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How to Find Scholarships

How to Find Scholarships

Financial Aid for Independent Schools and Colleges

By Everett Catts and Laura Raines

Whether you’re considering an independent school for your child or helping your teenager explore college options, one of your largest 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 assistance paying for education. Fortunately, there’s a plethora of scholarship programs, grants and other options that can help pay for your child’s college or K-12 education.

Scholarships for Independent Schools

While there are lots of top public school systems in metro Atlanta, many parents may wish to explore whether an independent school is the best fit for their child. According to Private School Review, there are nearly 900 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.

“Different schools use different vehicles to evaluate need, though they all use the same data,” says Mary Helen Bryant, director of admissions at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), adding some schools offer a limited number of large scholarships and others provide many small scholarships.

After parents determine which schools fit their child best, they should obtain info on each one through the schools’ websites and financial aid offices.

Metro Atlanta independent schools begin accepting financial aid applications as early as October for the following school year, with deadlines in February or March.

Parents can also apply for K-12 loans to help finance their child’s independent school education via services like Your Tuition Solution or Sallie Mae. Interest rates and minimum and maximum loan amounts vary for each organization. Your Tuition Solution tops out at $50,000, and Sallie Mae does not have a limit.

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 max of $120 million on the tax credits available through the program each year, and this year’s amount is more than double what the state offered in 2013.

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. From its inception in 2008 through July 31, 2023, the SSO has awarded 68,853 scholarships worth $297 million to 26,661 students, according to its website.

Parents of special needs children can 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 child with learning disabilities and creates a plan for meeting those demands — may be eligible to transfer to a better public or private institution and counteract some of the costs with a scholarship that ranges from $2,500 to $13,500. Grants may also be available through school alumni associations, foundations, religious denominations and other organizations.

Financial Aid for College

While lots of college scholarships are awarded to athletes and academic standouts, others are based on geographic location, ethnic background, religious affiliation, musical talent and even community service.

While lots of college scholarships are awarded to athletes and academic standouts, others are based on geographic location, ethnic background, religious affiliation, musical talent and even community service.

Jonathan Ferrell, Pace Academy’s director of college counseling, says students should start their college scholarship search with a large group of schools before narrowing down their choices based on academic and other interests plus financial needs to create a balanced list. “A balanced list means different types of selectivity,” he says. “If you’re looking for merit scholarships, that should be a factor in the number of schools a student is applying to.”

In addition to online research, your first stop should be your high school’s college counseling 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.

Whether it’s talking to your school’s college counselor or a college’s admissions office, Ferrell says students should be open and honest. That way the counselor has a complete picture of that student and the college can answer questions that may seem silly but important to the student.

The Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC), a state agency that provides financial aid to Georgia students, is another valuable resource. It annually hosts outreach events at over 1,500 schools across the state to educate middle and high school students and their parents about scholarship opportunities.

And then there’s Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship. HOPE, which is funded entirely by the Georgia Lottery for Education, has helped more than 2.1 million academic achievers attend Georgia public colleges, paying out more than $14 billion in financial assistance, according to its website.

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 $500 per semester to qualified students enrolled in private Georgia colleges.

Students are cautioned to use only legitimate websites recommended by college counselors and should never have to pay for a scholarship match program or provide personal financial information. And don’t let financial aid deadlines sneak up on your child, Ferrell says.

Early in the process, parents should have an honest conversation with their teenage children about the amount of money they can contribute to their kids’ college education, which can be difficult. “Just being honest financially about what you’re able to contribute or willing to contribute is really important,” Ferrell says.

For More Information

For Independent Schools:
Georgia Student Scholarship Organization |
Sallie Mae |
Your Tuition Solution |

For more information on scholarships and a list of SSOs, visit the Georgia Department of Education at

For College:
The College Board
Fastweb |
FinAid |
Georgia College 411 |
HOPE Scholarship

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