Financial Aid Basics for Families

Offering financial aid helps your school reach more families and build a vibrant, diverse school community. Plus, it helps your school remain competitive—the number of new students reported at private and independent schools positively correlates with the number of students who receive financial aid.  

According to our Community Brands K-12 Trends Report, the average financial aid award covers 40% of tuition! That means your school has an opportunity to appeal to families who may think your school is out of their budget. Yet many families don’t know the variety of financial aid options they have available to them, deterring them from applying altogether.  

To encourage prospective families to seek out financial aid, your school can offer basic financial aid knowledge as a starting point. Read on for financial aid basics that you might consider providing as families begin inquiring about financial aid at your school.    

What is Financial Aid? 

Financial aid is funding to help pay for a student’s education and comes in a variety of options, from scholarships to sibling discounts. A family may use financial aid to cover tuition, as well as education-related expenses, such as books and supplies.  

There are two main categories of financial aid: need-based and merit-based. Need-based financial aid, such as grants, is awarded based on an assessment of a family’s income and expenses. Merit-based financial aid, such as scholarships, is awarded based on student achievements, such as excellent academics or athletic performance.  

Financial aid can be supplied directly from a school, or it can come from a third-party partner. This is good news—it means that families have multiple options to consider when it comes to affording quality education for their students.    

Financial Aid Options 

You may already offer grants and scholarships, but what about payment plans or sibling discounts? Since it’s a fine line balancing financial aid and your school’s financial health, additional financial aid options can provide added flexibility without going over budget 

Here are the most common types of financial aid: 

Grants are given to students and families based on financial need. Grant funding comes directly from a school’s budget. 

Tuition Payment Plans can be set up to allow families greater financial flexibility that meets their budgeting needs. Rather than pay a lump sum once or twice a year, they can set up monthly payment plans that can also factor in their financial aid award amount.  

Scholarships can be provided by a third party or a school. Scholarships are offered for a specific talent or skill, such as art, athletics, or music. You may offer parents a list of third-party organizations that offer scholarships to your school.  

Sibling Discounts offer a discount to families with more than one child attending the same school.  

Tuition Loans are provided by a third-party lender. Loans can be spread out over an extended period (multiple years) than payment plans.   

Did You Know? 39% of schools use fundraising budgets to fund financial aid, according to our 2022 K-12 Research Study. Fundraising initiatives are great (and fun!) ways to increase your school’s financial aid budget. Take a look at our School Fundraising Resource Center for creative ideas and inspiration. 

Applying for Financial Aid  

The application process for financial aid will differ by school. Check out our general guidelines to apply for need-based and merit-based assistance that families can reference to get started. If your school already uses School and Student Services (SSS) to manage financial aid, we offer a robust SSS family resource library with application guidelines, FAQs, and more.  

As a school, ensure families are equipped with the information they need to pursue financial aid. You can do this by: 

  • Creating an easy-to-find financial aid page on your school website that lists necessary steps, required documents, and deadlines.  
  • Providing families with basic financial aid knowledge, such as this blog or a resource center on your website. 
  • Maintaining a list of third-party scholarships or lender options you can give to families.   

The Bottom Line 

Your school has many options when it comes to financial aid. Help families start on the right foot by educating them about what you offer and encouraging them to explore their options. Ensure families have financial aid information early on so they have plenty of time to complete their application(s) by the deadline.  

Ensure a smooth financial aid experience from start to finish with SSS. Our complete financial aid solution has a central application portal for easy tracking, quick tax form verification, a collaborative review process, and much more. Set up a free demo to see how it works.   

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