How Do Private Schools Determine Aid?

Financial Aid Calculator to Help Estimate Your Award

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While many parents experience sticker shock when they see the price of tuition at private schools, it is important to remember that affording a private school education is not like purchasing a house, vehicle or another high-end purchase. Why? Simple: private schools offer financial aid to qualified families. That's right, about 20% of private school students nationwide receive some form of financial aid to defray the cost of tuition, which averages about $20,000 at day schools (and closer to $40,000 or more in many urban areas on the East and West Coasts) and over $50,000 at many boarding schools.

According to NAIS, or the National Association of Independent Schools, nearly 20% of students at private schools nationwide are awarded some financial aid, and the average grant of need-based aid was $9,232 for day schools and $17,295 for boarding schools (in 2005). At schools with large endowments, such as top boarding schools, about 35% of students receive need-based aid. At many boarding schools, families earning under about $75,000 year may actually pay little or nothing in tuition, so be sure to ask about these programs if they apply to your family. Overall, private schools give out more than $2 billion in financial aid to families. 

How Schools Determine Financial Aid

To determine how much financial aid each family should be granted, most private schools ask families to fill out applications and possibly submit tax forms. Applicants may also have to fill out the School and Student Service’s (SSS) Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS) to determine what parents can pay towards their children’s private school tuitions. About 2,100 K-12 schools use the Parents’ Financial Statement, but before parents fill it out, they should be sure the schools they are applying to accept this application. Parents can fill out the PFS online, and the site offers a workbook to guide applicants. Filling out the form online costs $37, while it costs $49 to fill it out on paper. A fee waiver is available.

The PFS asks parents to provide information about the family’s income, the family’s assets (homes, vehicles, bank and mutual fund accounts, etc.), the debts the family owes, how much the family pays for educational expenses for all their children, and other expenses the family may have (such as dental and medical expenses, camps, lessons and tutors, and vacations). You may be asked to upload certain documents related to your finances onto the website, and these documents are stored securely.

Based on the information you submit on the PFS, the SSS determines how much discretionary income you have and makes a recommendation about your “Estimated Family Contribution” to the schools to which you are applying. However, schools make their own decisions about the amount each family can pay for tuition, and they may adjust this estimate. For example, some schools may decide that they can not afford this amount and may ask the family to pay more, while other schools may adjust the cost of living for your city or town based on local factors. In addition, schools vary in how much aid they offer based on their endowment and the school’s commitment to providing financial aid to broaden their student body. In general, older, more established schools tend to have larger endowments and can offer to provide more generous financial aid packages.

Where to Find a Financial Aid Calculator

The truth is, there really isn't a fool-proof financial aid calculator for private school applicants. But, private schools do try to work closely with families to meet their needs. If you want a general idea of your estimated FA award, you might consider a financial aid calculator used by students applying for financial aid at college. You can also ask the admission office for statistics on average financial aid awards offered by the school, percent of family-need met and the percent of students who receive aid. Also, look at the school's endowment and ask what the full financial aid budget is, these factors can help you get an idea of how aid is allocated to families.

Because each school makes its own decision about financial aid and how much your family should pay toward tuition, you may wind up with very different offers from different schools. In fact, the amount of aid you are offered can be one of the factors you consider when choosing the right private school.

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Grossberg, Blythe. "How Do Private Schools Determine Aid?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Grossberg, Blythe. (2023, April 5). How Do Private Schools Determine Aid? Retrieved from Grossberg, Blythe. "How Do Private Schools Determine Aid?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).