Average Classroom Size (Square Feet/Meters)

by Mikko Haapanen
last updated Aug 6, 2023
·15 min read

The average size of a classroom, considering surface area, in the United States measures approximately 900 square feet (84 m²), typically between 700 and 1,100 square feet (65 and 102 m²). These dimensions are applicable across primary, middle, and high schools for standard instructional purposes.

Classrooms are typically either square or slightly rectangular, with the teaching board occupying the shorter side. The dimensions usually measure around 30 by 30 feet (9 by 9 m), accompanied by a typical room height of 9 feet (274 cm).

In terms of student population, the average and median class size in the US is 20 students, with most classes accommodating between 15 and 26 students (see histogram visualization). This results in an estimated 45 square feet (4.2 m²) per student in a classroom setting, surpassing the minimum space and density requirements.

It is essential to note that determining these averages involves a certain level of complexity. Factors such as classroom type, school year, state, and country can influence the surface area. Direct data regarding average classroom sizes is sparse, and consistent sources are lacking. Therefore, these figures are partly based on educated estimations. Further details, including references and a full discussion, are explored below.

Contents

A Closer Look at Average Classroom Size in Square Feet in the US

Let’s closely examine an essential aspect of school design - the average square-foot classroom size. Classroom dimensions play a significant role in the learning environment. In the following sections, we’ll review available data, state guidelines, estimations, and expert views on classroom sizes across the United States.

Direct Data: Classroom Size Specifications

As delineated in an article from Architectural Record, classrooms in many schools typically span from 800 to 1,100 square feet (74 to 102 m²), providing enough space for approximately 20 to 30 students. Commonly observed dimensions include configurations of 28 by 30 feet: 840 sq ft (8.5 by 9 m: 76.5 m²), 30 by 30 feet: 900 sq ft (9 by 9 m: 81 m²), and 32 by 32 feet: 1024 sq ft (10 by 10 m: 100 m²), reflecting the square or slightly rectangular layout of most classrooms. The article is centered around the design of new wood-framed school buildings. Still, the presented figures describe the prevalent state of classroom sizes in the US, as they are presented as a background for school building design. However, the source of these numbers remains unspecified in the article.

Tanner refers to the recommended classroom sizes in the US, noting that the typical elementary school classroom is approximately 900 square feet (84 m²). In contrast, for secondary schools, it is 1024 square feet (95 m²). However, Tanner does not provide specific sources for these figures. Despite this, we can consider these as indicative of the current recommendations in effect, although further investigation is needed for absolute certainty.

A Calculated Approach: Estimations Based on Indirect Data

We can estimate typical classroom size from the average number of students and general recommendations or standards for per-student square footage in classrooms.

For instance, although a national standard for classroom square footage per student does not exist, some states, such as Illinois, have defined guidelines, with classroom sizes ranging from 25 square feet (2.3 m²) to 45 square feet (4.2 m²) per student. According to the Illinois Administrative Code’s Space Utilization Report, classroom capacity is calculated by dividing the net classroom area by 35 square feet (3.3 m²).

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data shows an average class size of 20 students, with most classes having 15 to 26 students. Consequently, an estimated average classroom size could fall between 525 square feet (35 sq ft/student times 15 students) and 910 square feet (35 sq ft/student times 26 students) (49 and 85 m²). However, this calculation has potential issues as classrooms should be designed with some tolerance to accommodate more students than the current average. Moreover, the average student count per class in the US has seen a slight decrease over time (NCES). Therefore, the average classroom size will likely exceed the estimated range.

Required Classroom Sizes: State Minimum Standards

In California, under the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, School Facilities Construction, classrooms constructed for grades one through twelve should occupy at least 960 square feet (89 m²). Justifications are required for classrooms smaller than this, explaining their suitability for the district’s educational program.

Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) requires a minimum of 770 square feet (72 m²) for both elementary and secondary school classrooms (for up to 15 students), maintaining a standard of 50 square feet (4.6 m²) per student. Classroom designs favor a rectangular layout as opposed to a perfect square.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) sets a minimum requirement of 700 square feet (65 m²), and a per-student space of 28-30 square feet (2.6-2.8 m²). On the other hand, Georgia’s Department of Education (GaDOE) has defined a minimum range of 600-750 square feet (56-70 m²) for classrooms.

