A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (usually abbreviated to preparatory school, college prep school, or prep school) is a secondary school, usually private, designed to prepare students for a college or university education. Some schools will also include a junior, or elementary, school. This designation is mainly current in North America. In many parts of Europe, such as Germany, the countries of former Austria-Hungary, the Benelux and Scandinavia, secondary schools specializing in college-preparatory education are called gymnasiums.
Parents of top-tier prep school students often pay high tuition fees, and some tuition is comparable to Ivy League university costs (example: Brearley School, Spence School, and Chapin School in New York City have tuition of nearly $30,000 a year or over, Middlesex School boasts a tuition of over $40,000). Among the principal benefits of prep schools is a very low student-to-teacher ratio, hence, smaller class sizes than in public schools. The tuition allows schools to hire highly-qualified teachers and retain them in tenure. These schools often have significant endowments financing scholarships permitting demographic heterogeneity.
Preparatory schools often place a strong emphasis on sports (see The Ten Schools Admissions Organization, Independent School Leagues or Ivy Preparatory School League). In many private schools students are required to participate in one or more of the school's sports teams. University-preparatory education is also often associated with the preppy subculture.
In Canada, preparatory schools blend the American and British traditions. The schools generally address all aspects of the "well rounded" person. This honors the classical ideal that is expressed in the Latin phrase, "Mens sana in corpore sano" ("A sound mind in a sound body") by providing rigorous academics and strong athletic programs. University-preparatory schools also provide many other activities, such as elaborate plays and musicals, and many other clubs and leadership opportunites that prepare the students for university.
In the United States, prep schools have drawn upon British precursors but over time developed their own traditions. Some notable former prep school attendees include U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and other prominent figures such as John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore, John Kerry, James Baker, Howard Dean, Daniel Webster, William Carlos Williams, William Randolph Hearst, Edward Harkness, Bill Gates, and Dan Brown.
Most commonly a UK prep school is for children between the ages of 8 and 13 and the school will prepare students to pass the Common Entrance Examination, a qualification recognised by all senior Independent schools. A UK prep school can be a day school or boarding school.