Investigating Financial Aid

Many families find the process of applying for admission to an independent/private school to be a stressful experience. One reason for that stress is that in most applicant families in South Carolina, the parents themselves, did not attend independent/private schools. School was not something you had to apply for. You showed up, you went. Psychologically, […]

Many families find the process of applying for admission to an independent/private school to be a stressful experience. One reason for that stress is that in most applicant families in South Carolina, the parents themselves, did not attend independent/private schools. School was not something you had to apply for. You showed up, you went. Psychologically, then, there is something foreign and intimidating about submitting an application to a school to find out if your children are “qualified,” “worthy,” “acceptable.” Or not. Even for families in which one or both parents have attended independent/private schools, the experience can be unsettling. To one degree or another, even though schools go to great lengths to be supportive, reassuring and helpful, your children are being judged.
Applying for financial aid is another source of stress. After all, in the public school world, no one pays for an elementary, middle school or high school education. That’s what our tax dollars are for. Among the reasons families are reluctant to submit to this process are:
They don’t want to appear to be taking charity;
They don’t want to thought of as unable to provide for their children’s education;
They assume that financial aid is only for low income families;
They are reluctant to disclose personal financial information.
So let’s talk about the reality of financial aid. This is an important tool that schools use to achieve diversity (economic, racial, ethnic, cultural, etc.) and to attract families—not just the children—who have something special to offer to the school community.
How it works. School websites will all contain information on financial aid which will include a rationale and/or policy upon which financial aid awards are based and guidelines for submitting financial aid requests. The following characteristics are generally held in common by all schools:
All financial aid requests are strictly confidential;
Income tax information is submitted to a third party entity (there are several that specialize in this function);
The third party analyzes income balanced against known debt (mortgages, rent, credit cards, etc.), and makes a recommendation as to the amount of tuition a family should be able to pay.
The key word here is recommendation. The school is not obligated to the recommended amount and may make an award that is larger or smaller based on extenuating circumstances or other information to which the school is privy.
Some other considerations. Very few schools confer 100% financial aid awards. Some schools will have a policy of making awards that do not exceed a certain percentage of total tuition. These policies will vary from school to school, and it’s always a good idea to follow up on the published policy with specific questions.
Schools that provide some amount of tuition remission for faculty/staff may also make may also make financial aid available. Schools that do not provide tuition remission may give priority consideration to faculty/staff financial aid requests. This kind of information will typically not be found on schools’ web sites, so again, it’s important.
For additional information on the financial aid process, see privateschoolreview.com, and click on the tab for “financial aid help” on the home page.
And remember: those who do not ask do not receive!

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