How to Pay for a Private School Education

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Parents want to provide their children with the best education possible. For some, that means enrolling them in private school. Benefits can include more creative teaching methods and smaller teacher-to-student ratios. Even so, parents must often pay a price for those benefits. Private school tuition fees are typically high, and this doesn’t include other expenses such as books, supplies, field trips and uniforms.

If you’re considering putting your child in a private school, developing a plan with some enhanced budgeting can go a long way to help manage expenses. You may also want to explore various financing options such as monthly payments, asking about financial aid or taking out a loan.

How Much Does Private School Cost?

On average, private schools in the U.S. cost $12,350 across 22,440 K-12 schools. If you include additional costs from technology, field trips and uniforms, among other things, it increases to an average of $16,050. Despite this, private school education offers several benefits. These include smaller class sizes, which allow for more individualized instruction. Private schools also have more resources, paving the way for more options in terms of curriculum delivery.

Kindergarten

Annual Tuition: Ranges from $3,000 to $34,000


Key Takeaways
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    Kindergartens in most states adopt the Common Core Standards, which typically center on language and math skills. Private kindergartens often go beyond this, allowing experiential learning and more individualized attention.

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    Private school kindergartens’ tuition fees are affected by the length of the school day, teacher-student ratio and the school’s reputation.




The annual tuition fee for private school kindergarten varies. It can range from a low of $3,000 a year to a high of $34,000. It’s dependent on several factors, such as how long classes are and their size. If you’re considering enrolling your child in a private school kindergarten, make sure you take the learning environment into account. Some schools are more structured, while others aren’t. Look at their teaching methods and discipline strategies and see whether these support your child’s learning needs.

Elementary School

Average Annual Tuition: $7,630


Key Takeaways
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    Annual tuition varies between different types of private elementary schools. For example, Catholic schools cost an average of $4,840 per year, while the average cost for nonsectarian schools is around $20,900.

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    The average cost of tuition for private elementary schools is different for each state. For example, a comparison of average tuition by state provided by EducationData.org found that Connecticut has the highest average elementary school tuition at $14,350 per year, while it is most affordable in Nebraska, where private elementary school costs $2,830 per year on average.




The annual cost of private elementary schools can range anywhere from $2,000 to over $50,000 annually. Private elementary schools are usually smaller than public schools. This tends to mean that the teacher-to-student ratio is also smaller, which results in more individualized attention from teachers. There may also be less emphasis on test scores, giving students a more balanced education. Visit your prospective private elementary school and observe the environment. Look at classroom setups and engagement levels between teachers and students inside and outside classes.

Middle School

Average Annual Tuition: $15,180


Key Takeaways
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    There are over 150 private boarding schools for middle school students.

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    Private day schools for middle school students cost anywhere from $5,000 to over $35,000 a year. In comparison, tuition for boarding school ranges from $25,000 to over $75,000 annually.




If you’re transferring your child to a private school when they’re nearing middle school age, it’s worth noting that middle schools do not always cover the same grade levels. Like the public school system, while some schools encompass grades six through eight, others only cover grades seven and eight. Still other private schools combine elementary and middle school or middle school and high school.

It’s just another reason you’ll want to start the process of choosing a school early. It gives you enough time to find the right one before applications close. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the best private middle school, or choosing the right school for your child in general, so consider their needs, abilities and aspirations. Watch out for red flags, such as high staff turnover or poor communication habits. It may be a sign to keep looking.

High School

Average Annual Tuition: $16,040


Key Takeaways
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    The average cost of private Catholic secondary schools is $11,240 per year. Those for other religions are more expensive, averaging at around $18,900.

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    Vermont has the most expensive private secondary schools, with an average annual tuition fee of $33,740.




Unlike public high schools, the government doesn’t fund private schools, which explains the expensive tuition. Several factors affect costs, such as the school’s reputation and its location. According to EducationData.org, you’ll pay more if your child attends secondary school in Vermont, which costs over $33,000 a year. In comparison, schools in Alaska cost less than $6,000 a year. (Note: These figures are for average secondary school tuition, not necessarily only for grades nine through twelve.) When choosing a school, look at the programs they offer, academic or otherwise. It may open opportunities for your child as they prepare to enter college.

