Financial Aid

Editor’s note: At crunch time in the private school school financial aid calendar, we thought it would be a good idea to get some tips directly from the financial aid expert himself. I asked Mark Mitchell, Vice President, School and Student Services (SSS By NAIS) for five things a family should know about applying for 2014-15 private school financial aid. Here’s Mark:

‘Tis the season for completing private school financial aid applications for thousands of private schools across the country. While there are many things about the process that lie solely in the hands of the school financial aid professionals, keeping track of the things you can control through the process will help lessen the anxiety you might feel. Here are five things to keep in mind to help yield the best outcomes for you as you complete the process.

1. Apply early.

Beat, don’t just meet, school deadlines. Demand for financial aid has grown sharply in the past decade, with applications for aid at the typical NAIS school growing by 55% since 2003, according to NAIS member data. To have the best chance of receiving aid that you qualify for, don’t miss the school’s deadline for completing the application and submitting your documents. Once you know the school’s application deadline, aim to get yours completed two weeks before that, if at all possible. The extra time can be beneficial if there are errors, omissions, or other problems that need time to correct or clarify.

2. Expect to sacrifice.

Financial aid dollars available at schools is very limited and very few schools have enough funds to meet the full demonstrated need of every applicant. A 2012 survey of schools revealed that the typical NAIS member school is only able to meet 70% of financial need, on average, for families that qualify. This means that while you may show eligibility for, say, $10,000, the school can only afford to offer you $7,000 in order to stretch its dollars to help as many families as possible, leaving it up to you to fill the gap.

3. Get online.

Of the more than 160,000 applications filed last year through SSS alone, only about 1% of them were filed using paper forms, leading SSS to eliminate the paper filing option for this year. Most schools and financial aid services require you to complete an online application and no longer even offer a paper option. If you do not have internet access to complete the online forms, contact your school for guidance on how you should proceed. Some schools provide financial aid workshops or clinics that provide internet access and application help for families who need it to complete the process.

4. Don’t wait.

Families often ask if they should wait until their child is admitted before submitting an application for financial aid. For most schools, the financial aid deadlines occur before the school notifies families of the child’s admission status. This means your financial aid application will be late if you wait until the admission letter to arrive, and likely that aid will have been allocated to those families who applied on time.

5. Check it twice.

The financial aid application is complicated and requires a lot of information. It’s not unusual for people to make mistakes when completing the form. Be sure to use the instructions and reach out for help for items that are confusing to you. Double check your answers for things like adding or forgetting zeros (for example, entering $500,000 when your income is $50,000 or entering $15,000 when your home is worth $150,000). Before you submit your application, take a few extra minutes to be sure everything is as accurate and complete as possible, to avoid delays or results that could affect your eligibility.