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How parents pay for private school

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When parents borrow to pay for high school, about one-third use educational loans, says Daryl Leake, a senior vice president with Key Educational Resources, a division of Key Bank. Borrowers can take up to 20 years to pay it off, but the rate is about 9.56 percent annually on a $10,000 note, he says.

Making it work
The type of school also makes a difference in price. Independent schools that don't have a religious affiliation or financial backing are often more expensive. For example, the average cost of senior year tuition at a Catholic high school is about $5,870, according to 2004-2005 figures from the National Catholic Education Association.

About one-third of parents ask for financial aid and about 27 percent receive it, according to the NCEA. In addition, 62 percent of Catholic schools have students who are also on public assistance.

At Jewish high schools, 35 percent to 41 percent of students receive some type of financial aid, according to 2003-2004 figures from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

"Actually, private schools are a lot more affordable than folks think," says Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella association of national private education groups.

School-based financing
Increasingly, schools offer their own financing, with more-flexible repayment plans than banks offer, allowing parents to spread payments over the year or make several payments rather than one lump sum.

Of parents who request financial aid, only 17 percent pay the remainder of the bill in one lump sum. Forty-four percent break the bill into monthly payments, 24 percent pay it in two installments and 8 percent pay it quarterly.

Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., draws from an affluent community, but still about 70 percent of parents have opted for monthly payments, says president Stephen Phelps.

Tuition payments plans have increased nationwide.

"We've seen a steady increase in families signing up for tuition payment plans," says Nina Vellayan, president of business office solutions for educational lender Sallie Mae.

Fundraising and financial aid
At Massachusetts-based Deerfield Academy, 40 percent of families receive some kind of reduced tuition, says Lee Wicks, the secretary of the academy. The average grant is around $13,000, she says. Factor in that the cost of educating one student for a year is higher than the tuition and, "in a sense, everybody is subsidized," says Wicks.

Schools are able to afford the grants because they have become more aggressive at fundraising for their financial aid programs. "Most Catholic high schools have a development director like a college," McTighe says. says. In addition, some schools are also adding full-time alumni directors and full-time annual fund directors, as well.

"Schools have gotten much more serious in their fundraising," McTighe says. "They can really make the case for the need."

At Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, about 30 percent of the students are receiving financial aid, says Ed Leyden, the school's president. Tuition runs about $8,700 and the average aid package is about 25 percent, he says.

Even so, parents are doing "heroic things," such as working extra jobs, to keep their kids in private high schools, he says.

The rule for financial aid: If you need it, ask.

If families think they might want financial aid, it pays to plan ahead. "With most schools, the financial aid deadline is around February," says Mitchell, though some fall earlier and others as late as April 15. And a small number of schools give away their aid dollars on a first-come, first-served basis, he says. So when it comes to applications, "I always tell people, 'the earlier, the better.'"

If you're turned down, or don't get as much aid as you need, you can appeal. Mitchell says schools are often willing to reconsider if the family's financial picture has changed recently, or if there were mitigating circumstances or other financial obligations left out of the application. "All schools are willing to hear from a family that feels their need is not being met."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Dec. 6, 2006
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