A Guide for Parents as They Look to Finance a Private School Education
By Gretchen Herbst, Director of Enrollment Management and Financial Aid at Congressional School
You're a parent. You've been considering a private school education for your child. You start looking around and doing research, and then it all comes to a halt. You saw that money sign and the figures following it, and you thought, "Well, that's not going to happen."
Tuitions can be shocking when you first expose yourself to the private school world. But you are looking for a place where your student will be challenged. You want them to be more than a good test-taker. Maybe social-emotional learning is important to you, and you want a school to foster strong character. You want the faculty and staff to truly know your child and their strengths and weaknesses. How can you make that happen when the finances make it seem impossible?
The Big Picture
First off, let's talk about private schools. Why do they cost so much to begin with?
Private schools are not government-funded like public schools and are not run by the government--local, state, or federal. Because of this, the vast-majority of private schools are entirely or in-part tuition-driven.
Why does this make a difference? Because they receive no government assistance, private schools are able to construct their own curriculum, not needing to keep rigidly to government regulations. They have an autonomy when it comes to making research-based decisions for best-practices. An article from Great Schools puts it well by explaining, "This allows many private schools to be highly specialized, offering differentiated learning, advanced curriculum, or programs geared toward specific religious beliefs."
Some Advice for Undertaking a Private School Tuition
Take a Look at Family Priorities
If you're thinking that affording private school is going to be a stretch, sit down and take a good look at your finances. Take out the nonnegotiable costs--those essential expenses you can't live without. Then evaluate honestly what is most important to you children and your family.
By keeping track of spending from month to month or setting a budget, you may find areas where you are able to trim back (big vacations, dining out often, etc.). Some lifestyle changes might need to be made if you feel that a private school education is the right-fit for your child(ren), but many families discover that it's ultimately worth it in the long-run.
It's Never Too Early to Start Saving
Your child may not even be born yet, but that doesn't mean it's too early start saving. It may seem obvious but having your own finances in order is key to being able to afford to put money toward your child's education. Work on eliminating debt and saving what you can. Crunch some numbers, create a plan, and stick with it. Open a separate savings account, or research accounts that allow you to pull out money tax-free when used for education.
Apply for Financial Aid
Private schools know that they cost money, and they know it's not always feasible. For this reason, most schools will offer some form of financial aid. In order to receive it, there will be an application process to follow. Be sure to follow these recommendations in the process:
1. Apply Early: Schools have a set amount of money to be allocated for financial aid. Apply early to be considered in the first-round, before that budget is spent.
2. File for Taxes As Soon As Possible: Financial aid offices will need your tax documentation in order to review your case. Not filing early enough may push you past the application deadline.
3. Have Your Tax Documents Organized and Ready
4. Know Your Deadlines: Add them to personal calendar. Don't risk missing the deadline.
5. Be Honest When Sharing Your Information
Remember, even though not everyone receives aid, it's doesn't hurt to apply. Your finances will be held with complete confidentiality of the school and will only be handled by professionals.
Congressional School's Commitment to Helping Families
Tuition Payment Plans
We understand that writing a 5-figure check once a year is a bit overwhelming. To help our parents, Congressional offers 3 tuition payment plan options to meet their needs (full-payment, two payments or ten payments).
Military Fee Assistance
Military families should reach out to their local Childcare Aware representative to find out which benefits are available to your family. Visit the Childcare Aware website.
The Kindergarten Credit Program allows current families the opportunity to earn a $1,000 credit toward Kindergarten tuition for each year a child attends Congressional School prior to Kindergarten.
Congressional School is pleased to offer need-based financial aid to children enrolled in preschool - 8th grade, and the deadline for first-round applications is January 18.
As a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), we utilize their financial aid platform, School & Student Services (SSS), to objectively determine a family’s ability to contribute to their child(ren)'s educational expenses. Per school policy, our maximum award is 80%, and all applications are held in strict confidence.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to determining what you believe is the right-fit education for your child. Do your research (Read "How to Choose the Right School for My Child"). Visit schools. Ask questions (Read "The Questions You Need to Ask on a School Tour"). We encourage you to look at your priorities and finances and make the decision that is truly best for your family.
Director of Enrollment Management and Financial Aid
at Congressional School