Choosing a private school education for your children means paying a tuition bill that rivals—and often exceeds—the cost of a college education. Private school tuition in Georgia averages $9,840 annually, according to the Private School Review organization. Compare that to $9,370 for a year at the University of Georgia, and you may understandably have sticker shock.
But before you rule out private schools based on tuition alone, explore the financial aid options. Most private schools offer a variety of financial assistance through grants, scholarships, work study, and sibling discounts to attract students across the economic spectrum.
“We are committed to welcoming all qualified students regardless of ability to pay tuition,” says Beth-Sarah Wright, director of enrollment management at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs. “Financial aid is available to families [in varying financial situations]. Aid decisions are blind, and made independently from admissions decisions.”
She estimates that about 15 percent of students are receiving financial assistance at Holy Innocents’ this year. Nationally, about one in five private school students receives financial aid, according to FinAid, which tracks private school data.
If a private school education is on your horizon, financial planning for tuition should begin well before the child enters school. “I recommend my clients start saving for education as soon as the child is born,” advises Kerry Mallory, a private wealth advisor for Ronald Blue & Co. in Atlanta. “This could be [one] of the most significant investment decisions a family will make.”
Start with the school
Every school offers its own program of financial aid, but nearly all are needs-based. Make sure you adhere to the deadlines, requirements, and other factors determined by the individual school. Ask about sibling discounts, scholarships, on-campus job opportunities, and other tuition-reduction programs at least a year before your child is enrolled.
Submit the Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS)
Used by more than 2,400 private schools affiliated with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the PFS application is the starting point for schools to determine the availability of financial aid based on the family’s ability to contribute. The application can be found at the School & Student Services by NAIS website at sssbynais.org/parents.
Consider Georgia-specific plans
The Georgia Private School Tax Credit and the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program are two state-based programs that direct public funds to private schools.
The Private School Tax Credit allows taxpayers to receive state income tax credits for donations to Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs), which in turn provide scholarships to students at private schools.
In order to receive the tax credit for 2017, taxpayers must apply through an approved SSO by December 31, 2016. Individuals can contribute a maximum of $1,000, and married couples can contribute $2,500.
The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program provides money for public school students to transfer to an approved private school. Students must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and meet other state requirements to be eligible.
Browse through the financial options at privateschools.com/scholarships.phtml, which provides a list of scholarships available for private K-12 schools.