Private School Tuition, Fees and Policies

Parent Q&A

  • I am curious if any of the bay area private schools currently shuttered due to the Covid-19 Shelter in Place order will be making any attempts to lower tuition now that the closure will definitely go into May -- and possibly longer. Or, if they are trying to make up some lost time in the summer. Would you be willing to share (anonymously) for the sake of other private school parents trying to navigate this? I'll start. My child is enrolled in The Renaissance International School. Thus far we've received some letters from the administration about an attempt to "lower costs," but the latest seems to be that tuition will remain the same so the teachers will be retained and the school will be able to reopen. They are willing to do different payment schedules on a case by case basis. Nothing has been said about making up time in the summer, though that would be complicated for our school anyway since it already has a summer program that not all students opt into. Anyway, I'd love to hear what other people's experiences have been at their schools, just to share information. I certainly don't have an opinion on what *should* be done -- it's a terrible situation all around! None of this was the fault of private schools, and of course they want to retain their staff. However so many parents are dealing with sudden job loss/income reduction, also through no fault of their own, while having their kids home all day and being in charge of their education. My child isn't really at an age where distance learning is possible without all day participation by a parent, even if the staff are doing their best to provide lessons. What else can I say? I'm sure fellow parents reading this are all having the same issues! Hope we can discuss.

    The private schools I'm aware of all keep their tuition the same and do online classes.  The teachers for the most part are still working the days to prepare the online program and provide it and are getting paid, so payment is still due as usual.  My childcare program went to 50% payment, though I get zero value for it now except retaining my spot for when school goes back in session, which I'm a little upset about since they used to have activities and lessons and are offering nothing virtually.  I'm still paying but I'm much happier to keep paying when the programs are at least attempting to provide replacement instruction/enrichment virtually, esp since my kids really like it and enjoy school and all of their activities that moved online.

    Most of the K-12 independent schools, including our K-8, are providing daily lessons and content from what I hear, so therefore no, not reducing tuition (since staff are still being paid). That said, I know our school is absolutely working with families who have lost jobs to help them through incredibly tough times. The impact of the crisis varies widely by family, though--within our school community, I know of a family where both parents are now out of work, and of multiple families (including our own) where both parents are still being paid full salaries and able to work from home or in essential fields out of the home. Many families are somewhere in between. My expectation is that families like ours that have not yet suffered an income loss will pay as usual for as long as the school continues to pay employees as usual, and those who have lost jobs will be helped as much as the school is able through the tuition assistance program. (Fortunately at our school, most families have already finished paying tuition for the current year given the payment schedule for that, so it's largely about next year.) It also sounds like your child is preschool-aged, and that is another story entirely as far as how well the school can provide instruction and content--I think the more relevant reference there is other preschools vs. other independent schools. The remote learning isn't ideal for early elementary, but it's working decently for our kids. Our kindergartener does need adult help transitioning between activities, but our school has done a great job providing supports for this (including lots of videos from teachers demonstrating each lesson or activity). If/when the school does need to start laying off staff, I would expect that there might be some reduction in costs passed onto families, but I very much hope we won't get to that point, and that "real" school will be able to resume in the fall. Fingers crossed!

    I think school by school the situation is a bit different, but here goes how I see it.  If you are making the same income, just working from home and taking care of your kid, you absolutely positively should continue paying full tuition.  It is essential for the survival of the school, and the economy of our community and the nation.  All of us have to give something.  We are in this together.  Now, if you are making less income because you are on unemployment or lost a job or whatever, that is a different situation.  Hopefully your school has a strong financial aid program.  If your tuition is paid for the year I wouldn't bring it up but for next year hopefully they can accommodate your situation.  But keep in mind they are accommodating everyone else's situation as well.  You didn't mention whether your school is continuing to provide learning in some form to your child.  My kid goes to Oakland Hebrew Day School.  They have put in enormous effort to create an online forum in a very short period of time.  My kids even have art and P.E.  Yes of course it is not the same as in the classroom.  But it requires more, not less for the teachers, administrators and staff to put together and they need to get paid.  I think any of us who are still being paid, or are financially able to should continue to pay all the same schools, camps, nannies, housecleaners, tutors, gardeners, etc etc as long as we are able to.  It's not their fault they can't work the way they used to.  But again, if your income has taken a hit, that also needs to be taken into account as you can't pay what you don't have.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Tuition-when is it due at your school?

