Private School Scholarships: Top Sources For Financial Aid

If you read the news, you may not be surprised to learn that it costs a projected $300,000 to raise a child to age 18. And if you’re a parent, you have already become accustomed to both the expected and unexpected costs of child-rearing — whether they include daycare, must-have toys, or all that clothing kids quickly outgrow.

You’ve likely begun to think ahead to college, but tuition costs can become an expense well before that time if you’re considering sending your child to private school.

The High Cost of Private School

Tuition for private school can run as much as, or more than, what many of us consider a job salary. The expense varies widely by state and region, but the average national cost is around $10,000 per year. Still, you don’t necessarily have to foot this expense all on your own. In addition to loans and other sources of financial aid for private school, there are many scholarships out there if you know where to look. Keep in mind, too, that about 20 percent of students in private schools receive some need-based support. Understanding your options will help you decide if private school is realistic for your family.

Private School Scholarships

Most private schools have their own internal scholarship or financial aid programs. You should definitely look into those possibilities at the schools that interest you, or at your child’s current school if she’s already enrolled.

What you may not know is that there are additional options for external scholarships and aid packages offered by nonprofits and independent organizations. We often think of private school as something elite and expensive, but the availability of financial assistance brings this opportunity within reach for many families.

Here are some of the key components of external, independent private school scholarships to help you get started.

Public Funding Options

Depending on which state you live in, you may be able to avail yourself of public funds for private schooling. Here are a few programs that may help make private school affordable for you:


Many states, though not all of them, provide support for private school tuition through voucher programs. These awards are usually made based on financial need, and most are competitive, since so many students apply for the limited funds available. While voucher programs provide much-needed assistance for many families, they don’t typically cover all of the costs associated with a private school education.

Education Savings Accounts

In addition to vouchers, states may provide private school tuition support through the use of education savings accounts (ESAs) — sometimes called Coverdell Accounts. These savings vehicles function in much the same way as the college savings plans known as 529s. Families may contribute an annual maximum amount (up to $2,000 in 2015) to a tax-free savings trust to use for educational expenses for their child, typically until she reaches age 18. Tuition, books, room and board, and uniforms are among the expenses that qualify under these accounts.

Scholarship-Granting Organizations and Student Tuition Organizations

In states including Arizona, tax-credit scholarships allow individuals or corporations to receive tax credits when they give money to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) or student tuition organizations (STOs). Qualifying students can in turn apply for scholarships from these organizations.

Educational and Financial Supports for Children with Special Needs

All states are required by law to provide public educational supports for children with special needs. That said, the adequacy of these services can vary significantly and may, in fact, not meet your child’s learning requirements. If your local public school doesn’t provide services that would benefit your child, you may be eligible for scholarships or aid to attend a private school that would better serve her. Visit your state’s Department of Education site or The Center for Parent Resources and Information to learn how to navigate your options.

Other Sources of Aid

Local and Regional Scholarships

In addition to government financial supports to help families cover private school expenses, there are also often local or regional scholarship programs offered by private organizations. While the specific focus of each program differs, they all share the goal of helping families access educational opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach. These scholarships are offered by a range of organizations throughout the U.S., and they each have specific eligibility criteria for their awards. If you’re searching for sources of private school financial aid, these programs may be a valuable resource.

National Scholarship Resources

Many national nonprofits or associations offer need-based scholarships to support families seeking a private school education. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Young Scholars Program provides support to students who show academic promise. FinAid maintains a listing of scholarships available to students under the age of 13.

Other prominent national scholarship organizations include:

  • The Children’s Scholarship Fund, whose mission is to improve educational opportunities for low-income children
  • A Better Chance, which seeks to increase access to high-quality educational programs for students of color
  • The Black Student Fund, whose goal is to help low- and moderate-income African-American families pursue private school education

A Note about Scholarships: Annual Re-Applications

You typically have to reapply and submit new financial information each year, as most scholarships are need- rather than merit-based. And many scholarships require recipients to renew their application if a child switches schools. Some scholarships are also separated by age group — with a common division between the elementary grades and middle to high school grades — so you may need to look for other age-based scholarships when your child transitions to the next educational level.

Beyond Vouchers and Scholarships

If you’ve decided to send your child to private school, it’s important to think beyond scholarships in case these funding sources don’t meet your family’s full financial need. Most private schools offer a payment plan to offset the burden of lump-sum billing. Some schools also have tuition loan programs available. This may seem like a huge expense and a complicated endeavor for K–12 schooling, but most experts agree that strong early education sets the groundwork for success in a student’s later years.

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