Affording the Dream

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Financial Aid FAQs

Q:  Who should apply for aid?

A:  Schools encourage all families in need to apply for financial assistance. Families should first evaluate their resources, alter spending habits, maximize their earnings and carefully manage their assets before applying for financial aid.

Q:  Is there a cutoff in terms of income to qualify for financial aid?

A:  No. Income is just one of several factors taken into consideration when calculating need. The School and Students Service for Financial Aid (SSS) uses a formula accepted nationally among independent schools to analyze need and the family’s ability to contribute to educational expenses. There is no preset income figure that qualifies a family for aid. Numerous factors are considered, including family size, assets, debt and number of children attending tuition-charging schools.

Q:  Can my child apply for an academic, athletic or musical scholarship?

A:  While financial aid is based on demonstrated financial need, some schools offer merit-based scholarships. Many of these scholarships are also need-based.

Q:  How early should we file our tax returns?

A:   As early as possible. According to the Internal Revenue Service, W-2s and 1099s should be received by Jan. 31. Financial aid deadlines for new students are often in February, and copies of your completed tax returns are required.

Q:  What if I miss the deadline to apply for financial aid?

A:   It’s never too late to apply for financial aid, but funds are limited and may not be available to those who are late in applying. To receive the maximum benefit, parents are encouraged to apply before the deadline.

Q:  Will my child’s financial aid award change from year to year? What if our income changes?

A:  Financial aid is recalculated each year. In general, if there is little or no change in your family circumstances, you can expect the award to remain at about the same level. The financial aid awards, however, may be affected by the total funds budgeted and the number of applicants.

Q:  What if one parent is not legally responsible for supporting the child’s education?

A:  A copy of the divorce decree verifying this arrangement needs to be submitted to the school.

Q:  As a recipient of financial aid, will my child have extra responsibilities, such as a campus job?

A:  Some schools do require students, 14 years and older, who receive financial aid to work in school offices, labs or in the cafeteria for one period each school day.

Q:  Will we have to repay any financial aid we receive?

A:  No, if your family is awarded financial aid, you will not be expected to repay the award.

Q:  What are the main reasons financial aid is denied?

A:  Incomplete financial information and too much income. To appeal a decision, you have to submit a written letter to the financial aid committee explaining why it should reconsider. You may need to provide additional documents to support the appeal.

Schools Step Up

More than half of the independent schools across the state provide tuition assistance to at least 15 percent of their students, according to HAIS. “Once people take a look to see the different types of financial aid available,” says Witt, “they’ll realize [private school education] can be affordable.”

It’s not just low-income families who are applying for financial aid. One way to gauge your need: If, after adjusting your finances, you still can’t set aside 10 percent of the school’s tuition every month over 10 months, you might be a candidate for financial aid.

“There is less of a stigma associated with need-based financial aid today because more and more people are applying for aid, including families from middle-income households that are applying for the first time and could honestly use a little help,” says Troy Onink, author of Strategy & Simplicity for Private School and College Funding.

Many of the independent schools in Hawaii are already seeing an increase in requests for financial aid. At Punahou School, for example, 14 percent of returning students applied for financial aid for the first time, said Betsy Hata, director of admission. Tuition here increased to $15,725 last year, up roughly 70 percent from 10 years ago. About 11 percent of Punahou students received financial aid last year.

“There’s nothing to lose in applying,” Hata says. Parents should not worry about being penalized for applying for aid; admissions decisions are made independently of financial need concerns.   

At Iolani School, the financial aid budget has grown to $2 million for 2008-2009, more than double the budget four years ago, says Pat Liu, director of admissions. About 13 percent of the school’s students will receive financial aid, with 31 students earning full scholarships. In addition, students who receive more than half of their tuition from financial aid are eligible for assistance from the Student Discretionary Fund, which helps students pay for ancillary expenses, such as proms or field trips.

“We’ve made every effort to increase the amount of our awards so that more families can afford to attend,” Liu said. “We’re all facing tough decisions and tough economic times. We encourage parents to just apply.”

Consider Scholarships and Tax Aid

Aside from applying for financial aid, there are other strategies families can use to make private school education more affordable.

Many schools, for example, offer various payment plans to help parents budget their spending.

Some schools, particularly parish ones, offer multichild discounts to aid families with more than one child attending the same school. At St. Andrew’s Priory School, for example, the second child gets a 5 percent discount on tuition; the third and any subsequent children receive 25 percent.

“As tuition goes up, we try to keep that manageable for the families,” says Sue Ann Wargo, admissions director at St. Andrew’s Priory and an alumnae. “Schools have to be as creative [about financial assistance] as we’re asking families to be,” Wargo says.

Of the 500 girls who attend St. Andrew’s Priory, 136 receive tuition assistance, with eight students getting the entire tuition—either $12,295 for kindergarten through fifth grade or $12,960 for sixth through twelfth grade—waived.

Like other schools, St. Andrew’s Priory awards a competitive scholarship—the Queen Emma Merit Scholarship—to students who excel academically. These scholarships are another way families can get a break on tuition.

Parents with children attending any of the 40 Catholic schools in Hawaii can also apply for tuition assistance through the Augustine Educational Foundation (, an independent charitable foundation that helps families afford the cost of education. The scholarship amounts for last school year were $1,000 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $1,250 for high school.

With the average tuition at these Catholic schools well under other independent schools—$5,500 for elementary schools, $10,000 for high school—the scholarship can significantly help struggling families.

ASSETS School, which serves children with special-education needs, offers various payment plan options and need-based financial aid. The school also guides parents to other financial help related to their children’s needs.

For example, parents of children with dyslexia may qualify for tax deductions, medical flexible spending accounts and medical reimbursement plans—all to help them afford the cost of tuition, which is $15,600 for first through eighth grades and $19,200 for high school.