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School tuition and costs: a complete guide

Private school tuition: the what, where, and why of private school costs in Canada

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Tuition costs range widely depending on two essential factors: where the school is located and what type of private school it is: and it may surprise you, in some cases.

School tuition and costs: a complete guide

Quite a number of schools have tuition that starts under $4,000 per year for elementary levels, while many schools fall into a range of $6,000 to $12,000 per year, depending on what grade your child is in.

School tuition rates: in general

In general, boarding schools where the tuition covers boarding fees are the most expensive. This will be especially true if it is located in a city like Vancouver or Toronto where real estate prices are high. Religious schools generally have the lowest tuition rates; parents will often send their children to these schools while compromising other lifestyle choices.

As a broad generalization, you might say that a Christian school in a small town on the prairies or in northern Ontario is likely to have a low tuition rate, while a boarding school in the heart of a large metropolis will be among the most expensive private schools. Prestigious boarding schools cost in the range of $40,000 to $50,000 per year (and more).

Another general rule is that tuition is lower in the younger grades. This is often driven by simple market demand: parents have more alternatives in the younger grades (especially in preschool and junior kindergarten, where private schools compete with nursery school and daycare), so lower fees are often attractive to families.

You can search through our listings of private schools near you (and/or in the category you are interested in such as 'Christian schools' or 'Montessori schools') to find tuition in your range. We also list private schools offering scholarships and schools with financial aid programs.

You can also use our search engine, input the maximum you want to spend under 'cost' and easily find a private school you can afford:

What does tuition go towards?

The majority of institutions face the same core expenses, including:

  • Staff salaries and support specialists
  • Classroom supplies
  • Facility improvements and maintenance
  • Transportation and meal services
  • Financial aid
  • Property taxes

Boarding schools also face the expenses of housing, supervising, and feeding students.

“The investment in teachers is the biggest expenditure for schools,” says educational consultant, Elaine Danson. “Schools may also be spending on professional development, as well as keeping up with new technology and training teachers to use that technology.”

At Montcrest School in Toronto, 85% of tuition (which ranges from $18,000 to $34,335 annually, depending on the grade) goes towards faculty compensation, says Jim Linley, Director of Finance. Operating expenses also include facility maintenance, classroom supplies and professional development programs.

The school devotes a percentage of their budget to financial aid, and does its best to accommodate families whose finances change throughout the year.

Linley thinks the difference in tuition between schools is largely explained by how much each school invests in these basic categories.

Montcrest’s Director of Advancement, Michael Dilworth, adds that tuition is sometimes influenced by the size of a school’s campus – with larger campuses requiring more upkeep and property taxes.

Tuition generally increases on a yearly basis at Montcrest, which isn’t unusual for private schools.

“We want to recruit and retain exceptional staff, and we are competing with large independent schools and public boards,” says Linley. “Compensation is the biggest part of the budget and we need to stay competitive to offer the type of education we want to deliver.” The school sees an increase in its expense budget of about 2.5% each year, which is largely driven by staff compensation.

What is — and isn’t — included in tuition

Tuition doesn’t simply get your child into a classroom with a teacher: private schools typically offer more. Students will likely have access to tutoring services or extra support from their teachers.

Students also will have access to equipment and resources not always at the fingertips of students and educators in the public school system. It’s the benefit of paying for private education: more perks for students to thrive in their educational development – particularly positive for those with a learning disability where support and funding in the public system isn’t always strong.

Most private schools offer extensive extracurricular activities for students to explore their passions and find new ones. With this advantage, parents save money in the way of after-school programs they would likely have to pay for if their child was in public school, and would save time from not having to drive their child to and from programs.

While tuition covers a majority of the major expenses, schools don’t cover all costs and parents need to be aware as to avoid any surprises as the school year nears. It’s important to be aware of these added expenses prior to selecting a private or independent school for your child. Finding out later on can create an unneeded headache and the potential for financial stress could be thrust upon you – so ask questions about what isn’t included in tuition.

Books, transportation, extra classroom supplies, meals, trips, a laptop computer and uniforms are potential extra costs on top of tuition, so it’s important to inquire about what the total added costs might be to plan your financial strategy.

Is paying private school tuition worth it?

Private school tuition is inevitably one of the factors in parents' decision whether or not to send their children to private school, and which school to choose.

When considering the investment of putting your child in a private school, think of it as a down payment for your child’s success. Private schools increase the likelihood of success in the professional world in the way of job stability and higher-paying jobs. This is achieved by giving students a leg up when it comes to attending university, networking, and surpassing academic standards.

The decision to put your child in private school instead of public school requires that you think over the financial costs, but also what the overall benefits it has for your child to grow as a young learner. There are a number of ways to help fund a private school education - from scholarships, early investment, and bursaries and grants - and it is possible to make it happen.

When you already pay for public education through taxation, it can be difficult to justify spending thousands of dollars more on private education. But there are benefits to it – many that thousands of parents across Canada agree make it worth the investment.

Private school and public school administrators and educators all do their best to create the best learning environment possible. There are excellent public schools and there are excellent private schools. However, teachers in public schools in almost all states and provinces in North America are required to have some form of federal, state or provincial certification along with a bachelor's degree.

In the more prestigious private and boarding schools, there are likely to be teachers who are much more highly qualified, with graduate degrees and higher level awards. But whether you choose a public school or a private school, finding a school to provide your child a solid educational foundation for future success in academia and the professional world is the most critical thing.

Ensure that the school emphasizes the well-qualified teachers and smaller class sizes that cater best to students’ unique academic and personal strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, realize that there are good public schools and good private schools. In the end what matters is choosing a school that best suits your child, as well as the entire family.

Affording the cost of private school

Making the decision to pay for your child to attend private school may be the easiest part of the process: deciding on what school is best for your child, and affordable, is the next.

The common misconception is private school is for the privileged and upper-class families in Canada. In recent years, more and more middle-class and lower-class families are sending their children to private schools.

Finding ways to pay for your child’s education is possible. Check out our 18 tips on how to fund private school education.

You can also attend information seminars on financial aid, including scholarships and tax breaks, at any of the Private School Expos every fall. These one day events are a must for any parent or student considering an alternative education.

Finding a school by cost

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