Private School Guide

The Buck Goes On: When Your Kid Goes to Private School, Be Prepared to Spend

It's not just the tuition that'll cost you—fees for extracurricular activities, school trips, technology and more add up.

By Laura Furr Mericas October 2, 2017 Published in the October 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Parents should expect a host of extra expenses in addition to tuition when they send their kids to private school. Here’s what to expect when you’re accepted:

Application fees: It costs to be seen. In addition to providing a child’s credentials and recommendations, parents must pay a fee to officially apply to each private school on their list. “Parents can always expect to pay an application fee,” says LouAnn Webber, director of admissions for Memorial Lutheran School and board president of Houston Area Independent Schools, an association of nearly 90 private schools in the area. These typically fall within the $50 to $100 range, says Webber, who also sent her two children to private school.

Testing fees: In order to be admitted to most of Houston’s private middle and high schools, prospective students are required to take entrance exams such as the WISC or the ISEE. Once they’re in, additional testing may be required if students want to be placed in advanced classes. All of these tests cost money. Sometimes, however, schools are able to waive fees. It definitely doesn't hurt to ask.

Enrollment fees: Before classes begin, parents will also be asked to pay fees ranging between $500 and $1,000, Webber says. Schools use these funds for different purposes. Some put the money toward students’ tuition, but most use the payments for classroom materials and other equipment costs.

Technology fees: Gone are the days of pencil and paper. Many private school students are learning via laptop or iPad by their middle school years, Webber says. This requires—you guessed it—another fee. “Some [students] have to buy their laptop through the school, or sometimes the fee covers licenses and updates to the laptops and iPads,” Webber says. The students at Memorial Lutheran, for instance, are given Chromebooks in middle school, though Webber notes that some schools allow students to bring devices from home.

Extracurriculars: Creating well-rounded students—one of the most talked-about goals among parents and administrators—requires students to be active both in and out of the classroom through sports, the arts or a club. Parents can plan to pay an annual fee for most extracurricular activities, especially sports, and for equipment or uniforms that aren’t provided by the school. These types of fees are nominal at some schools and upward of $200 at others.    

Trips: Many of Houston’s private schools coordinate educational trips for middle schoolers, high schoolers and those involved in clubs. Visits to Washington, D.C., trips to national parks, senior retreats and hands-on class outings are the norm at Houston’s private schools. “Most of the time, the trips will not be mandatory, but the schools like for the students to go,” Webber says. “Parents can usually make payments toward the trip so it’s not always a lump sum.”

A Note on Financial Assistance

Webber acknowledges that the costs associated with private school can be “overwhelming,” but encourages parents to do their research on how individual institutions can help.

Parents can apply for merit scholarships and need-based financial aid to send their kids to private schools, much as they can do when their kids apply for college. “Every school does make their own determination of how much aid is given, but parents should never be afraid to apply,” Webber says. “You would be surprised at how much financial aid is given out.”

This aid can only be put toward tuition, and not toward other expenses associated with attending private schools, but still, Webber says, there are other ways to cut costs. Some schools discount certain fees for families on financial assistance, and others will even pay the fees in full. Many private schools also offer “sibling discounts” for families with multiple children.

“It’s really important to look at each school because every school has its own policies, costs and tuition pricing,” Webber says. “Admissions directors are ready and willing to speak with any parent.”

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