The IRS has its own definition of a school. If you fit within the definition, you must apply for school status. If you do not fit within the definition, you cannot apply for school status. In neither case do you have a choice. You are either in or out, so to speak.
An organization is a school if it:
Presents formal instruction as its primary function.
Has a regularly scheduled curriculum.
Has a regular faculty of qualified teachers.
Has a regularly enrolled student body.
Has a place where educational activities are regularly carried on.
The term “school” includes primary, secondary, preparatory, high schools, colleges, and universities. It does not include organizations engaged in both educational and non-educational activities, unless the latter are merely incidental to the educational activities. Non-traditional schools such as an outdoor survival school or a yoga school may qualify.
The term “school” does not include home schools.
The following information is quoted from IRS material:
A “school” is an organization that has the primary function of presenting formal instruction, normally maintains a regular faculty and curriculum, normally has a regularly enrolled student body, and has a place where its educational activities are carried on. If you are organized to conduct a school, you must submit full information regarding your tuition charges, number of faculty members, number of full-time and part-time students enrolled, courses of study and degrees conferred, together with a copy of your school catalog.
The term generally corresponds to the definition of an “educational organization” in section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii). Thus, the term includes primary, secondary, preparatory and high schools, and colleges and universities. The term does not include organizations engaged in both educational and non-educational activities unless the latter are merely incidental to the educational activities. A school for handicapped children is included within the term, but an organization merely providing handicapped children with custodial care is not. “Sunday schools” that are conducted by a church are not included in the term “schools,” but separately organized schools (such as parochial schools, universities, and similar institutions) are included in the term.
A private school that otherwise meets the requirements of section 501(c)(3) as an educational institution will not qualify for exemption under section 501(a) [includes 501(c)(3)] unless it has a racially nondiscriminatory policy as to students.
This policy means that the school admits students of any race to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at that school and that the school does not discriminate on the basis of race in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs.
The IRS considers discrimination on the basis of race to include discrimination on the basis of color and national or ethnic origin. A policy of a school that favors racial minority groups in admissions, facilities, programs, and financial assistance will not constitute discrimination on the basis of race when the purpose and effect is to promote the establishment and maintenance of that school’s racially nondiscriminatory policy as to students.