Learn how financial aid works in boarding schools.
One of the major issues most families consider when thinking of sending their child to boarding school is the cost. Though it may seem daunting, the boarding school financial aid process isn’t as complex as you might think, and understanding the system will pay off in the long term.
Recently, boarding schools began reshaping their financial aid policies to allow more talented, middle-class students to attend their schools. Today, a large percentage of students at boarding schools receive some form of financial aid from grants, and in some cases that number is as high as 40%. Each school’s aid policy is different, and officers are your best bet for accurate information. Contacting them will give you a better understanding of the steps you will need to take, but below are some basic tips that will apply to all schools.
What is financial aid?
Financial aid is funding intended to help students cover the cost of attending private schools (tuition, board, fees, etc.). Aid does not have to be repaid (unlike loans).
Generally, the endowment of a school correlates directly into the amount of financial aid that can be offered. Each year, a percentage of the budget is set aside for financial aid. Thus, it’s very easy for a boarding school to run out of financial aid.
Tip: sending in all the required documents as soon as possible increases the chances that your student gets an affordable package.
What types of financial aid are there?
Aid generally comes in two forms: merit based or need-based.
Merit-based aid (synonymous in most schools with grants) examines the academic, artistic, athletic and/or potential of the student, regardless of their ability to pay. Usually, the criteria are laid out by the school or the sponsor of the scholarship. These scholarships can range from a small award to a full ride. Some schools do not offer merit scholarships, so check with the school your child is applying to.
They might, however, offer a scholarship for strictly non-academic purposes: Milton Academy’s Korean War Memorial Scholarship, for instance, sponsors a student from a developing region to “further his or her education at Milton Academy while enriching the school by his or her presence.”
Students can also apply for non-affiliated scholarship programs, which will award outside grants based on certain criteria. The recipients of these scholarships usually undergo rigorous admissions tests that not only measure academic skills, but also leadership potential, diversity, or special achievement. Below are a few major programs:
- A Better Chance (ABC) offers talented, urban students of color full scholarships into preparatory schools.
- Prep for Prep is a New York City-based program that nominates minority students for scholarships to independent schools nationwide. The talent search is highly selective, with 75 students admitted into the program out of a pool of 3,500.
- The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has a listing of specific scholarship programs by state, city, district, or other categories here.
Need-based aid does not look at the record of the student, but rather their ability to pay the tuition and fees. Lately, many schools have been implementing a “need-aware” policy, meaning that they will try not to turn an application down simply because the family cannot pay. It does not mean, however, that the available funds will be able to cover a family’s need.
A small number of schools are 100% “need-blind,” and will not reject a student because of their inability to pay. Examples of such school are Phillips Andover, Phillips Exeter, and St. Paul’s School. Thanks to a tremendous amount of fundraising, the financial aid budgets at these schools are large enough to ensure that all accepted students, regardless of income, will be able to attend without having to take out loans. These loans will be supplemented by grants, which families will not have to pay back. In fact, these schools have pledged to cover the entire cost of attendance for low-income families:
- St. Paul will cover the full cost of tuition for any student whose family makes less than $80,000/year.
- Phillips Exeter has done the same for families making less that $75,000/year, and families making up to $200,000/year will still receive significant aid.
Who can receive financial aid?
Grants generally go to students who have demonstrated a need for them, generally families making less than $150,000 a year. The amount of aid can vary greatly, from as little as $500 to the full ride. With the right amount of information, boarding school financial aid can be more generous than that offered at private colleges.
To determine a student’s need, the family will need to fill out and submit a few forms:
- the Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS)
- the School and Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS), which will calculate the report for family contribution (RFC)
- relevant tax documents (the W-2 and the federal tax return)
The office will also look at other relevant factors, such as:
- property value (stocks, inheritance, trust funds, property, debt, etc)
- whether the student’s siblings attend the same school
- extenuating circumstances (divorce, death, natural disasters, health issues, etc.)
In these cases, you should send a letter explaining your circumstances, along with relevant documentation. Meeting the deadlines when applying for a grant is crucial, and it’s recommended that you submit your financial aid application along with your school application.
What if my aid package isn’t enough?
Most packages will need to be supplemented by loans, and several lenders will make loans to parents wishing to finance a boarding school education. When applying for aid, ask the school for a list of lenders they’ve previously worked with.
The boarding school experience provides children with an opportunity like none other: they gain independence, receive world-class educations, and learn the essential tools to building and leading a community. Going to boarding school can be a life-changing decision, and should be viewed as an investment. Now that a boarding school education is becoming more accessible than ever, the cost of attendance should be something that families are willing to discuss.
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