July 2010

Hi- the middle school that we currently attend bills in May and July for the upcoming school year. This means the entire tuition is pre-paid before the year starts. Is this how other east bay middle and high schools bill? Is this reasonable? curious parent

My son's private middle school has three options: 1) pay in advance by May 1 2) pay in two installments May 1 and unfortunately I can't recall the date for the remainder 3) pay in monthly installments, with a ''convenience'' fee attached to each payment. My daughter's private elementary school does the monthly thing, but I guess one could pay it all in advance if one wanted. There is no incentive to pay it in advance. I think it's easier for the school if they have the tuition paid in advance, presumably because it makes it easier to pay bills and organize funding for other projects throughout the school year. anon

My kids have attended 4 different K-12 private schools over the years. Three of them billed monthly, dividing the year's tuition into 10 equal payments. The fourth school wanted either the entire sum, or half of it, before school started, with the balance due - I think - in December or January. At this school, tuition could be divided up in 10 monthly payments but there was a substantial "processing fee." You could also pay monthly by making arrangements for a student loan (the school gets its tuition in full before school starts, you pay back the loan monthly.) Have you looked at the web sites for other schools? Most of them have very detailed information on their websites about how much tuition is, and when it is due. a Mom


What are the yearly costs for private school?

May 2010

We live in the East Bay and our kids are not yet school age, but getting there. What are the yearly costs for private school? I've heard the increases are usually about 7% - is that true? How available is financial aid? We make about $190k, which may sound like a lot, but we have a mortgage and would like to retire some day. Would we be laughed at for aid? How much???

Each private school is different, but in my experience in the last 2 years as the parent of a private school student, the tuition does increase more than the yearly 3- 4% standard cost of living increase, however, our school has been very mindful of the current economic climate and has not raised tuition as much as they might normally have in the past 2 years.

The bottom line is this, choosing to send your child to a private school is a choice that will require you to have to sacrifice, period. Unless you are fairly wealthy, sending your child to a priavte school takes most if not all of your discretionary income. It means no vacations or VERY modest vacations, it means that you have to REALLY watch your money. It is a choice. It is something that you do because you really believe that your child and your family will be better off for it.

I understand that in the bay area with a big mortgage and after taxes $190k doesn't go far for a family, I am in the same boat. Some schools choose to spread financial aid around and some reserve it only for the most deserving families. You very likely could get no financial aid and if you do get financial aid it will probably be only about 10-20% at best of the total cost of tuition. $190k is still a lot of money, the median income for a family of 4, even in the bay area is only $65k or so and let's face it, a private school education is a luxury. Again, choose a private school because it is the best thing for your child and your family. Only you can decide if it is worth the sacrifice. anon

Our children go to a private school in Berkeley. The cost has increased from about $12K six years ago to nearly $18K for next fall. The availability of financial aid may vary from school to school, but your income level is quite high. I would imagine it would depend on how much equity you have in your home regardless of the amount you pay monthly for the mortgage. We have friends who, based on the information you have provided, have been in similar- sounding situations and they received minimal aid but didn't have much equity in the home. Those with more than $200K in equity didn't receive aid (I think that was the amount). The sense of it seems to be that your retirement is not really not something they care about. There are enough people who really need aid (so they can make ends even kind of meet NOW and are probably not even able to think about retiring ever) that people who just want it so they can maintain a comfortable lifestyle aren't eligible for much. However, it is always worth asking and applying. good luck

I recently reviewed a financial aid survey from bay area private schools. Your income of $190k would exclude you from financial aid at most schools, but there are some schools that give aid at this level, especially if you have limited financial assets. 7% per year is not unusual as a year-to- year increase in tuition, but this would be high as a sustained rate of increase. Tuition is likely to increase at slightly above the general cost of living, both because of the high labor content of schools, and the increasing expectations that parents have for private schools. Recent Private School Board Member


Looking at 8% increases every year?

