Six Things to Do Before You Apply for Private School Financial Aid

Steve Salvo


Trinity Episcopal School’s mission is to build confident, resilient upstanders on a foundation of academic excellence, moral responsibility, and faith who are prepared to make a positive difference in the world. 

These are not just words, but a responsibility we take very seriously, which is why we provide a need-based tuition assistance program to assist qualifying families with tuition costs. Especially during these unprecedented and uncertain times, Trinity encourages any family with financial concerns due to the COVD-19 shutdown to please reach out to the Assistant Head of School, Steve Salvo as soon as possible. We are here to help! 

Six Things to Do Before You Apply for Private School Financial Aid 

Affordability is a top concern for many families when considering an independent school for their child(ren). Did you know that most independent schools, including Trinity, offer a need-based tuition assistance program to help families with tuition cost? These programs are aimed at recruiting and re-recruiting mission appropriate students and families. In most cases, the aid comes in the form of a grant or a reduction in the amount of tuition for which a family is responsible for. The criteria for such awards are typically based on need, meaning that a family must demonstrate need to qualify. Demonstrated need is evaluated by most schools via a confidential review of that family’s financial information. Trinity, for example, requires families fill out an online application with supporting documentation with Financial Aid for School Tuition (FAST). FAST collects and processes all information and sends a confidential report to Trinity's Tuition Assistance Committee. Trinity’s committee reviews this report, along with the School's budget and makes award decisions. All awards are treated with the utmost confidentiality. 

With the cost of living always rising, many dual income families rely on these awards to afford an independent school. Awards can range from a few thousand dollars to covering almost the entire tuition cost. 

If you are interested in exploring this option at an independent school, I would encourage you to take the following steps before you apply:

1. Focus on fit

First, make sure that the school for which you  are considering filling out a financial aid application for is indeed a good fit for your child/family AND there is a seat available. Don’t fill out the financial aid application as your first step! If the opportunity for admission is there, you should then inquire about financial aid availability. Be sure to also ask what criteria are used for decisions, whether admission decisions are need-blind, and how the timelines for admission and financial aid decisions and communications overlap.

2. Become an accountant…at least temporarily

Use Excel or Google Sheets and their handy formula-friendly framework, to construct a budget portfolio that includes your assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses. Some common examples are below:

Assets (what you own): Home(s) value, automobile(s) value, retirement savings, college savings, and other savings account balances.

Liabilities (your debt): Principal remaining or balances on loans (home, automobiles, student loans) and credit cards.

Revenue (your income): Annual wages, capital gains, social security, and business income, etc.

Expenses (your payments): Mortgage, rent, automobiles, insurance(s), tuition(s), utilities, child support, charity, medical, child care, etc.

Tip: If you have this spreadsheet built ahead of time, it will save you quite a bit of time searching for payment stubs and invoices once you actually begin completing an application.

3. Complete your taxes ASAP

Many financial aid programs will ask for, and verify, your most recent year’s tax returns and accompanying documentation. They’ll want you to submit complete tax returns (state and federal) and all W2s. This information is kept strictly confidential. If you plan to file for an extension on your taxes, ask the school(s) about submitting tax returns from the year prior, along with any current year documentation you already have.

4. Think beyond the numbers

Sometimes last year’s tax return information doesn’t necessarily paint the most accurate picture of the present. Or the expected future. A job loss, change in marital status, or the unexpected need to care for a relative can significantly impact your projected budget. And when most families apply for financial aid they are seeking assistance with next year’s tuition. So be sure to document in the application, or in a separate email, any dynamics or changes that are not properly reflected in the numbers.

5. Save that template!

The budget you build in #2 can be a great resource for both this year’s application and future years’ applications. Most, if not all independent schools, require families to apply for financial aid on an annual basis. Save this template, and you can simply plug in any updated categories or numbers in ensuing years.

6. Know Your Limits, But Don’t Be Afraid to Ask...

If you perform steps #1-5 above and find a great fit school that has financial aid available, you’ll probably have a good idea of what you can realistically afford. That’s great!  So let’s assume you have identified a great school for your child, and that he/she has been admitted. When your financial award letter arrives, you are disappointed to discover that the award amount falls short of what you were hoping for. My advice is…don’t be afraid to ask about additional options. For example, you might be able to spread your tuition payments out over 12 months instead of 10, or you may find that the school has additional resources in the form of merit-based aid or sponsored scholarships from an outside organization. The school may even have a policy regarding how to appeal your award.

Follow these steps and you’ll be in a great position to analyze opportunities for applying, and perhaps receiving, financial aid at a private independent school.