Choosing a private/independent school education for your child is a significant financial decision for any family. Fortunately, with careful financial planning a top notch education does not have to break the family’s budget. Understand that most private/independent schools place the responsibility of financing a student’s educational costs on the family and expect the family to make a level of contribution to such costs in accordance with what they can afford. There are several financial options to help you provide for your child’s educational costs within your family’s means.
To assist you in navigating the various options available, one of the best sources is the financial aid representative at your schools of interest. They are able to let you know the school’s position and policies on aiding families in financing their child’s education, what financing alternatives may be available to you and can tailor their responses to your specific situation. Each school will have different alternatives in how you can finance your child’s education, so you will need to talk with each financial aid representative at each of your schools of interest.
A private school may offer one or more of the following common types of financial assistance:
- Need-based Assistance
- Merit Awards
- Tuition Payment Plans and Loan Programs
Most of the financial assistance provided by schools is from need-based grants. These grants are generally awarded by the school based on demonstrated need after an evaluation of the family’s ability to contribute to educational costs. Need-based grants come from the school’s budget and are not required to be re-paid. The grants typically arise from the school’s commitment to a diverse student body through the support of qualified students who may not otherwise afford the education. The size of the grant amount awarded by a school can range widely depending upon availability of budgeted funds, the school’s desire to supply aid and educational costs. Given that a family’s financial circumstances can change, need-based grants are usually given on an annual basis, and the family will need to reapply each year.
Merit awards are scholarships that are usually given based on a student’s specific talent in areas such as the arts, athletics or academics as opposed to financial need. Merit awards are not offered by many schools, so check with the schools on the availability of any such scholarships.
Besides schools, there are organizations that provide scholarships for K-12 private school students. To find more about these organizations ask the school about scholarship providers as well as visit the websites of the NAIS at sss.nais.org/Parents/
Tuition Payment Plans and Loan Programs
Tuition payment plans and loan programs provide other means to finance a private school education. Make sure to research the fees and rates carefully for the provision of these financing services.
Tuition payment plans are structured to allow you to pay tuition over a series of installments instead of one or two lump sum payments generally required by the school. Typically a financial service company will assist the school in managing the payment plan. Ask the school whether they work with a financial service company and if so, who do they use.
Tuition Loan Programs are usually offered by third party private lenders and not the school. The loan programs provide the funds upfront and allow you to repay the loan over a longer period (usually years) as compared to a tuition payment plan. Visit the website for Your Tuition Solution and NAIS at sss.nais.org/Parents/
Another source of financial assistance that may be worthwhile looking into is an education savings account. The Coverdell Education Savings Account is a tax advantaged investment account that can be used to finance educational costs for K-12 private schools, visit www.irs.gov/
Keep in mind that you can finance tuition through a combination of the above forms.
Most schools follow their own individual process to determine financial aid awards. Typically, your introduction into a school’s financial aid process will come from their admissions materials or on their website. These sources will often lay out each step in the process for you to follow in submitting your financial aid application to the school. In addition, the best way to fully understand a school’s financial aid process is to ask the admissions or financial aid representatives at the specific school. They will be able to assist you with their school’s financial aid process and how it relates to your particular situation.
Don’t be surprised if your schools of interest have retained a third party to provide the need-based financial aid analysis and request that you submit your financial aid application to that third party. These companies are used to help the school assess a family’s level of need. The determination of level of need by the third party, however, does not necessarily result in a family’s award of that amount. The school makes the final decision of the amount awarded to a family.
A list of some third party companies that schools use includes:
- School & Student Services by NAIS at www.sss.nais.org/
- FAST (Financial Aid for School Tuition) at www.ismfast.com/
- FACTS at www.factstuitionaid.com/
- TADS at www.tads.com/
Generally, these five simple steps will help you navigate the financial aid process:
- Step One: Review financial aid materials from the school’s admissions packet or website.
- Step Two: Contact the school’s financial aid professional.
- Step Three: Fill out the financial aid application precisely as directed.
- Step Four: Submit the financial aid application prior to deadline.
- Step Five: Wait patiently for school to award financial need.
At most schools, financial aid awards are granted annually. Be prepared to reapply each year for financial aid.
Beat the Deadline
Make sure you know when the financial aid application is due and plan to submit early. Be aware that the deadline for submittal of the financial aid application is not always the same date as the admissions application deadline. It is common that a late application will not be considered by the school.
Understand the Timeline
For most schools, a listing of their important dates can be found in the admissions materials, financial aid packet or on their website. Be sure to abide by each school’s timeline. Generally, the timeline will work as follows:
- September – October one year prior to enrollment: school search starts
- October – December: financial aid process starts
- December – February: admissions application and financial aid applications due
- February – March: admissions and financial aid decisions mailed
Again, make sure you know and follow the timelines of your schools of interest. Usually, each school’s timeline is different.
Allow yourself ample time to complete the financial aid application process by starting early. Recognize that you probably will be applying to multiple schools which will likely require the completion of multiple financial aid applications. Beginning sooner rather than later on completing the financial aid applications will hopefully allow for a smoother, less stressful process.
Develop a Relationship
Get to know the financial aid officer at the schools. They will be able to explain the school’s financial aid philosophy, answer any questions and guide you through the process. Ultimately, the school’s financial aid officer will work with you regularly at your school as you will need to reapply annually for financial aid.
Know the All-in Costs
Paying for a private/independent school education usually involves more costs that just tuition. Such additional costs may include fees, transportation, books, supplies, meals, uniforms, transportation, field trips, athletic programs, pre- and after- school care, giving, etc. Estimating the all-in costs of a private/independent education will allow you to properly manage the financial requirements.
Explore your Options
There are many financing alternatives available besides need based assistance. Make sure you explore your options. Other financing alternatives include merit awards, tuition payment plans, tuition loan programs, education savings accounts, family and friends, home equity lines, and credit lines.
The Parents Education League supports families to be best prepared for the process of applying for financial aid. We work with a representative from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) in providing workshops to our members. Also see: www.nais.org for more information.