Financial Aid 101

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Financial Aid 101
Private schools give families millions of dollars annually to help them afford a private school education. Here's how it works.
What is financial aid? Financial aid is money given by individual private schools to help families pay for a private school education. Private schools give families millions of dollars annually to help them afford a private school education.
What is the purpose of financial aid? Financial aid is one tool private schools can use to make their school more diverse. Yes, many years ago, private schools had a less than positive reputation for being elitist. But thankfully, times have changed. Being able to pay for a private school education is no longer the only thing that matters. If your child has the qualifications which the school is looking for but you cannot afford to send her, then financial aid is certainly an option which you need to explore.
Read what one of the most prestigious private schools in the United States of America has to say about diversity:
"Andover's broad socio-economic diversity is a hallmark of the Academy as displayed in the inclusive distribution of financial aid grants to low-, middle- and upper- middle income families." 
Phillips Andover, like a great many private schools, has a Need Blind Admission policy in place. What that means is that the school does not look at your financial circumstances as part of its admissions criteria. Ask whether the school to which you are applying has a Need Blind Admissions policy in place and find out more about how it works.
Financial aid programs are unique.
Because schools expect their fees to be paid in advance, you need to make sure that the amount due and payable will fit your budget.  For example, let's say that the tuition, books and all the other fees total $20,000. The school will expect a deposit to be paid in the spring before entry in the fall. Then the balance is typically due in two instalments: one in late summer and the second payment at the end of the calendar year. The precise due dates for payments vary from school to school as the schools determine their own specific payment schedules.
So, at the same time as you are investigating school curricula, sports programs, extracurricular activities and so on, you also need to be asking about individual schools' financial aid programs. Each school offers its own unique financial aid program, so you cannot assume that what you were offered at one school will be the same as what is offered by another.
Most private schools' financial aid programs offer grants. What is the difference between a grant and a loan? You do not have to pay back the grant. It is similar to a scholarship. Scholarships and grants are the best solution for paying private school expenses whenever possible.
Here are answers to your questions about financial aid. The resources at the end of this article provide even more detail.
Who's eligible?
Many families assume that they are not eligible for financial aid and do not apply. Everybody's financial situation is different. As a result, you should always ask about financial aid even if you think you are not eligible. Financial aid is available for low income families as well as middle income and upper middle income families.
Let School and Student Services give schools a clear picture of your situation. Then the schools will be in a position to make a decision as to whether you will get financial aid and how much. Always ask about financial aid even if you think you are not eligible or don't need it. School and Student Services is an offering of the National Association of Independent Schools. SSS provides third party, objective analysis of the financial data submit to approximately 2,400 schools which subscribe to SSS.
Who determines how much you will get?
The school does. Now if you are asking for financial aid, at many schools you will need to complete and submit a Parents Financial Statement (PFS). This is done online at the School and Student Services site. The site is well-laid out and offers easy to follow instructions. It also has a very useful web tutorial which I recommend that you watch before you start filling out all the forms.
What happens to your PFS after you submit it? It is analyzed by SSS to estimate what you can contribute towards your child's school expenses. SSS, however, does not determine what that contribution is. The school does. Schools base their determinations on the available funds, a family's need and the school's own particular philiosophy with respect to financial aid awards.
Where do you begin?
You will use pretty much the same approach as your parents and you used when you were looking at colleges.  When you first start thinking about and looking at private schools, cast the net widely. Look at everything out there, or at least as much as you can. Then make a list of about 10-15 schools which more or less fill the bill.
After discussions with family and friends and perhaps a closer look at the schools, narrow that list to 3-5 schools to which you really want to apply. These schools on your short list will have all the basics which you require: the educational approach, the curriculum, the sports programs, the extracurricular activities and location. In your opinion they will be a good fit for your requirements.
Next step is to determine if they are a good financial fit. Remember that there are other expenses besides tuition. Things like books, meal plans, uniforms, sports equipment, trips, clubs, insurance, technology and transportation to and from school will add up very quickly. Be sure to include them in your estimation of the costs.
As you visit schools, discuss financial aid. Make it clear that you will need help sending your child to their school. Do not be embarassed about discussing that need. The schools will give you plenty of guidance here. More students than you probably realize will receive financial aid of some kind. Many will have their school expenses paid for completely.
Is there an application?
If the school you are interested in subscribes to School and Student Services, you can complete your Parents Financial Statement safely and securely online. If you prefer, you can download the forms and complete them manually and mail them in. The online process is faster. The other advantage to the SSS process is that you only pay one fee. The results then will be sent to as many subscriber schools as you select.
Schools which do not subscribe to SSS have their own application forms. Ask for those well in advance when you decide to apply. The applications require detailed information about your personal and family financial situation. Everything is handled confidentially by the third party organization known as the SSS. As mentioned previously, all the SSS does is to analyze the data which you give and to report the estimated contribution which you can make based on that data. SSS then sends those analysis results to the schools to which you have requested the report be sent.
What about deadlines?
If you are applying through the School and Student Services site, the deadline is December 31. If you miss that deadline, you will need to contact the school directly about financial aid. As a general rule each school has a pool of funds for financial aid. So get to the front of the line by applying as early as you can. Missing deadlines might mean that all the funds for financial aid are already committed for the next academic year.
If you are eligible, are you guaranteed financial aid?
Unfortunately, no. The determination of who gets financial aid rests entirely with the individual schools.  Not with SSS or NAIS. The schools decide how much money is available for financial aid and how it is awarded. Also remember that the amount of money which schools have in their financial aid pool is dependent on many factors including the number of students requiring aid, the amount of money which has been raised from gifts and investment income and the financial aid poilicies which the board of trustees has determined, among other factors.

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The Parents' Financial Statement (PFS)
The Parents' Financial Statement (PFS)
Making the Financial Aid Process Work for You
Making the Financial Aid Process Work for You
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