State minimums for classroom sizes, varying from 600 to 960 square feet (56 to 89 m²), suggest that the average classroom size in the US likely exceeds these figures. These minimums provide a baseline, with actual sizes possibly influenced by current and possible future class sizes and teaching methodologies.


Based on the above data, the estimated average classroom size is approximately 900 square feet (84 m²), typically ranging between 700 and 1,100 square feet (65 and 102 m²). There’s no evidence suggesting that the distribution of classroom sizes is skewed. Hence, it’s reasonable to deduce that the median classroom size also approximates 900 square feet.

Classroom size by US state

In the United States, a national standard specifying the required square footage per student for general classrooms does not exist. However, specific states, including Illinois, have implemented such requirements, with the average classroom size ranging from 25 to 45 square feet (2.3 to 4.2 m²) per student (Space Utilization Report).

Below is a table indicating the required classroom size in square feet per student and the total required classroom size in square feet in select states.

Classroom Size by State

State Average class size (students) Required classroom min. size (sq ft/student) Required classroom min. size (sq ft)
NYC 19 17-22, 50 (1.6-2.0, 4.6 m²)
California 24 960 (89 m²)
Texas 20 28-30 (2.6-2.8 m²) 700 (65 m²)
Pennsylvania 21 25-30 (2.3-2.8 m²)
Illinois 20 25-45 (2.3-4.2 m²)
Georgia 20 600-750 (56-70 m²)

The data presented in the table pertains to primary and secondary education classrooms and does not include special classrooms such as those for science, art, or music.

The table displays a variety of classroom size standards across six states in the US. Notably, some states, such as Texas and Pennsylvania, provide specifications regarding square footage per student—others, like California and Georgia, set requirements for total classroom size. New York City offers both types of measures.

Classroom Size by Activity Type, Age, and Student Count

Classroom sizes can vary significantly based on the type of activity, the age of the students, and the number of students in a class. This section of the article sheds light on how these factors influence the average square-foot classroom size.

Age Factor in Classroom Size

Generally, it’s recommended that classrooms for younger students are larger in comparison to those used by older students. For instance, here are some average sizes according to grade level:

  • Grades K-3: 750 square feet (70 m²)
  • Grades 4-8: 660 square feet (61 m²)
  • Grades 9-12: 600 square feet (56 m²) (GaDOE)

This difference in space allocation could be attributed to the diverse learning needs of younger children, which require more physical space for learning activities.

Classroom Size Based on Activity Type

In addition to age, the nature of the activities taking place within a classroom also plays a crucial role in determining its size. Classrooms designated for specific subjects such as music, science, or art usually require more space compared to standard academic classrooms (GaDOE).

It is important to note that, unless stated otherwise, the measurements provided in this article primarily refer to regular classrooms, not specialized ones.

Classroom Size Recommendations Derived from Research

According to research conducted by Tanner, it is proposed that the ideal classroom size for an elementary school accommodating 20 students and one teacher is 1,029 square feet (96 m²). In contrast, secondary school classrooms should be 1,344 square feet (125 m²). More than just the raw square footage, the density of a classroom plays a significant role.

It was noted that the fundamental classroom should provide at least 72 square feet (6.70 m²) of window area for natural light. Additionally, the classrooms should offer views that foster engagement and learning, and there should be direct access to the outdoors (Tanner and Heschong Mahone Group).

Criticism of Tanner’s Study

However, the methodologies and outcomes of Tanner’s study can be criticized, which Tanner himself also recognizes. A key point of contention is Tanner’s reliance on ‘social distance’ as a metric for determining optimal classroom size. The concept applied to classrooms needs more supporting evidence or justification.

Another issue is identifying a direct causative link between classroom size (in square feet) or density and learning outcomes. Larger or less dense classrooms could result from more extensive resources that also contribute to improved learning results, leading to a correlation versus causality debate.


