"Prep schools" refers to privately funded, college preparatory schools. Some of the top prep schools in the U.S. have been in existence longer than many states. In the 1950s, it was quite a status symbol for young men to attend a prep school. Some of the top American leaders in the 1950s, in areas like business and politics, were products of prep schools.

Prep School Boom

There was a boom in prep school attendance in the 1950s, especially among boys. During World War II, only the wealthiest families could afford to send their boys to prep schools. After the war, the 1950s were a prosperous and optimistic time in America. With peace in the nation, parents were looking ahead to a bright future for their sons. Many upper middle class families were able to join the elite in sending their children, mostly their boys, off to prep school.

Day Schools

Many prep schools throughout the country today operate as both day schools and boarding schools. Students who live in close proximity to the campus will go home at the end of the day. In the 1950s it was less common for prep schools to operate as day schools. Some did though, especially schools on the East coast, which had the highest concentration of prep schools during the 1950s. Families were more apt to live close enough for boys to commute to school. These schools also often took on the children of faculty and clergy from the area, and these boys would commute each day.

Boarding Schools

Boarding schools were far more common than day schools when it came to the prep schools of the 1950s. Cars and roads could not provide the speed of travel they do now, therefore boys who lived more than 20 or 30 miles from school were not able to travel to and from school each day. The staffs of many of the nation's oldest prep schools also believed that day to day life at the school helped to build character and was a crucial part of the prep school experience.

Boys Vs. Girls

In the 1950s, prep schools were not co-ed. Boys attended schools such as Andover or Hotchkiss, while girls went to schools such as Dana Hall or Chatham Hall. Some prep schools, like Choate, had one school for boys and another for girls in the same area. The schools would not combine to become co-ed for another 20 years. Boys went to prep schools in the 1950s to get into the best colleges in the country and to become captains of industry and great leaders. Girls went to prep schools in the 1950s to become polished young ladies, but they did not have the future career pressures on them like the boys.