For many families considering independent school options, the question of affordability can be a daunting one. While private or independent secondary schools do not have access to federal financial aid resources like college and universities do, most (if not all) secondary schools have need or merit-based financial aid programs designed to help families meet school costs. These programs are funded by schools often through their operating budgets and/or through endowment funds.
Financial aid at the secondary school level can come in the form of need-based grants (money that is awarded to the student that does not need to be paid back) or merit-based scholarships (money that is awarded to the student based on academic achievement and special talents). There are generally no loan options provided by schools at the secondary school level.
Most schools use a standard methodology or need analysis program such as School and Student Services for Financial Aid, a division of the National Association of Independent Schools, which provides schools with a baseline calculation to determine how much a family can afford to pay towards school costs. This ensures a fair and equitable process for all families applying for financial aid. Schools then complete an individual financial aid calculation by applying school specific policies to determine a family’s financial aid award.
There can be a difference between a family’s demonstrated need (as determined by standard methodology and a school’s financial aid committee) and what a family believes they can afford. While financial aid programs are designed to make independent schools more affordable and accessible to families, it is important to recognize that the responsibility of investing in an independent school education for their child rests with the family. With that said, admission and financial aid professionals at schools are available to help families better understand the financial aid calculation and award decision.
It is important for families to inquire about financial aid programs at the same time they are inquiring about admission to the schools so that they do not miss important application deadlines. Most schools are not able to entertain late requests for financial aid once admission decisions are released as financial resources have generally been distributed by then. As such, familiarizing yourself early with financial aid programs at various schools and corresponding deadlines is ideal.
Stay tuned for Financial Aid Blog Post 2 for tips on applying for financial aid. In the meantime, check out the following financial aid resources for families: