Enrollment

Why parents choose private schools — and how location factors in.

Most families with school-aged children make a good school district one of their top house-hunting priorities. But those who don’t may be intending to send their kids to private school. But before you jump to the conclusion that private school students are ultra-wealthy prep school kids, take note: 80 percent of private schools are religiously-affiliated (and half of those schools are Catholic), which may indicate that religion plays a major role in a parent’s decision to pay for tuition rather than a vacation or a newer car. Let’s take a look at the ten metro areas in the U.S. that have the biggest private school enrollment.

Top 10 Metros for Private School Enrollment

Top 10 Metros for Private School Enrollment

1. New Orleans, LA

Given that so many private schools are Catholic, it’s no surprise that New Orleans tops the list of metro areas with high private school enrollment. Once part of the Louisiana Purchase territory, NOLA is steeped in “New World French” culture, which tends to be Catholic-dominated, and is home to some of the biggest Catholic educational institutions as the Ursulines (traditionally an all-women’s school, founded by Italian St. Angela Merici and named for the patron saint of education, St. Ursula). New Orleans also features Xavier University, the only historically Black Catholic college in the U.S.

2. Honolulu, HI

There are more than ​90 private schools in the relatively small state of Hawaii, and Honolulu maintains its spot on this Top 10 list as one of its wealthiest metro areas with high private school enrollment. Perhaps the most famous private school in Honolulu is the Punahou School, from which President Barack Obama graduated in 1979. (As an interesting aside, Punahou School’s sports program was hailed as the best in the nation by Sports Illustrated in both 2008 and 2009.) Honolulu’s private school students are “majority-minority” — 62 percent of students across it’s private schools are racial or ethnic minorities, higher than the statewide average of 59 percent for its general student body.

3. San Francisco, CA

Speaking of “majority-minority,” here’s another one: 54 percent of the student body at San Francisco’s private schools are minorities, substantially higher than the California state average of 41 percent. Many of the city’s private schools carry a religious affiliation, predominantly Catholic or Jewish, and the city boasts more than 100 private schools.

4. Baton Rouge, LA

The same cultural influences that affect New Orleans —  including French roots and a Creole and Cajun culture — stretch to Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge. This city has plenty in common with its neighbor to the south: It celebrates Mardi Gras (a tradition which, let’s not forget, marks the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday), revels in food and music, and shares a dedication to private schooling. More than 20,000 students in Baton Rouge attend private schools, the majority of which have a religious tie, predominantly Catholic or general Christian.

5. Philadelphia, PA

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Several locations in Pennsylvania, including the smaller metro area of Lancaster, feature high private school enrollment. Much of this can be attributed to its large Amish population, as a Trulia study found that areas with high Amish, Orthodox Jewish, and Catholic populations tend to have significantly higher private school enrollment. Philadelphia County is home to almost 250 private schools that host more than 54,000 students, and most are religiously affiliated — which include Quaker, Mennonite, Episcopal, Catholic, Protestant, and more. In 2012, Philadelphia Magazine featured a large spread ranking the top 100 area private schools based on attributes such as co-ed or single sex, tuition, and SAT scores.

6. Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ

More than 13,000 students are enrolled in Wilmington’s 60 private schools, and the majority of these schools carry a religious affiliation, largely Roman Catholic or Christian. Only 19 percent of the overall student body at these aggregate schools are racial or ethnic minorities, a bit less than Delaware’s overall state average of 21 percent.

7. Cleveland, OH

Almost 28,000 students attend Cleveland’s more than 100 private schools, most of which are tied to a religion. Roman Catholic and Jewish schools are the most prevalent, and minority enrollment, at 26 percent, is actually higher than Ohio’s state average overall of 17 percent. Cleveland features at least a dozen elite college-prep institutions, including the prestigious Western Reserve Academy, a boarding and day school with strong ties to the renowned Case Western Reserve University, a leading research university heralded by U.S. News and World Report as the best university in Ohio, and No. 37 among the nation’s top 280 universities.

8. Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee county features almost 200 private schools that serve more than 41,000 students. The minority enrollment is substantially higher than statewide average: 57 percent of its private school student body is comprised of minorities, as opposed to 23 percent for the general statewide average.

9. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

The “Queen City,” which sits at the tristate border between Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, has strong German-Catholic roots (which, incidentally, is why it features the second-largest Oktoberfest celebration in the world, after Munich, Germany.) These same roots contribute to its large private school enrollment: 38,500 students attend the city’s almost 150 private schools. Many of Cincinnati’s high schools are single-sex Catholic schools. All-girls Catholic schools in the metro area include Ursuline, St. Ursula, McAuley, Seton, Mt. Notre Dame, and Mother of Mercy, while all-boys Catholic schools in the metro area include Xavier, Moeller, Elder and LaSalle High School.

10. St. Louis MO-IL

Finally, we round out the list with St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West” located along the banks of the Mississippi. This city features about 200 private schools serving 44,000 students. Most are either Roman Catholic or Lutheran, and the minority enrollment, at 17 percent, is 2 percent higher than the statewide average. Upon matriculation, students can compete to enroll at St. Louis University, a Catholic, Jesuit college that’s ranked one of the top research schools in the nation.