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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Financial Aid for Private Schools

For parents with limited means, financial aid is critical to their ability to attend a private school. Most private schools offer some financial aid, but budgets and criteria vary. 

Financial Aid Primer

Financial aid applications are separate from the admissions applications. Many schools use NAIS as a platform; those schools that use different platforms will ask for similar information.

  • Estimated Taxes. Many questions will ask about your taxable income, most of which will require your completing an estimated tax form for the current year. I recommend purchasing tax software, such as TurboTax, if you don’t have a regular accountant. You will need to enter all your income and deductions. If you have a W2 job, you can enter estimates using your last pay stub from the prior year. If you have a small business, you will need to gather all your revenues and expenses. 

  • Budget. Organize, ideally in a spreadsheet, all your expenses, including rent/mortgage, home/renters insurance, property taxes, utilities, phone, internet, childcare (camps, tuition, activities), and optional items like vacations. To estimate, I start with the prior year’s expenses; most online accounts will allow you to download your payment history so that you can import into a spreadsheet. I keep one tab per download in the same spreadsheet, and then I aggregate total expenses into one sheet. Keep one column for the year that just ended and one column to forecast the next year.

  • Assets. Next step, collect balances for all your non-retirement accounts, including cash and investment securities, and your children’s savings including 504’s. You will also need to estimate a value for your cars and homes.

  • Optional Essay. You may write an explanation for your situation, and when possible, I recommend taking this space to describe what you can afford and why. It’s also helpful to include how you will share the expense of private school with financial aid. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Many parents are eager to understand the unspoken questions

  • What is the maximum income to receive financial aid? There is no one answer for this question. Most schools in San Francisco understand that the area is expensive to live and will look at your entire financial picture to make a decision. Take, for instance, a family income of $200,000/year. After taxes, that typically could bring home $132,000/yr in California. No matter your life style, it’s obvious that you could not pay $66,000/yr for two kids in independent school unless someone else was covering your living expenses. Aside from income, the biggest drivers are your fixed expenses, like rent, and the number of children in tuition-bearing schools including daycare. 

  • Will applying for financial aid reduce my chances for acceptance? I have two views on this. First, many schools are need blind, meaning your financial aid application only comes into play after your admissions decision. Second, there is no point of an acceptance without financial aid if you have no means to pay, so I would encourage applying if financial aid is important to you. Lastly, be realistic. Start with your budget and think about whether you are reasonable in your request. 

  • Will my home equity and retirement savings hurt my chances of aid? Most schools with sizable endowments told us that they did not include these factors in their calculations. There are exceptions, for instance second homes, collections of vehicles, or families that spend on large discretionary expenses such as expensive vacations.

  • What is the maximum financial aid? Few schools grant full scholarships. Typical grants range from 1% to 99% of tuition, but this can vary based on the school’s endowment.

  • How does the school calculate my financial aid offer? The school will take the system’s calculations and make their own adjustments based on the San Francisco cost of living, their own policies about which assets are included, and take into account their budget for financial aid. Furthermore, while all grants are need-based, some schools will give larger grants to families they particularly want to attract.

  • What is the “Other Considerations” section for? In this section, I recommend describing your budget and explaining what you can afford and why. This is the one place that you can demonstrate that private school is a priority for you and elaborate on your personal situation.

  • My financial aid offer isn’t what I hoped for. What should I do? Take some time to consider the offer. Run your budget, see if the offer can be paid for with reasonable cuts of discretionary spending like vacations, and compare the offer to other school offers. If you feel that your family cannot afford the school’s offer without drastic measures, write an email asking for reconsideration. I have helped families with this process successfully. 


Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.

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