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Even though the kids have just returned to school from winter break, it's already time to start thinking about next school year. If you're considering a switch to a private school, enrolling your kindergartener in a private program or have questions about secular, religious or special needs schools, you've come to the right place. With the variety of scholarships, financial aid and government programs available to help with tuition, you may be surprised to learn that enrolling in a private school may be more within your reach than you expected. In many situations, cost should not dictate your decision to send your child to a private school.
While the cost of public schools is paid by public taxes, private schools are paid from private tuition. Recognizing this, most private schools offer scholarships based on financial need, student achievement and various other criteria. Several national programs also exist that are specifically designed to help families with the cost of private schools.
Kate Lock, International School of Indiana's Director of Admissions, says ISI offers financial assistance for students who qualify through the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) program. These applications require a brief history of a family's financials, along with other general information and can easily be filled out online. Once a family has completed this step, the student can then apply for admittance at their selected school(s). Lock explains that after meeting these criteria, the financial aid committee meets to review each application.
When starting the search for schools and their application processes, be sure to take note of deadlines. For most programs, the deadline for the next school year is usually the end of the previous calendar year. Even if you are on the fence about sending your child to private school, you should still apply, explains Shants Hart, Director of Admissions and Director of the Middle School at Park Tudor School. "Never assume you won't qualify for financial aid," says Hart. "Complete the financial aid application and be sure to meet the December 31 deadline."
Since attending school in the U.S. is viewed as a right – not a privilege – there are various federal, state and local grants that can help families with the cost of private schooling.
The most well-known form of government assistance is probably the voucher system. Simply put, a voucher is a certificate issued by the government, which parents can apply toward tuition at a private school rather than sending their child to the public school to which their child is assigned.
For example, under the No Child Left Behind Act, there are various state vouchers offered to students in "underperforming" public school districts. Such vouchers essentially give families the funds and freedom to choose where they want to send their children to school.
In addition, there are vouchers available to students with learning disabilities or special needs, designed to help parents shoulder the cost of sending their child to a more specified program. In fact, the cost of sending your child to a special needs school can often be deducted from your taxes as a medical expense.
As with all other forms of financial assistance, be sure to sit down with your school's financial aid counselor to determine what you need, what you qualify for and how to apply.
Once you've filled out the paperwork for national assistance, you can then turn your attention to scholarships offered specifically through the school to which you are applying. In fact, most private schools offer their own scholarships to students based on need, talent and achievement.
In terms of "need" don't feel embarrassed about applying for scholarship assistance. Last year at Park Tudor, for example, Hart says that 33% of the population received roughly $3 million in financial aid. In fact, Hart says that with a combination of payment plans and need- and merit-based scholarships, oftentimes the entire cost of tuition can be covered.
Meanwhile, if your child excels in a certain area, there are many school scholarships tailor made to suit specific talents. Hart cites just a few available at Park Tudor -
academic scholarship programs include Freshman Honor Scholarships, Park Tudor Honor Scholarships and Appleseed Academic Honor Awards. Hart also explains that there are numerous merit-based scholarships available to students who demonstrate excellent achievement in citizenship and extracurricular activities.
The consensus among various admissions and financial aid counselors seems to be that private schools want your child to attend their school just as much as you do. Hart says families should never assume that they cannot afford to send their kids to private school.
Similarly, Edy Stoughton, Head of Midwest Academy of Indiana in Carmel says, "We have a financial assistance program at Midwest Academy that we've worked very hard to start and maintain. Helping families who need our school is a priority with us."
While financing a private Education may seem daunting, Lock suggests looking at your family budget and prioritizing what's really important to you. Between financial assistance and scholarships, it might not be as much of a stretch as you'd think to make the leap. "Choosing an independent school may require some sacrifices, but that is a decision each family must make while considering their own family values," says Lock. "Families often find that the benefits of an exceptional education far outweigh the initial investment."
If sending your child to a private school is an investment you'd like to make, there are numerous people, resources and funds available to help you do just that.