When you enroll your child in a private school, you probably expect to pay tuition and fees. You may also anticipate pulling out your debit card for uniforms and dress shoes. But many parents are surprised by several unexpected expenses that come up during the course of their child's private school career. Don't get caught off guard by the expenses that are often just a natural part of a private school education.

You're not getting out of these costs:

  • Books. This may not be an expense at every school, but several private schools do require students to buy textbooks just like they would in college. Textbooks aren't cheap, especially when you get into higher-level subjects. You can offset this cost by searching for cheaper versions online. 
  • Field Trips. In public schools under a rough economy, field trips are often one of the first things to get cut from the budget. This isn't always the case at private schools. Philip Metzger and his wife send their children to a private school in Florida. They paid between $600 and $700 to fund a school field trip to Washington, D.C.
  • Computer and Internet. Private school teachers often assume students have computers at home. It's becoming more common for teachers to put assignments and grades online. There's also a growing expectation that students will type their assignments rather than hand-write them. You may need to make sure your child has access to a computer and the Internet at home. 
  • Testing Fees. For most private schools, you'll have to pay for your child to take an admissions test. But you may also have to cover grading costs of tests your child takes while enrolled. For instance, Philip's children take the SAT every other year through their school, and he is responsible for covering grading fees. 
  • Transportation. Your child's private school may not be easily accessible by school buses or cars. Be prepared to set aside funds for a bus pass or extra gas to drive your child to school. 

You don't have to … but you know you want to:

  • Sporting Events. If your child decides to play a sport, you may have to pay for equipment and clothing. Some teams require that every player wear the same sneakers or has the same warm up gear. You may also have to contribute for uniforms and tournament costs.
  • Extracurricular Activities. One of the biggest benefits of private school is the abundance of extracurricular activities that may be available to your child. The downside is that sometimes these activities have extra costs. The Model UN club may require dues to attend local conferences. The drama club may need money to pay for the cost of putting on a play. You most likely want your child to participate in activities that interest him, and sometimes that comes at a price.
  • Social Events. The Christian Academy holds monthly skate nights for elementary school children. These are fun evenings for the kids and teachers to enjoy a night in an informal, relaxed atmosphere. But parents have to think about the cost of the night, which includes the price of admission, snacks, skate rental and gas to get there. You may want to compromise with your child and plan for a few special social events they can attend throughout the year.
  • Yearbooks. At many schools, it's a tradition to obtain a yearbook at the end of each school year and have friends and acquaintances sign it. Your child may want to participate in this tradition, and sometimes it doesn't come cheap. But you've got all year to plan for it.

They want you to pay for what?

  • Student accounts. Some schools require that students set up an account with a minimum amount of funds with the school store. That way if they need to buy additional uniform materials or school supplies during the day, they are covered.
  • Insurance. Your school may require that you pay a fee on top of tuition for liability or other kinds of insurance. It’s not common, but it happens. So make sure you ask about it and avoid being caught off guard.

Ronni Denes, the President of New Jersey SEEDS, has dedicated her life to helping motivated, high-achieving students attend independent schools throughout the country. Through her work, she is very aware of the hidden costs that parents face when they enroll their children in private schools. "Form relationships and be extremely honest with the independent school's financial aid officer," she says. Sometimes schools will subsidize field trips and costs associated with extracurricular activities if parents are open and honest with them.

The key to handling all of these costs is to start thinking about them early. "Start budgeting," Ronni says. "Ask grandparents or family members to contribute to tuition accounts rather than buy birthday presents. When schools see that the family is doing everything possible to help support their child, they will do the same."