Maybe the quality of public schools in your area is declining. Maybe you want your kid to have a religion-based education. Maybe your child needs a school with a fabulous science program. There’s an indefinite number of reasons a parent would choose a private school. But no matter your reason, the sticker price for a private school education can be shocking. Several schools can cost just as much, if not more, than some colleges!
But don't shy away just because of the cost listed in a brochure or on a website. You have options.
Where do I start? Talk to the principal. John Wick, the principal of St. Callistus Catholic School in Garden Grove, California, works hard to make the school affordable for any family who wants to attend. His top piece of advice is, "Put aside all fear and have an honest, open dialogue with the administration."
Payment plans. Most schools will be open to letting you set up a payment plan. Once you figure out what you can afford, present that number to the principal. It can't hurt to ask. "One of the greatest tragedies is that so many people never even make a phone call or appointment with the Catholic School, because they believe that tuition is always going to be out of their means," John says.
Make a deal. If you're not able to pay the full tuition through a plan, try to make a deal with the school. Philip Metzger, a parent from Florida, works special events at his children's private school and his wife teaches part-time in exchange for discounted tuition. You might be able to donate time on leadership panels, boards or other volunteer groups to keep school costs down.
Voucher programs. You may also be eligible for school voucher programs in your state. Vouchers allow students in underperforming public school districts to attend private schools in the area almost for free. To be eligible, you may have to be at a certain income level or have a child with special needs.
Third-party scholarships. You can also seek out scholarship money from third parties. New Jersey SEEDS is a nonprofit organization that gives low-income families the funds to afford tuition at local private schools. They also have programs that help kids rise to the academic and social challenges at these schools. The private schools you are looking at will most likely be aware of any such organizations in your area. Don't hesitate to ask.
Plan ahead. If your child is young and you want to plan for a future private school education, look into Cloverdell Education Savings Accounts. The IRS recommends these accounts to help parents save for education expenses. A Cloverdell ESA will grow tax-free until you decide to use it.
Private loans. If nothing else works, you can take out a private, personal loan. The Education Resources Institute and Educaid both offer loan packages to parents with solid credit scores. You have the option of paying back this kind of loan over several years. However, this may not be a wise option if you have more than one child.
Credit cards. You can also use a credit card to cover the cost of tuition. Faith McClure, who wrote the Private School Application Workbook, writes that parents should be careful when using credit cards to cover educational expenses. "Caution is urged when paying by credit card to ensure the fees charged by the credit card company do not outweigh the benefits gained by paying with the card," she says. You may be better off charging books and supplies rather than a whole year's worth of tuition.
Financial aid. Faith also adds that parents should never rule themselves out as candidates for financial aid directly from the school. Even families making between $150,000 and $350,000 can receive some aid from the more expensive and prestigious schools. "Never rule out a school purely based upon costs. Some of the most expensive private schools have the most money to give," she says.
Keep your options open and think outside the box whenever possible, and you may be able to bring a private school education within your child's reach.