Every independent school has its own policies about who receives financial aid, what types of aid are awarded, and how much aid a particular family will receive. In most cases, the financial aid office cannot tell you if your family will qualify for financial aid until you submit an application that allows the school to evaluate your unique situation.
How schools determine eligibility for financial aid
To determine your eligibility for financial aid, you must submit an application form and financial statements. Many schools use School and Student Services (SSS). Parents fill out the Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS), which SSS uses to calculate how much your family can afford to spend on education. Financial aid officers will then use this information to determine how much financial aid they offer.
There is no income limit that automatically makes your family ineligible for financial aid. Financial aid officers take into account your income, assets, and expenses, including educational costs for other children. Your financial need is the gap between how much SSS determines your family can afford and the cost of tuition and fees.
Bottom line: If you feel your family cannot afford to pay the full cost, regardless of your income, it’s worth the effort to submit a financial aid application.
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. You will receive a financial aid decision shortly after your child is admitted to a particular school.
Types of financial aid available
- 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 rare and are usually reserved for students who have a special talent that the school is seeking, such as art, music, or academics. Generally, scholarships are based on financial need. They may be awarded once, annually, or as long as the student meets the scholarship criteria.
- Scholarships from outside organizations are also rare, and often awarded by local chapters of national groups like the Rotary Club. Ask the school for a list of organizations that have provided scholarships to their students in the past, and check the list in our Links of Interest. Each scholarship program will have its own eligibility rules, application, and deadlines.
- Tuition loans are personal loans provided by a private lender. You must apply directly to the lender, and your loan amount and interest rate will depend on the lender’s credit requirements. Some use loans to pay for expenses not covered by a grant. You can search for lenders who offer K-12 loans on the NAIS Company/Consultant Directory by selecting “Financial Aid Loan Programs” in the category field.
- Tuition Payment Plans allow you to make monthly payments rather than writing one or two large checks each year. Schools offer payment plans through a third-party financial services company, which charges a relatively small fee.
- Sibling discounts are designed to help families with more than one child enrolled in the same school. Many schools are shrinking these discounts, or phasing them out altogether. Even so, it’s worth asking if this situation applies to you.
Most families pay for tuition through a combination of these options. The school’s financial aid officer can help you create a financing plan that fits your family’s needs. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and explore all the options available to you.