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How to Finance Private School

The amount private schools can cost may leave you feeling overwhelmed. Unlike free public schools, private schools don’t receive support from the government. Their funding comes from the students’ tuition. Fortunately, there are several options to help you manage costs for private schools. These include grants, loans and education savings accounts, to name a few.

Education Savings Accounts

One way to get financial support is to open an investment account, which allows you to save for the beneficiary’s — in this case, your child’s — future. If you use the proceeds to pay for private school expenses, you can withdraw the money tax-free. You can choose from two types of accounts: 529 plans and Coverdell ESAs. There are different qualification requirements for each, so you’ll want to consider your individual needs and goals when determining which account you may want to open.

529 Plans

Anyone can open a 529 account, regardless of income. You can open one for yourself and assign your child as the beneficiary. You can also reassign 529 plans — if the original beneficiary doesn’t need the money anymore, someone else can use it.

Every state has its own 529 plan. Although you are not obligated to choose your home state’s plan, it’s a good starting point. It’s best to compare what different states have before selecting an investment plan.

Coverdell ESA

You can use Coverdell ESA for elementary and secondary school tuition and expenses. With a Coverdell ESA, you have more control over how you invest your money, but you have to watch out for several restrictions, which focus on contribution limits and amounts. You can only contribute $2,000 at most annually. Your income may also prevent you from contributing — you won’t be able to contribute at all if your adjusted gross income is over $110,000 (or $220,000 for a married couple filing their taxes jointly).

Loans

Taking out a loan is another financing option. If you’re considering enrolling your child in a private school, there are different types of loans you can explore. These include:

  • Education loans. These allow you to borrow up to 100% of your child’s K-12 tuition. They come with variable interest rates that can result in your balance increasing or decreasing during different periods.
  • Personal loans. You can use a personal loan for any purpose, including paying for K-12 tuition. These typically have higher interest rates and may incur penalties if you pay the lender off early.

Grants

Unlike loans, a grant is a form of financial aid that you don’t need to repay. It can cover various education-related expenses such as tuition, supplies and room and board. Foundation grants are typically for college students, but you can still find some designated for private elementary and high school.

If you’re considering a Catholic school, you can look up your diocese in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to see if they provide tuition assistance for those within their jurisdiction. You can also see about qualifying for other possible grants via the U.S. Department of Education.

Scholarships and Financial Aids

A scholarship is financial assistance from an independent institution that allows your child to get the kind of education he may not have access to otherwise. Some private schools provide financial aid to help families pay for education.

There is typically an application process for these. The body providing the financial assistance gets sole discretion over who gets it. The organization also determines how much the student receives.

Most families don’t apply for scholarships and financial aid because they think they’re not qualified, which causes them to lose out on opportunities. Even so, there are companies, such as School and Student Services, that help you get your financial information in order and send it to schools on your list. You can also learn more about available scholarships through the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.

Government Assistance

You can check if your state has school vouchers. These allow students to use public monies to attend private school. The state allocates a specific amount for tuition. Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have voucher programs.

Another option is to see whether your state has a scholarship tax credit program. Business and individual taxpayers get a tax credit if they donate to bodies that grant scholarships. These non-profit organizations manage and distribute donations in the form of tuition fee scholarships for private schools. Nineteen states currently offer scholarship tax credit programs.

Payment Plans

You don’t have to pay for your child’s private school tuition fee in one go. You can check with the school to see if they offer payment plans. Most schools have this as an option, allowing you to pay in monthly installments, similar to how you would a mortgage or an insurance policy. You may have to pay a nominal fee, however, to avail of it.

An illustrated image of a girl sitting on books.

Managing Private School Expenses

Choosing to send your child to a private school may put a dent in your savings. It is also not the only expense you’ll have to manage. Having budgeting skills and being financially literate can help you pay for a private school. These allow you to manage your funds with greater confidence and prepare you for different financial seasons. There will be times when you’ll have a bit more savings and when you need to tighten your belt.

How to Be Financially Prepared

Figuring out how to pay for private K-12 requires a lot of planning. Regardless of whether you want to start your child in a private kindergarten school or if you’re planning to transfer them when they start elementary or high school, it’s best to begin saving years in advance. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make sure you are prepared financially for this life decision.