Even with the criticisms, Tanner's study is relevant to how we think about classroom sizes. It suggests classrooms need to be bigger than currently, or we need fewer students in each class. If we believe Tanner's recommendation, it's good news that, with the decreasing number of students in each class, the amount of space per student (classroom density) likely increases if the average classroom size in square feet stays the same.

Standard Classroom Size for Different Class Sizes

The average class size in the US is 20 students, with most classes having 15 to 26 students. With an average classroom size of 900 square feet (84 m²), this results in an estimated average of 45 square feet (4.2 m²) per student. Most state guidelines allow for less area per student. E.g., Illinois calculates classroom student capacity with 35 sq ft per student number. Let’s calculate some estimated classroom sizes for different class sizes.

Please note that while the calculated square footage is precise, the length and width of the room in feet are approximated examples, assuming a nearly square room.

Estimated Classroom Sizes for Different Class Sizes

Class size (students) Classroom size (roomy, 45 sq ft/student) Classroom size (compact, 35 sq ft/student)
15 675 sq ft (26 by 26 ft) 525 sq ft (23 by 23 ft)
18 810 sq ft (28 by 29 ft) 630 sq ft (25 by 25 ft)
20 900 sq ft (30 by 30 ft) 700 sq ft (26 by 27 ft)
22 990 sq ft (31 by 32 ft) 770 sq ft (28 by 28 ft)
25 1125 sq ft (34 by 33 ft) 875 sq ft (30 by 29 ft)
30 1350 sq ft (37 by 37 ft) 1050 sq ft (32 by 33 ft)
40 1800 sq ft (42 by 43 ft) 1400 sq ft (37 by 38 ft)
50 2250 sq ft (47 by 48 ft) 1750 sq ft (42 by 42 ft)

The table shows that an estimated standard classroom size for 20 students would be from 700 to 900 square feet (65 to 84 m²). The typical classroom size for 25 students would be 875 to 1125 square feet (81 to 105 m²). The standard classroom sizes for 30 students would be 1050 to 1350 square feet (98 to 125 m²). And so on.

As the class size increases, the standard classroom size likely increases slower. This is because the classroom size is determined by the number of students and the required space for the teacher and other furniture, which is a constant. Another reason is that larger classes are more likely to be held in more lecture-style classrooms, where students are seated in rows, which can accommodate more students in a smaller area.

Comparing Classroom Sizes in Square Feet Across Countries

This section presents an international perspective on the average classroom area, with data from several countries offering a comparative analysis.

According to 2009 OECD study, high-performing Asian nations like Korea and Japan demonstrate larger class sizes in comparison to the US—with 31 students in Korea and 28 in Japan. Although, more recent class size trends show that at least Korean class sizes have decreased in recent years. This fact may suggest that the average classroom area tends to be larger in these Asian countries. Contrastingly, some European nations and Russia seem to have slightly smaller class sizes than the US average, possibly indicating smaller classroom areas.

Reports from China tell that the country can have colossal class sizes that can exceed 100 students. Despite the vast number of students, these classrooms maintain a compact environment of roughly 20 square feet (1.9 m²) per student. Consequently, the classroom size reaches approximately 2,000 square feet (186 m²) — double the size of the average US classroom.

Standard Dimensions of School Desks

For reference, here are some typical school furniture sizes. The standard measurements for school desks can vary. Here’s a brief overview of typical dimensions:

Desk Type Size (inches) Size (mm)
Regular School Desk 24” x 18” 600mm x 450mm
Integrated Desk with Armrest 20” x 12” + armrest 500mm x 300mm + armrest
School Lab Desk 48” x 24” 1200mm x 600mm

Conclusion

The average size of a classroom in the United States is approximately 900 square feet (84 m²), often between 700 and 1,100 square feet (65 and 102 m²). Typically, classrooms accommodate an average of 20 students, equating to around 45 square feet per student (4.2m²).

Classroom sizes vary significantly due to country, classroom type, school year, and more. The size requirements also differ by state; for example, California requires a minimum of 960 square feet per classroom, while Texas sets a minimum of 700 square feet.

References

Featured image of a classroom by DALL·E 2

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