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Scholarships and financial aid: a comprehensive guide

Reviewing the myriad of awards available to help cover private school tuition

Financial aid and scholarships can be valuable tools in helping reduce the overall costs of private school. The number of awards handed out is increasing rapidly -- as are the amounts being awarded -- so procuring financial support either through needs-based or merit-based opportunities should be taken seriously.

The most common source of money is from schools themselves, but opportunities can also be found through:

  • Local government
  • Community organizations (ie: Rotary Club, Masonic Temple)
  • Not-for-profit organizations
  • Local or National worker unions
  • Businesses and corporations
  • Athletic and educational associations

Our position: it's worth making an effort to investigate all possibilities.

Needs versus merit- based awards

Needs-based awards -- often called financial aid or bursaries -- are given based on demonstrated financial need, (logically enough).

According to Canadian Accredited Independent Schools, more than 6,700 private school students received a total of $53.1-million in financial aid in 2011-12. The average amount of financial assistance awarded to individual students was $9,318 in 2011-12, up from $8,771 in the previous academic year. Collectively, independent schools are increasing their overall amount of financial aid by an estimated 8 per cent every year.

For a list of schools offering needs-based financial aid, click here.

The application process can be very thorough to make sure your family fits the criteria set out by the school. It’s likely you will need a comprehensive record of your finances to apply, including a detailed outline of family income, real estate assets, mortgages and investments, among other things.

Financial Aid awards are based on two criteria: the family’s financial situation and the applicant’s assessed overall merit. Schools will look at his or her current or potential contribution to the school community as determined through the completed application which can include references, personal or telephone interview, admissions test and academic reports, community involvement, school involvement, extra-curricular activities, among other things.

Financial aid awards are normally offered for the current academic year and can be renewed every year if the student has maintained a strong academic average and has remained active within the community.

Financial aid is traditionally meant to supplement a family's contribution. Some private schools are able to cover full tuition, but many will offer up to half of tuition costs for those who qualify. Most schools have a committee that will meet and decide how to distribute the financial aid allocated for that academic year among current and new students that are eligible.

What is the difference between financial aid and a scholarship?

Scholarships are excellent opportunities to ease the financial expense of a private education. More schools and their alumni are making scholarships available than ever before, and parents are taking advantage. The variety of merit-based awards available and the application process may seem intimidating, but understanding how best to apply can help a family's private school dreams become a reality.

Researching available scholarship options even before an acceptance letter from a school is the best approach – the earlier you look and apply the easier the whole process will be. Many schools have strict deadlines on submissions, and sufficient time must be allotted for the application process.

You may be surprised at the number of scholarships available, and the variety as well. Entrance scholarships offer a tuition break for incoming students without a formal application, but others awards that target a student's academics ability, artistic or athletic skill or efforts in community service often do.

Some scholarships will cover partial or full tuition, as well, but you may only be able to apply to a single scholarship so it’s important to choose the scholarship where you stand the best chance, even if it isn’t the largest one available. Some money is better than no money.  

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For advice on crafting a winning scholarship application (merit-based), click here.

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