Scholarships and Grants
Tips for Funding Your Child’s Education
Whether you’re investigating an independent school for your child or helping your teenager explore college options, one of your biggest challenges is likely figuring out how to pay for it. With tuition steadily rising at colleges and independent K-12 schools across the country, more families need help paying for education.
By Laura Raines
Scholarships for Independent Schools
While there are great public school systems in the metro Atlanta area, many parents may wish to explore whether an independent school is the best fit for their child. There are roughly 2,000 independent schools in Georgia, and many offer some kind of need-based or merit-based financial aid. But not all of these programs are created equal.
“The amount of financial aid funding for students differs tremendously from school to school,” says David Fincher, president of Greater Atlanta Christian School. “Once parents determine the schools that fit their child best, the best place to obtain funding information is on the schools’ websites or through their financial aid offices.” Application deadlines also vary by school, so to avoid missing out on a potential opportunity it’s best to start researching and planning your next steps early enough in advance.
Parents can also apply for K-12 loans to help finance independent school education through services such as Prepgate, Your Tuition Solution or Sallie Mae. Interest rates, loan amounts and options will of course differ for each organization; Prepgate’s maximum loan amount is $30,000, while Your Tuition Solution’s maximum amount is $40,000.
One increasingly popular source of funding is the Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit program. Donors can receive a tax credit for every dollar they contribute to a student scholarship organization (SSO), which is authorized by the state to receive donations and disburse them in the form of scholarships to independent schools. Georgia places a cap of $58 million on the tax credits available through the program each year.
The program “has empowered more Georgia families to be able to choose private K-12 schools by removing some of the financial barriers,” says Lisa Kelly, president of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program. In six years, she says, her SSO has awarded $88 million in scholarships to 30,000 students. “Because of this program, schools have been able to increase the socioeconomic, ethnic and racial diversity of their student bodies,” she says.
Pay it Forward Scholarships also provides funds for pre-K through 12th grade students to attend any accredited private school in Georgia. Pay it Forward Scholarships is funded by tax credits and distributes scholarships equally among all approved scholars by school, with a cap based on income. “It’s easy to apply on the website and the deadline is December 31,” says Cary Sinnett, director of Pay It Forward Scholarships.
Parents of special needs children may benefit from the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship (GSNS). Public school students on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)—a document that outlines the needs of a student with learning disabilities and creates a plan for meeting those needs—may be eligible to transfer to a better public or private institution and offset some of the costs with a scholarship that ranges from $2,500 to $13,500 with an average amount of about $6,000.
Grants may also be available through school alumni associations, foundations, religious denominations and other groups. The schools themselves are the best source of scholarship and grant information, says Mark Kantrowitz, a national expert on student financial aid and senior vice-president and publisher of Edvisors, a network of websites that offer educational resources for students and parents. Financial aid can be very competitive, he says, so it’s wise to apply early.
Financial Aid for College
While many college scholarships are awarded to athletes and academic stars, others are based on geographic location, ethnic background, religious affiliation, musical talent and even community service.
“You can’t receive money if you don’t apply,” says Nancy T. Beane, college counselor for The Westminster Schools. “Be proactive and don’t wait until the last minute. Scholarship deadlines are often earlier than college admission deadlines, so get serious about your search in your junior year.” Your first stop should be your high school’s guidance office, which has resources and specialized knowledge of local and national scholarships. Civic organizations, churches and employers may also offer scholarships or grants. Even small awards can add up.
“Contact the financial aid office of each prospective college to ask about all of their needs-based and merit scholarships,” advises Jean P. Hague, an Atlanta-based independent college consultant. “They don’t always publicize every opportunity on their websites.”
The Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC), a state agency that provides financial aid to Georgia students, is another valuable resource. It holds more than 1,500 events each year at schools around the state to talk to parents and their high school and middle school students. And then there’s Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship. HOPE, which is funded entirely by the Georgia Lottery for Education, has helped approximately 2 million academic achievers attend Georgia public colleges, paying out more than $7.2 billion in tuition.
The HOPE Grant, a separate program from the HOPE Scholarship, helps pay for diploma and certificate programs at Georgia technical colleges. Another grant, the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant, pays $450 per semester or $300 per quarter to qualified students enrolled in private Georgia colleges.
While there is definitely money to be had for qualified applicants, Beane urges students to use caution. “Choose legitimate sites recommended by your counselor,” she says. “Beware of scams. Never pay for a scholarship match or give out personal financial information. There’s plenty of free information available.”
For more information on scholarships and a list of SSOs, visit the Georgia Department of Education at www.gadoe.org, or visit www.georgiacollege411.org, or search the name of any organization named in this article.