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Private schools encourage families to contact the school directly regarding their financial assistance programs.Handout

Private school tuition in Canada is expensive. For example, Appleby College in Oakville, Ont. charges $40,020 for day school. In Victoria, St. Michaels University School will run you at least $21,095. No matter where you look, private education costs tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The latest data from Statistics Canada reveal the median after-tax income for Canadian households and unattached individuals was $62,900 in 2019. This means for many families, private school education is financially impossible.

But there still may be a path to private school for those who can’t afford it. The majority of private schools offer financial assistance to qualifying students.

Ena Harrop is the head of school at the all-girls Crofton House School in Vancouver where day tuition is currently $26,200. They offer assistance that can cover up to 98 per cent of the cost of tuition and program-related costs, such as textbooks and mandatory field trips.

“We are committed to welcoming and supporting girls from a wide range of backgrounds who would positively contribute to our community, regardless of financial circumstances,” Harrop says.

Crofton House, like 170 other schools in Canada, uses the independent third-party, Ottawa-based Apple Financial Services, to evaluate financial assistance applications and determine need. Apple examines factors such as a household income and size of family, in order to make recommendations. The final decision is made by the school.

Fees at Calgary-based Delta West Academy run up to $18,350 per year. They use a third party charitable organization called the Prosser Charitable Foundation to determine if families qualify for a bursary.

“Successful applicants must meet low-income criteria. If a family does not qualify and they have been a long-term family in our community, parents would meet with our head of school to discuss financial circumstances,” says Amanda Dennis, director of school operations and admission at Delta West Academy.

Caitlin Kavander, a 1998 alumnae from St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Oakville, Ont., says financial assistance offered by that school saved her at a crucial time in her life.

“My parents are divorced. I moved to my dad’s in Oakville and transferred to St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School for Grade 11 after having a very difficult Grade 10 year. Then the 1990s recession hit and my family could no longer afford the tuition, but I worked with the school to find a way to help keep me enrolled,” Kavander says.

She says without the financial assistance she would have had to leave the school along with all her friends and support systems.

The Canadian Accredited Independent Schools reports in 2020, 7,153 students from 89 schools received financial aid averaging $12,485 per student. Total financial aid distributed in 2020 was $84.9-million or $954,000 per participating school.

Jennifer Deathe, the admissions manager at Waldorf Academy in Toronto, says the school offers up to 50 per cent of tuition assistance to qualifying students. She says there’s a misconception that only students needing maximum help qualify for assistance.

“I think for the most part people feel like they have to really be unable to afford it in order to apply. It doesn’t have to be the full amount. It can be just a few thousand dollars, if that’s going to help your family, there’s that flexibility,” Deathe says.

Private schools encourage families to contact the school directly regarding their financial assistance programs. They’re discreet and the information is kept private.

Looking for more stories about private school education? Get the latest on curriculum trends, financial assistance and the pandemic’s impact here.