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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Private School on a Budget, Without Financial Aid

There is always an income that feels too low to comfortably pay tuition for multiple children at private schools, yet too high to qualify for substantial financial aid. Perhaps, most difficult, when you live in a very high cost of living area, with high living expenses expensive extracurriculars. Meanwhile, these same expenses keep salaries and therefore tuitions high at private schools. For families who prefer private education, what are your best options?


Less Expensive Private Schools 

Typical private schools in the Bay Area cost $42,000 per year for K-8 and $62,000 per year for high school. Many schools have need-based financial aid, but for those who feel they would not qualify, here are some less expensive options.

Catholic Schools. Typical Catholic K-8 in the Bay Area runs around $10,000 per student per school year, with sibling discounts, as well as discounts for participating with some volunteer hours. Catholic High Schools run $25,000-30,000 per year. These schools are among the best bargains in private school education, but families must be comfortable with religion class.

Independent Schools at Lower Price Points. San Francisco has a handful of private K-8 schools with tuition ranging from $20-30k per year, some of which include aftercare in the costs. What is different from the $40k+ schools? Typically, the schools will have some combination of fewer enrichment teachers (foreign language, arts, etc), parent volunteers for back office functions, simpler facilities, and sometimes a higher student-teacher ratio. Parents who choose these schools are generally very satisfied with their schools. Examples include Kittredge, San Francisco Schoolhouse, and Synergy, although there are others . 


Splitting K-12 Between Public and Private

For parents who prefer the typical private schools that cost $42k for K-8 and $62k for high school, but who cannot comfortably afford this for K-12, there are ways to combine public schools to accommodate the budget.

Public for Elementary, Private for Middle. When parents ask me, which age would I prioritize the smaller, more personalized attention of a private school, I always answer middle school. Middle school is the time when students are entering puberty, and when they need to learn executive function skills, like essay-writing, note-taking, studying, and following up on homework. These “awkward” years can be the best time to invest in a private school education. 

Magnet Schools for High School. Some districts, including San Francisco, have magnet high schools, such as Lowell or Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. By adding an admissions component, the students are more likely to find like-minded classmates who care about the same things, academically-speaking.

Charter Schools. Several districts in the Bay Area offer progressive charter schools with project based learning or inquiry based learning, and smaller classes than traditional public schools. The charters can offer a fit for part of the K-12 years, saving money for private schools in the remaining years.

School District Shopping.  For some families, moving to a district with schools that meet their academic goals can be a great solution. My parents chose our home for its school district, as did my sibling when she settled in suburban Ohio. For high schools, they looked for AP and honors classes, and for elementary school, they looked for smaller class sizes. For instance, within the Bay Area, math pathways range from acceleration possible in 4th grade to preAlgebra for all in 8th grade. By honing in on a school that matches a family’s values, tuition budget can be funneled into the home mortgage. 


Working at a Private School

Some private schools offer a tuition discount as an employee benefit of up to 50%. If a parent works in this sector, there is a strong financial incentive to work at a school where their children can attend with this discount.  


Role of a K-12 Consultant 

A consultant can help you craft your school list to be sure of a balanced list with optimal acceptance rates. A consultant can also review all admissions materials, in particular student and parent essays, to help focus them to each school’s admissions goals. A consultant can directly work with your child to brainstorm, draft, and edit their own essays. The consultant can provide feedback on whether the essays read as genuine and how to shine during the application process. 


Want more input on K-12 schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. Hourly, VIP, and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.


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