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Paying for private school

All you need to know about tuition and financial aid

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A big concern for many parents considering private school is cost. Private schools have become more accessible as they’ve recognized how financial aid can help meet the needs of deserving students and enrich their communities with diversity. More than ever, these schools are within reach of the average family.


What you need to know about tuition

Private schools aren’t just for the rich: Sometimes thought to be only for the wealthy, private school is now a mainstream option in Canada. In fact, half of private school families have incomes below $120,000, and a fifth have incomes below $50,000.

Private schools are more accessible than you might think: Yes, some schools cost $30,000 per year (or more), but these are only a fraction of the available options. It’s also possible to find great schools for less than $12,000. And many schools—about a third on this website—offer financial aid to families in need.

Ask about sibling discounts, and other fee reductions: In addition to financial aid, many schools offer discounts, for instance, for enrolling more than one child from your family. Sibling discounts are especially common at faith-based schools, but are offered at other types of schools as well. Discounts often start at 10% off tuition for each sibling.

The tuition landscape

Low-tuition schools

These schools focus on the basics and reduce expenses on new resources and equipment. They may have fewer extracurriculars, but the quality of in-class instruction is normally high. Of course, tuition doesn’t always match school expenses: sometimes a school can keep its fees low because of income from a healthy endowment and/or fundraising initiatives.  

High-tuition schools

These schools often have higher expenses. They may also offer more financial aid for families in need. This increases the quality and diversity of students. High-tuition schools can be large or small, though often they’re large. Typically, they provide a wide breadth of academic and extracurricular opportunities, with the latest resources and facilities. 
 

What's included in tuition?

Each school will vary in terms of what it includes and doesn’t include in tuition. There are, however, some general rules of thumb. 

Included

Not included

Varies

Potential savings by investing in private school tuition:

  • Extra guidance and after-school tutoring
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Childcare expenses (for the younger grades) 

Potential extra expenses beyond tuition:

  • One-time registration fees
  • Books
  • Laptops
  • Uniforms
  • Trips

Sometimes offered as part of tuition:

  • Busing/transportation
  • Lunch/meal services


Ask about payment plans: Most schools offer a payment plan, so don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no. Some schools even allow families to spread out payments over multiple years. If you’re honest with schools, they’ll likely try to accommodate your financial needs.

You might be eligible for tax breaks: Tax breaks vary by province and type of school. You may be eligible for a tax break if the school is registered as a charity providing religious education. If a school is providing your child special needs support, you may also be eligible for a medical tax break. Moreover, private school can be considered a childcare expense (and thus tax-deductible). Work with the school and a financial advisor to determine what tax breaks might be available.
 

Questions to ask schools about tuition

  • How much is yearly tuition?
  • What exactly does tuition include and not include?
  • Are there any essentials not included in tuition (e.g., textbooks, uniforms, etc.)?
  • What can I expect my overall yearly expenses, including tuition and extra costs, to be at your school?

What you need to know about financial aid

Many schools have financial aid programs, mostly based on need rather than merit.

Many comfortable middle class families are eligible for funding. “You don’t have to be wealthy to apply to school,” says Tim White of Trinity College School (TCS) in Port Hope, Ontario. “And if we can afford to help them be here, to help enrich our place, why not? We’re just looking for great kids.” 

You may be eligible: Applications are normally evaluated by a third party, who then advises the school on who needs aid. 

It’s more common than you might think: At many schools, more than 20% of students are on financial aid. Tens of millions of dollars are distributed annually.

Schools are competing to attract students from varied backgrounds: Schools don’t offer aid out of charity or as a business calculation. They do it to attract a diverse and talented student body. Financial aid students add to the richness of the school community.

Applying for financial aid won’t affect admissions: Your chances of getting into a school are the same, whether you apply for financial aid or not: the aid and admissions applications are separate. Admissions officers are strictly concerned with admitting the best talent.

Schools expect to be asked about it: “Don’t be shy about asking about needs-based scholarships and applying,” says Elena Holeton, director of admissions at St. Clement’s School in Toronto, Ontario. “Know that the admissions departments are very happy to have these conversations, and that these types of questions are nothing to be embarrassed about. A lot of people are stretching to be able to afford independent schools, and questions around financial aid are not uncommon.” 
 

Questions to ask about financial aid

  • Do you offer financial aid?
  • What are my family’s chances of getting it?
  • Approximately how much financial aid can I expect, and for how long a period of time?
  • What is the process for applying for financial aid?
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