An independent school education offers high quality teaching and small school and class size with personal attention and the ability to notice and nourish a child’s talents and abilities, accommodate differing learning styles, and much more. All of this comes at a cost – definitely a worthy investment, an independent school education is not inexpensive. Don’t let tuition fees deter you from applying to independent schools. There are ways to afford independent education, as long as you are clear about your priorities and options, apply on time, and meet all deadlines for submitting the required supporting materials.
Almost all independent schools offer need-based financial aid to offset the cost of tuition; unlike loans, financial aid awards do not need to be repaid. These funds come directly from a school’s annual operating budget and demonstrate the school’s commitment to a socioeconomically diverse population. The amount of aid offered to a student/family may vary considerably from school to school, based on the size of each school’s endowment and other voluntary fundraising programs, together with its tuition structure and philosophy and policies regarding financial aid awards; all these factors contribute to determining both the size of the financial aid “pot”, the allocation for financial assistance in its operating budget, and how a school determines individual awards. The size and relative needs of the total financial aid applicant pool will also affect each school’s individual offers of financial assistance.
Timing is key to applying for financial aid. Most schools request that applications for both admission and financial aid are received by early in January prior to the next academic year, though this varies by school.
Meeting application and documentation deadlines is critical – if you need financial aid, you should apply for it immediately after submitting an application for admission to each school, and then provide the required financial documentation as quickly as possible thereafter. The admission office at each school is poised to guide you through this process. Though there may still be openings to enroll in a school through the spring and summer, the financial aid budget at the same school could be non-existent or much tighter at that point. If you apply for financial assistance later than early January, you might not get nearly the award you need because the school likely will have already divvied up its financial aid “pot”. There may no longer be available funds to distribute, at least until the date by which the school requires a response to its initial offers of admission and financial assistance has passed. Administering the financial aid budget becomes a bit of a puzzle, because after a school makes its offers of admission together with offers of financial assistance, it then must wait to see who enrolls. (in some cases the financial aid offer may follow the initial offer of admission, however ADVIS Guidelines of Good Practice stipulate that a family should not be required to make a commitment or a non-refundable deposit until it has all relevant information in hand). Any declined financial aid funds then become available for new applicants, or perhaps re-enrolling students, who need financial assistance.
It is important to know that independent schools observe “need-blind admissions” – decisions regarding admission are made independently from the financial aid application review process. Once the decision is made to offer admission to a student, then any request for financial assistance is considered. ADVIS member schools want to enroll students and value socioeconomic diversity, and in the current economy have gone the extra mile to increase financial aid budgets. In 2010-11, 28% of enrolled day school students and 37% of boarding students received some level of financial aid. The median financial aid award was $15,290 (boarding and day schools combined). Comparatively, 22% of day school students, and 33% of boarding students enrolled in all NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) member schools nationally received need-based financial aid. Overall, more than $1 billion in need-based financial aid was awarded to students, with the median amount granted being $14, 572 (boarding and day schools combined).
For additional information regarding the financial aid process in ADVIS member schools, I recommend an article that appeared in the October issue of MetroKids, to which several ADVIS school admission directors contributed:
ADVIS is a not-for profit association that works to support and strengthen its 140 member independent
schools in PA, NJ and DE, which partner to inform parents about independent education and make their schools accessible to a wide range of families. Follow ADVIS on Twitter at @advischools