According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the average tuition cost at U.S. private schools is around $17,000 a year, and it can be as high as $50,000 a year for private boarding schools. With costs this high, it's fortunate that roughly 20 percent of private school attendees receive some form of financial aid. In fact, the average aid package for those receiving financial assistance is $9,000 per year, or $17,000 per year for boarding school students [source: NAIS].
Financial aid for private schools can come in a variety of forms. Many schools offer need-based grants, as well as merit-based academic or athletic scholarships. Private education loans are available from a number of different sources, and many schools will work with families to develop a payment plan that won't break the bank.
If your school is unable to offer you sufficient financial aid, check with the NAIS. NAIS financial aid forms and more information can be found on the organization's Web site.
So, how do private schools award their financial aid allotments? It depends largely on the individual school, of course, but a number of different awards are need-based. Once the school has decided to accept the student, it may offer financial assistance to those who need it in order to attend. Larger financial aid packages may be offered to students who either fit the school's mission very closely, or those who help balance out the class in some way. This may include offering additional aid to specific minorities to add diversity, or offsetting expenses for students who bring strong academic or leadership skills to the table.
Of course, not all private schools offer financial aid. The most exclusive institutions may prefer not to offer aid, and those that do may only offer it in certain cases. Some private schools may take the opposite attitude, and work hard to build their endowment or hold fundraisers to increase the amount of aid available.
No discussion of financial aid for private schools would be complete without bringing up the issue of school vouchers. Private school vouchers are issued to parents who wish to send their children to private schools rather than local public schools. These vouchers are available in a limited number of areas, and parents must apply to see if their child is eligible. Eligibility requirements differ depending on the program, and some areas strictly regulate where vouchers can be used. For example, some states prohibit students from using government-funded vouchers at religious-based schools.
The argument behind these vouchers is that all taxpayers should benefit from education funding, no matter what type of school their child attends. Opponents argue that vouchers are the first step toward government intervention in private schools. For instance, in most districts with voucher programs, the local government carefully regulates how vouchers are used. There is concern that schools may discriminate against students with vouchers, though many voucher programs require schools to accept them from eligible students. Others believe that vouchers aren't necessary because the benefits of private schools over public ones have not necessarily been conclusively proven [source: Messerli].