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Affording an Independent School Education

Most independent schools are committed to helping families find creative, manageable ways to pay for their child’s education.

Among the options parents can explore the following financial buffers:

  • Tuition Payment Plans allow families to make monthly payments rather than writing one or two large checks each year. Many schools offer payment plans through a third-party financial services company, which charges a relatively small fee.
  • Grants are the most common type of financial aid offered by independent schools. They are awarded annually to students who demonstrate financial need, and students must re-apply each year. Grant money comes from the school’s budget and does not have to be paid back.
  • Merit scholarships awarded by the school are relatively rare and are usually reserved for students who have a special talent that the school is seeking, such as art, music, or academics.
  • Scholarships from outside organizations are also rare, and often awarded by local chapters of national groups like the Rotary Club. Families should ask the school for a list of organizations that have provided scholarships to the school’s students in the past. Each scholarship program will have its own eligibility rules, application, and deadlines.
  • Tuition loans are personal loans provided by a private lender. Families must apply directly to the lender, and the loan amount and interest rate will depend on the lender’s credit requirements. Some families use loans to cover only the expenses not covered by a financial aid grant, rather than borrowing the full cost of tuition.
    Most families pay for independent school tuition through a combination of these options. Each school’s financial aid officer works with families to help them review options that fit their unique circumstances.

How schools determine eligibility for need‑based financial aid

To determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid, families must submit an application form and financial statements. Financial aid officers will then use this information to determine how much the family can reasonably afford to spend on tuition. There is no income limit that automatically makes a family ineligible for financial aid. Financial aid officers take into account income, assets, and expenses, including educational costs for other children. The amount of financial aid each school can offer is based on its financial aid philosophy, budget, and the number of families with demonstrated need who attend the school.

When to apply

Every school has its own financial aid schedule, and the deadlines are different for schools with rolling admissions. In general, most financial aid applications are due in January or February. Families learn about financial aid decisions shortly after the child is admitted to a particular school.
The bottom line: For families who feel they cannot afford the full cost of an independent school education, it’s worth the effort to talk to the school’s financial aid director.

© 2017, National Association of Independent Schools. Reprinted with permission.