Private schools are an attractive option for some students. However, they can be as expensive as college, with annual tuitions in the tens of thousands of dollars. Financial aid for students attending private schools is scarce but not impossible to acquire.

Best Source of Information

Perhaps the best source of information lies with the financial aid officers at the individual schools you're considering. The schools themselves are the primary source for aid. The school will also know about any private scholarships received by their students in the past.

Understand that each school may offer different strategies and may have different policies. It is important to ask each school about the specifics of their various options and to see how these fit within your financial planning.

If your decision to send your child to a private school depends on getting financial help, it pays to apply for aid at more than one school.

Finally, be sure to ask around your community. Many civic and religious groups provide scholarships.

Determining Eligibility

To determine your family's eligibility, you will have to fill out an application for financial aid. You can get this form from the school's financial aid officer.

Most schools use the Parent's Financial Statement (PFS) from the School and Student Service for Financial Aid by NAIS. Other popular financial aid services are offered by TADS, FACTS Tuition Management Company, SMART Tuition Management Services, and Private School Aid Service.

The amount of aid a family receives may vary considerably from school to school. The size of its endowment, its tuition costs, and its philosophy of awarding aid affect how much a school offers.

Grants

Schools award financial aid grants based upon the financial need of a family.

These grants do not need to be paid back and are used to offset tuition costs. The money for these grants comes directly from the school's budget and demonstrates the school's commitment to having a socio-economically diverse student population.

Merit Awards

While most schools offer need-based aid, some schools offer special scholarships based on criteria other than economic circumstances. Examples of non-need-based awards are merit scholarships and sibling discounts.

Merit awards are usually given for achievement or potential achievement in a particular area. Merit scholarships can be driven by academics, athletics, or some other talent.

Sibling discounts are a lesser-used option and depend upon the number of children enrolled within the same school. These discounts may not be very large but be sure to see if the schools you are considering offer such a program.

Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes

The most common error that applicants make is submitting an incomplete or illegible application. All financial aid packages include a checklist of items that must be included (i.e., tax returns, W-2's, non-taxable income documentation) for an application to be reviewed. Print clearly and neatly with a black or dark ballpoint pen to avoid processing delays.

It is also very important to note the deadline established by your school for submitting financial aid applications. Late applications can lead to reduced aid as many schools operate on a first come, first served basis.