Paying tuition to send your child to a private K-12 school might seem preposterous. Tuition is for college. You live in a fantastic school district. And yet…your neighbor’s child goes to a nearby private school and they seem really happy with the experience. Maybe it’s worth a look, but how can you ever possibly afford the tuition?
If you ever considered a private or independent school for your child, your very next thought was likely, “How will we be able to afford the tuition payments?” Know that you are not alone. I spent 15 years working in private and independent schools, and spent most of those years in the admissions and financial aid offices. The number one question I got from families was around affordability, and rightly so. It’s a huge investment to consider and can be a monthly expense that rivals your mortgage payment.
What many families are either unaware of, or have very little understanding of, is the private school financial aid process, how it works, and where to begin. If you fall into this category, you join the many others who have the same questions and concerns. That’s why this guide is designed to help you begin to navigate the world of K-12 private school financial aid.
1. Most private schools offer financial aid of some kind
If a school is tuition-based, that means that it derives little to no funding from state or local taxes (such as public or charter schools) and relies upon tuition payments to fund the majority of its operations. This is one reason why tuition prices have, along with everything else, seemed to skyrocket over the past several years. Schools want to maintain top notch facilities, employ talented teachers, and provide the very best academic programming. All of that requires significant investment of financial resources. However, schools also know that not everyone can easily afford the cost of tuition, and therefore will offer financial aid. This can sometimes also be called tuition assistance, indexed tuition, flexible tuition, adjusted tuition, or financial assistance. Regardless of the name, schools offer assistance in order to meet families where they are financially and increase accessibility. With the help of financial aid, more children have the opportunity to benefit from the educational experience that the school offers.
2. Make contact and ask questions
All of the above sounds great, but where to start? Begin on the school’s website. It is likely that there will be an “affordability” or “tuition and aid” page under the admissions section. That page will likely have information about deadlines, school office contacts, and what system the school uses to process financial aid applications. If the website seems confusing or you find that you have specific questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the school’s admissions office. I guarantee they will be thrilled to speak with you and happy to answer any questions you may have about financial aid.
3. Apply for financial aid early
Schools do not have unlimited funds available for financial aid, so generally, the earlier you are able to complete your application, the better. If you’re considering multiple schools, it can be tough to keep track of when each school’s financial aid applications are due. I recommend setting up reminders on your calendar at least two weeks prior to application deadlines in order to ensure that you’re able to get your information in on time or early. Some schools practice rolling admissions and may not have firm deadlines published. In those cases it can be even more important to submit your applications as early as possible since the availability of financial aid funds will decrease over time. Because schools have their own particular timelines and budgetary limitations, it is extremely beneficial for a family to apply for financial aid and enter the pool for consideration as early as possible.
4. Be thorough and honest
There are several financial aid application systems on the market today and each one is designed differently, yet all will charge a fee to submit your application. The common purpose for all financial aid software is to accurately and equitably assess how much a household can reasonably afford to contribute towards tuition payments. When completing your application for financial aid, you’ll be sharing detailed information about your household’s financial picture including income, assets, expenses, and debts. The more thorough and honest you can be on your application form, the more accurate the system’s assessment will be of how much you might be able to reasonably afford for tuition. If there are areas of your finances that you’re not well-versed in, it’s worth taking some time before you apply to look at your monthly budget to have a good idea of your spending. If you work with an accountant, make sure you connect with them to ensure you have all relevant tax documents or business forms so that when it’s time to complete your financial aid application, you don’t need to go hunting for information. At Clarity, we understand this can be one of the most stressful parts of applying for financial aid which is why we’ve streamlined the process significantly for families!
5. Engage with schools
Financial aid can be a sensitive topic for many families; the very nature of asking for need-based assistance is often an uncomfortable task. Even worse, if you have questions throughout the process, it’s challenging to open up to someone you barely know about a topic that is so personal. That’s why one of the best things you can do is start building a relationship with the admissions/financial aid office by actively engaging with the school. Take advantage of opportunities to tour, attend open houses, community events, and visit days for prospective students. In turn, schools truly want to get to know their prospective students and their families and having that relationship makes it easier for you to pick up the phone or write an email to ask about financial aid.