Financial Aid Timeline
Many families use a variety of types of financing to pay for private school and the sources below are the five most common.
1. Need-based financial aid
The vast majority of financial assistance is need-based grants. If your family demonstrates need, you may receive a grant to lower the amount you will be asked to pay to the school for tuition and, possibly, other expenses.
Important things to know about grants:
- You don’t have to repay grants. The money comes directly from the school’s financial aid budget.
- Grants range from small amounts to full tuition, depending on the availability of funds. Different schools will likely offer different amounts, depending on their financial aid budget, tuition, and philosophy for awarding aid.
- Grants aren’t the same as merit awards, or scholarships. (See information below about merit awards.) Scholarships are (a) much less common at most schools and (b) given on the basis of a certain characteristics, skills or talents the school is seeking to recognize or honor, rather than family need.
- Because your financial status can change, need-based grants are awarded annually. This means you will have to reapply every year.
How to apply for a grant:
Ask the school(s) you’re applying to for its deadlines, forms, and requirements. Usually, school websites detail their process but a visit or talk with an admission or financial aid professional is a good way to be clear about the schools’ procedures. Typically, you complete an application to determine your family’s ability to contribute to educational expenses..
2. Merit awards
Some schools offer special merit awards, or scholarships, based on criteria other than economic need. Merit awards recognize outstanding talent in areas such as athletics, art, music, and academics.
Important things to know about merit awards:
- Schools offer much less merit money than colleges do. Schools have limited financial aid budgets, and most prefer to spend their budgets to help families with financial need.
- Because funding is limited, the competition for merit awards is more intense.
- Terms for eligibility and renewal are different from those for need-based aid.
- If your child receives a merit award, make sure you’re crystal clear about what’s required to continue receiving it each year.
If you think your child may qualify for a merit award:
Check with each school about specifics. But don’t be surprised if a school doesn’t offer merit-based awards.
If you want to seek scholarships from outside sources:
A limited number of outside organizations offer scholarships for K-12 students. Ask the schools to which you’re applying if they have a list of such organizations. SSS also offers a list of Scholarship Providers.
3. Payment plans
Most schools bill for tuition in one or two lump sums due prior to the start of the year or prior to each semester. An installment plan that lets you to break those sums into several monthly payments may make tuition easier to manage.
Important things to know about payment plans:
Typically, payments are coordinated between a financial services company and the school and offered to families for a relatively small fee. Ask each school if it recommends certain plans or providers.
You cannot work directly with a payment plan company the way you can with a tuition-loan program. Be sure to check with the school to determine which payment plan provider it works with.
4. Loan programs
Tuition loans help you spread your payments over a much longer period of time than tuition payment plans allow (spread out over many years, rather than several months). Because most schools do not run their own loan programs, you usually have to get such loans from a private lender.
Important things to know about loans:
- Remember that you don’t have to borrow the entire amount of tuition. A loan can fill in a financial gap or pay for expenses a grant might not cover, such as a laptop computer.
- Realize that you have to be credit-worthy to borrow from a private lender. The bank or loan company will apply the same standards it uses for any other personal loan.
- As with any loan, choose interest rates and terms that fit your needs. You may want to make sure you can increase the loan amount if you need to.
- Look carefully at repayment options and terms that provide flexibility you might need. Be sure to understand the short-term and long-term costs of borrowing the amount you need.
- Consider working with a loan company that has a track record of providing educational financing for college as well. With such a company, it may be easier to refinance or consolidate payments when your child reaches college.
5. Sibling and Employee discounts
These discounts are based on the number of children you enroll in the same school. Not all schools offer these, and the trend among those that do is to phase them out or keep the discounts small. Even so, the discounts are worth asking about.
Many schools also provide tuition discounts, also called tuition remission, to certain employees at the school. If you are employed at (or considering employment at) a school, be sure to understand your eligibility for tuition remission.
We also encourage you to visit our case study page where you can see how aid fits together with different funding scenarios and different families.