Schools award financial aid on the basis of either need or merit. The need for financial aid is defined as the gap between the annual cost of attending a particular school and the amount a family can be expected to contribute. Many schools use the School and Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS) to determine eligibility for need-based scholarships.

To determine your family’s eligibility, you will have to fill out an application for financial aid. Financial aid forms can generally be obtained from the school’s financial aid officer. Aid applications ask for information concerning the parents’ finances, such as the family’s net income and assets, number of dependents, age of parents, and the number of children attending tuition-charging schools and colleges. In addition, many schools request the most recently filed Federal income tax return.

The SSS analyzes this data, using a formula that takes into account food, clothing, and shelter costs for a household. On the basis of the remaining discretionary income, it will recommend an amount that your family should be able to afford for educational expenses. Within the limit of budgets—and according to individual financial aid policies—the schools will make final judgments on how much, if any, aid will be given. In most cases, applying for financial aid does not affect admission decisions, but early application is advised, since scholarship funds are limited.

Aid is also available in forms other than scholarships. Of the approximately 1,100 schools belonging to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), many have loan programs for families with modest incomes, and some also offer low-interest loans to those with incomes between $20,000 and $80,000. Many more have installment plans that can ease the tuition bite, and some schools also offer campus employment as part of an aid package.

If financial aid is a major consideration for you in selecting schools, examine school figures detailing what percentage of students receive aid and the total amount given in scholarships or loans. Often, the older and more prestigious schools are heavily endowed and have the means to offer many scholarships.

Other schools have special scholarship endowments earmarked for students talented in the fine arts or athletics. Look for these if your child stands out in these areas. If you’d like more information on funding for a private school education, visit the NAIS website at

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