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By: Jennifer Coates, Mount de Sales Academy Business Office // MDS Musings Blog

While college admissions offices are sending out their first wave of acceptances, private middle and high schools are just starting their admissions season. Regardless of your child’s age and grade in school, affordability is a top concern for most families. Thankfully schools understand that, now more than ever, the need for tuition assistance programs is on the rise. Look for schools that have a robust scholarship and financial aid program. Sometimes the lingo can be confusing and the process daunting. Here, we break it all down:

Need-based financial aid

When a school uses the term “financial aid,” it is usually referring to a discount in tuition, based on the family’s financial situation. Aid is not given directly to the family, but a discount is offered on the listed tuition price. Like FAFSA for college, each school has their own program to determine the financial need of the family. The program should be a third party, not the school itself, so there is no conflict of interest between the acceptance process and the financial aid process. These applications can be lengthy, and typically require tax information to be submitted. Based on the application, calculation, and report given back to the school, an award package can be determined for each candidate. Financial aid has no bearing on outside scholarship opportunities, or the academic achievement of the student. It is strictly need-based.

Merit Scholarships

Merit, or academic scholarships, are for students who show high academic achievement. This is usually determined by some type of test, whether that be a subject-based test (with math, science, and language questions) or a non-verbal exam that tests critical-thinking and problem solving skills. Exams are varied in length and can be administered on paper or electronically. Some schools allow any student to sit for the exam, while others may require a teacher recommendation or prior testing. Always inquire about the type of test your student is about to take and what kind of preparation is needed. Academic scholarships should not have any bearing on whether a family receives need-based assistance. Both can be received, and they should remain separate.

Other Scholarship Opportunities

In addition to need-based aid and academic scholarships, many schools have other tuition assistance programs available or participate in community or state-funded programs as well. These could be outside scholarships, where businesses and organizations offer scholarship programs for students in their communities, such as GEICO or Community Foundations. Some schools may also have individual scholarships, named for special donors or alumni. These types of scholarships usually have specific eligibility requirements, including opportunities for alumni children, students of color, or military families. Sometimes interest in a particular subject, religion, feeder school, or GPA, are criteria for scholarship selection. There are also state-run programs such as GOAL and GRACE, where students in public school can apply for tax-funded scholarship dollars to help them attend a local private school.

The most important thing to remember is to do your research and ask questions – including if the scholarship or financial aid package is a one-year or multi-year opportunity, and if applying every year is required.

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Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, and serves students in Bibb, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach and other surrounding counties. MDS is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.