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Responding to Economy, Private Schools Increase Financial Aid

During the current economic downturn, many area independent schools have seen an increase in families applying for financial aid for the first time. Other families have applied for increases in aid as they struggle to pay private school tuition.

The good news is that many area independent schools have increased their financial aid budgets in response to the greater need. Patrick F. Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has seen this trend nationally too. “Our schools wisely spiked financial aid. Now more families receive more financial aid, so they can enroll in or stay in our schools,” he says.

According to Bassett, about 20 percent of students at NAIS-affiliated day schools and 40 percent of boarding school students receive financial aid. While the degree of assistance varies, the average amount of financial aid is two-thirds of tuition costs.

Jenni Biehn, admissions and financial aid director at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA, has seen a change in the timing of admissions applications. “Where we used to fill spaces and begin waiting lists during our first round of admissions decisions in January, this year we continued to have space available through the spring, and in some grades, even into the summer,” she says.

Biehn speculates that families are waiting to see how their financial situation looks before deciding whether to seek private school admission. “What has not changed is the importance of applying in the first round if a family is interested in financial aid. Like many independent schools, Shipley has a generous need-based financial aid budget, but even so, requests for financial aid exceed the funds available,” she says.

Don’t be daunted by the competition for financial aid, she says. Parents interested in a school should “contact the admissions office so they can learn more about what options a school offers to help make tuition affordable.”

Tips for Applying for Financial Aid

Timing is important. “If you know that you need aid, put in for it as soon as you can,” says Doris Roman, admission director at the Montessori Academy in Delran, NJ. Most schools say apply for aid in the fall for the coming academic year. Financial resources may be completely allocated later in the year.

Work with the school. “We encourage families to work closely and be in good communication with the school during the admissions and financial aid process,” says Biehn. If your circumstances have changed, contact the admissions
office to discuss your situation.

Ask questions. While most schools have information on their websites, ask if something is not clear. “Some people are afraid to ask ques­tions about financial aid, but don’t be reluctant,” says Kathy Hopkins, admissions and financial aid director at Wilmington Friends School in Wilmington, DE.

Other Considerations

• Priority for financial aid often goes to returning students; obtaining financial aid is the most difficult for first-year students.

• The most money is available in the first round of admissions and at the “natural entry” points to the school, such as the first years of elementary school, middle school or high school.

For More Info

• The Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) provides a downloadable Affordability Booklet at www.advis.org.

• The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) provides financial aid resources, including a downloadable Family Guide to Financial Aid, http://sss.nais.org/parents

• Check individual schools. Many are listed in the searchable MetroKids Education Guide.

• Financial aid offices can sometimes find ways to be flexible with families of current students. “The last thing we want to see is a student leave the school for financial reasons,” says Biehn.

• While your family might not qualify for aid to pay one tuition, the numbers can change when siblings and multiple tuitions are involved.

• When deciding how much you can afford for private education, don’t forget about costs beyond tuition. Lunch, uniforms, transportation, books and after-school care and activities are often not included in tuition costs.

Many of today’s independent schools seek a socioeconomic balance in their student bodies. “The goal is to enroll students, and to enroll economic diversity,” says Hopkins. “All schools recognize the value of that.”

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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