1

Start early

There’s no such thing as starting too early when it comes to being financially prepared. Give yourself enough time to consider all your options. Many parents who want to enroll their child in private school as early as kindergarten or elementary start preparing as soon as they are born.

2

Create a short-term savings habit

It may be overwhelming to invest a sizable amount all at once. Instead, start with regularly setting aside a portion of your income. As your savings accumulate, you can use the funds to invest or keep them as a reserve. Either way, it’s good to have extra funds in case of emergencies.

3

Set up an education plan

Having a 529 plan can help pay for private school. The trick is getting it set up early enough that you’ll have enough to cover your child’s tuition fee when he starts private school.

4

Invest wisely

Aside from a 529 plan or a Coverdell ESA, you can also choose to put your money into other investments. These may involve higher risks but may reap more rewards. There are several ways to invest your money, so it’s best to seek financial advice to ensure you choose the right one.

5

Shop around for schools

It’s always best to compare schools. Not only will it give you an idea of the environment your child will be in, but it can also help you understand the various costs you may encounter. For example, choosing a school far from your home may increase expenses because of transportation fees.

6

Have a plan B

Ideally, having a solid plan A is enough. Realistically, running into emergencies or other circumstances may cause you to divert your funds intended for tuition. Having a plan for what you intend to do in these situations can give you a better sense of security rather than being caught completely off-guard.

How to Budget for Private School Expenses

Although planning helps, there are several expenses that you’ll need to continue managing once your child begins attending private school. Budgeting allows you to develop a spending plan for your funds. It ensures you’ll have enough resources for the various expenses associated with a private school. MoneyGeek lists several ways to help you manage your budget to help you pay for your child’s private K-12 education.

1

Have a realistic list of expenses

This step helps you understand two things: where your costs are coming from and where you can make possible adjustments. It’ll allow you to determine whether you need to increase your income, decrease your expenses or, potentially, both.

2

Assess possible trade-offs

Take a look at where you may be able to cut down on expenses. These will usually involve wants — dining out or family vacations. You don’t have to take everything off the list. Try seeing how you can decrease your expenses without leaving yourself feeling deprived.

3

Explore options to lower the cost of tuition

Scholarships and financial aid can do wonders to help your budget. If you’re considering a Catholic school, churches may offer assistance. Some private schools also have in-house scholarships. Even if you think you don’t qualify, there’s no harm in asking about these possibilities.

4

Negotiate the rate

Most parents think private schools cast their tuition fees in stone — they don’t. Most schools have a cushion, and you can use this to your advantage, especially with schools looking to boost enrollment rates. If you can’t adjust the amount, try negotiating the payment schedule. Some schools allow monthly installments for a nominal fee.

5

Help your child become financially responsible

Budgeting doesn’t just benefit adults — it’s a crucial life skill for children as well. Whether it’s instilling a habit of saving or teaching them to spend their allowance wisely, it helps them achieve a sense of financial independence. It also means they won’t come running to you every time they need money.

Resources for Finding Private School Options and How to Pay for Them

If you want to know more about private school options and how to pay for private K-12 education, there are several sites you can explore. You can get more information about private schools and possible financial options from these sources.

  • Education Data: This website provides you with pertinent information about private K-12 schools. It includes statistics on the different types of private schools and the average cost of tuition for each. They also show the average tuition fee of private schools per state across different grade levels.
  • Private School Review: This site helps you look for private schools based on location. You can filter your search in terms of distance and grade level or look for private schools per state.
  • Federal Student Aid: A site that tells you more about the types of scholarships available and where you can find them. It also gives an overview of how to go through the process of applying.
  • Instrumentl: Visit this site if you’re looking for grants for K-12 schools. It allows a 14-day trial, which grants you access to their extensive lists of education grants. Depending on the available information, you can also see the amount and deadlines you have to meet.
  • Education Commission of the States: If you’re looking for government assistance, the Education Commission of the States provides information on which states have existing voucher programs. There is also a separate list showing tax credit programs.

About the Author


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Nathan Paulus is the director of content marketing at MoneyGeek. Nathan has been creating content for nearly 10 years and is particularly engaged in personal finance, investing, and property management. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of St. Thomas Houston.


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