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In both countries, the phrase usually means a fee-paying school, that is, one outside the normal provision by the state. Preparatory schools are attended by students whose parents are rich enough to be able to pay for their education.
- In the United Kingdom, a preparatory school (often abbreviated as prep school) is one which prepares children of primary school age for entry to public school at the age of around 13. Traditionally, such prep schools have been, like most fee-paying schools in the UK, segregated on the grounds of the children's sex; boys' schools have outnumbered girls' schools. This is gradually changing.
- In the United States, a preparatory school (often abbreviated as prep) is one which prepares students of secondary age to go on to Tertiary education, probably around the age of 18. (A note on usage, from Wikipedia: "A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (usually abbreviated to preparatory school, college prep school, or prep school) is a private secondary school designed to prepare a student for higher education." [].
- In Australia, prep school refers to the early years of primary education.