Culture, camaraderie, an excellent education through a social justice lens: Jewish day schools are appealing for many reasons. But then there’s the matter of affording them. I’ve heard from many parents (and administrators) who say there’s an economic perception problem among day schools. They’re thought to be beyond the reach of ordinary people.
Happily, this isn’t necessarily true. Many day schools offer robust and discreet grant-based financial aid programs for families across income levels. If you’re considering day school—but also understandably concerned about affordability—here are some things to consider.
You might qualify for aid, even if you have a healthy income.
“Families with significant incomes can still qualify for tuition assistance, particularly when they have multiple children across day schools,” says the chair of the flexible tuition committee at the Jewish Community Day School (anonymous by request).
“The first piece of advice I would give is never disqualify yourself or make assumptions that you wouldn’t qualify for financial aid,” agrees Isaac Judd, CFOO at Gann Academy. “Boston is expensive. School is expensive, and especially as Jews, there are lots of other costs: camps, synagogue memberships. All the schools I know look holistically at the big picture.”
For instance, Gann’s Within Reach program offers financial aid options to families with incomes up to $600,000, depending on factors such as number of children in school (including college).
The Rashi School’s Realize Rashi program is also open to families who make less than $600,000 with net assets under $500,000, not including retirement savings or their primary home. This is important, since many families bought homes years ago—and the equity has skyrocketed.
“We don’t want anyone to sell their home to afford a Rashi education,” says Rashi admissions director Ilyssa Frey.
Ask for sample financial aid packages.
This isn’t nosy. Administrators should be prepared to give you a ballpark figure based on similar families.
“We certainly provide average awards and ranges to people based on adjusted gross income and number of kids. Ask: Can you give me some sort of rough comparison to families who fall in that bucket? What roughly might I be expected to pay?” Judd suggests.
Rashi’s Frey agrees.
“The thing we worry most about is a family who never even comes to talk to us,” she says. At the outset of your admissions process, ask how many kids receive aid and if your family might potentially receive a form of assistance.
More than income alone can factor into a financial aid package. Schools might also look at parents’ student debt, parents’ ages, how far away they are from retirement, and other assets or properties.
The process is confidential.
Every single administrator I spoke with emphasized this. Many schools use the School & Student Services software program to objectively compute aid packages.
“I don’t think there’s any stigma at all. We have a very confidential process. The financial aid committee is small, and we absolutely honor confidentiality and privacy. And there is no one else in the school who knows anything about a family’s financial aid status,” Frey says.
At most schools, financial aid is also need-blind—meaning applying for financial aid won’t affect your chances of admission whatsoever.
Financial aid is flexible.
Schools can adjust their aid package if you suffer a job loss or an income decline. This is especially important as kids might enter a school in kindergarten and leave as teenagers, during which time finances might fluctuate.
Be straightforward about your finances.
There’s no judgment here. Transparency is important. “Sharing requested details of your circumstances makes it easier for the school to help,” says the aid committee member at JCDS.
Ask about alternatives to traditional financial aid.
At Rashi, for example, where $2 million in aid is distributed to 35% of kids annually, there are programs such as a Clergy Incentive Program, where children of clergy receive $6,000 per year toward tuition. At Gann, a Pioneer Program grants $20,000 to ninth graders and $10,000 to 10th graders who have attended public school since at least sixth grade, to make the transition to private school more affordable.
Most of all, administrators say that helping families of all means afford a Jewish education is a top priority, and schools have robust aid programs through a variety of channels, ranging from donors to active annual fund drives.
“Our goal is to try to reach the families who want an education steeped in faith-based or values-based beliefs. All sorts of families can be part of our community and should be,” Frey says.