Feb 2007


I am a parent of two children in private school. My eldest child is in second grade. We just got the tuition rates for next year, 2007/2008 and the rate of increase was staggering. 8%. The reason stated in a well-written, well-reasoned accompanying letter talked about keeping teachers' salaries at a competative level. Last year the reasons were healthcare and workers comp increases. Well-reasoned or not tuition will have gone up over 22% in three increments (kindergarten to 3rd grade). Our income certainly hasn't gone up that fast and it is starting to take a real toll on our family's financial outlook. My question is this? Does anyone have any experience dealing with a school's finance committee and somehow getting the rates of increase to slow down? We make a fair amount of money so won't be eligible for financial aid but school tuition is starting to be impossible for us as we look towards paying thourhg eighth grade. We have done financial planning but didn't factor in increases like this. Any suggestions? (I am not asking for anyone to tell us to just leave and go to public school. We love the school and our children are thriving.) - Feeling mighty pinched and worried about it.

I think the reality of the situation is that schools have a very tough time balancing the costs of paying and retaining good teachers with trying to control tuition increases. If you want to retain good, skilled and experienced teachers that you have invested lots into you have to keep their 'compensation package' competitive. On top of that I know that for our business health care costs have steadily risen around 15% each year for the last several years. While workers comp took a dip couple years ago there seems to be some upward pressure on that again also. The added difficulty of schools and teachers is that it is hard to 'increase' productivity of teachers. You can't put more students in the classroom to generate more income because that destroys the 'small class size' that we're all looking for in private schools.

So how do good private schools control tuition increases?!?! From what I understand it is endowments and fund raising. Old established private schools convince people to donate large sums of money to create an endowment that can be invested to generate income to fund the school. At least that is how I understand it... Private School Parent Also

When we were applying to our private school, the director told us explicitly to expect tuition increases of around 7% each year. It's steep, but at least we knew in advance what we were in for.

This is the main reason we didn't enroll our two children in private school. We thought we might be able to swing the tuition but we were not entirely confident that the raise my spouse had been promised from his employer would materialize. As it turned out, it took them a year to get around to actually finding the money in the budget to be able to offer salary increases. By that time, my oldest was thriving at his local public school so it didn't seem worth it to move him. The only advice I can give you is if you are getting close to the edge (for example, you are contemplating going into serious debt to make those tuition payments), I think you should consider registering at your local public school--as a contingency plan. I don't know what district you are in but many school districts allow parents to give a preference for what school they would like and the most popular choices usually have waiting lists. If you don't need the spot in your local public school, you can call the school and let them know that they can give it away to someone else on the waiting list. If it helps at all, my two children are happy in their public school and thriving. Most kids do great in whatever school they attend if parents stay involved and on top of what's going on.

I know many parents of children in private school who are in a similar situation! I don't have experience dealing with a private elementary school, but I did bring this subject up with the administration at a highly coveted preschool that my daughter attended. The response I got was sympathetic, but I was essentially told that if I couldn't afford the school and did not qualify for financial aid, then perhaps I should look at an alternative, less expensive school. They said they had many children on the waiting list who could take my daughter's place. When we were looking at elementary schools for our daughter, we *did* figure in an annual increase of 3-8%, since the schools were all very open about this being a normal fee increase. If you check out the websites of private school, many of them state this info. in the tuition section. My advice to anyone thinking of attending a private school is that it's really important to assume there were will this kind of increase each year. This is one of the reasons why we did not send our child to private school, and why many families choose to move if they are unhappy with their local public school. Private schools are, after all, businesses (unlike public schools), and if the market is such that they can ask for an 8% increase and the majority of parents will pay, you can't blame them for asking for it. happy public school mom


Trying to estimate the cost of private school

March 2004


Much to my surprise, I am considering sending my children to private school. I never thought I would do this since my husband and I grew up attending public schools, but times have changed. Sigh... Anyway, having no experience with the world of private school tuition, I'm trying to estimate how much this will cost me. Do private schools raise their tuition every year? If a private school charges $15k/year for 2004-2005, will parents really be expected to pay $30k/year by the time the child is in high school?! (10 years with an average rate of increase of 7%/year) For parents whose children are now in private high schools charging $15k/year, did you start out paying $7-8k/year when they were in elementary school? I'm just trying to get a handle on the true financial cost I may be in for if we go the private school route. Thanks for any information you can provide! (I realize most schools offer financial aid, but I'm just trying to understand the true costs.) - former Economics major!

Dear Econ major mom:

Yes, you should expect that almost every private school will raise their tuition yearly. As a Director of Admission in schools over the past fifteen years, I have never known nor worked for a school that did not.

In July of 1990 I began working at a boarding school that charged $13,500. That school's tuition today is over $25,000...and its a lesser expensive one!

Yes, there is almost always some financial aid available if you qualify. There are also low interest low programs for tuition costs.

I remember advising one of my school's board not to push through the $20,000 mark because I was concerned about enrollment and affordability for families. No one listened to me, families continued to enroll...and now we're moving on towards (and through) $30,000.

Should you like information on all the reasons why the investment in your child's education might well be worth those amazing costs, just ask!


In response to the question about private school tuition, oh, do we wish we'd asked ourselves (or others) those questions when we put our oldest daughter into a private kindergarten nine years ago. The tuition was about $7K then and is almost $15K now. Of course, our salaries haven't risen at that rate during the past 9 years. (And, we now have two kids in the school!) To make matters worse, we thought our kids would just be in private school through sixth grade, but then their school added 7th and 8th grades and by the time our oldest daughter got to that age, no one was leaving for public middle schools. Taking a 12 year-old away from all of her friends was something we couldn't bring ourselves to do.

I suspect that because the economy is no longer booming, school tuition increases may slow down now. Private schools will have to be sensitive to the change in financial conditions or they will have trouble filling their classes. But, it's certainly worth thinking about. We went the private school route because our daughter didn't get into either our first or second choice of Berkeley elementary schools. Since then (1995), the Berkeley elementary school scene seems much improved. We've been very happy with the education our daughters have gotten, and we know they've had more personal attention than they would have had in public schools, but if we had it to do over again, we would probably have decided differently. Fortunately, our daughter will be going to a public high school next year, and we'll get a little relief...just in time for college. Good luck with your decision!

Empty Pockets

It seems that private schools (at least some) raise tuition each year. Our older son has been in private school for 3 years and this is the first year for our younger son (we didn't start in kindergarten). Each year the tuition has gone up almost $1,000.00.It's pretty outrageous, but this is what we've chosen so we adjust our budget around it. You might try to get financial aid. Some schools have a decent financial aid budget and you might be surprised even if you think you make too much money. It's worth a try and can't hurt....just a lot of paper work. Good luck. We have never regretted our decision to put our boys in private school from public. poorer but better educated

To the parent assessing the real cost of private school--I am on the other end of your quandry. I have a 13 year old 8th grader and a 17 year old 11th grader. Until this year both my children had gone to private schools since kindergarten. This year we moved our son from Lick- Wilmerding (private)to Skyline High (public) in Oakland because of the cost. Our daughter will be going to Skyline in the fall.

The cost of private school has gone up 4-7% every year. Last year we realized that to keep both of them in private school through high school was going to cost us another $150,000--and that was just for 6 more years of school. We realized that we simply could not blindly keep paying that kind of money; as we need to be concerned about the future.

Part of the decision was based on the fact that I am no longer employed for health reasons, however, I am thrilled to be out of that rat race. Sometimes I bemoan our prior choices, even though I was very happy with the schools we had chosen.

Skyline is working just fine for my educationally exceptional child. It may not be the best academics in the world, but my son is learning many other important things as well--like learning to deal with people who are different than he is.

I think that had we been able to commit to being active parents in public school we could have made it work. I am finding that by paying attention and making myself heard I am able to get our needs met so far. If you want to talk more about these choices, feel free to give me a call. Barbara


Tuition Break for Teachers?

Nov 2003

Is it true that if you teach at a private school, like Head-Royce or CPS, your children get to go tuition-free? Just wondering...

I don't know about Head Royce, but if you work at CPS, your child can attend for 50% of the tuition, which is still pretty pricey, especially on a teacher's salary, but does make a significant difference. anon

Head-Royce does offer tuition remission - but it is NOT free, and the child still has to be admitted. Tuition remission depends on a variety of factors, including how many students are using the pool of money, as well as policy, which is being REVIEWED currently, so what exists currently may not be true for any new hires.