Understanding Independent Private Schools

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Strictly speaking, independent schools are schools that own themselves — they are not public or operated by a larger entity, such as the Catholic Church. On GreatPhillySchools, all private schools that are not Catholic are listed as private independent schools.

There are dozens of independent schools in Philadelphia. Independent schools can be coed or single-sex, day school or boarding school, religious or nonsectarian.

One feature that attracts families to independent schools is personalized attention in the form of small classes or extra teachers or counselors. Some independent schools also have resources such as technology, equipment and facilities that would be the envy of many public schools.

Independent schools require that students apply for admission and pay annual tuition. Tuition is different at every school. For example, Girard College extends full scholarships to all students, so it is free to attend. But other schools can cost as much as $30,000 per year.

Independent schools strive to be economically and racially diverse. One-third of students in Philadelphia-area independent schools receive financial aid; one in four is a minority.

Finding the Right Independent School

With so many different types of independent schools, you need to do plenty of research to identify the best school for your child.

Beyond GreatPhillySchools, there are a number of resources to help families learn about independent schools. The Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools and the National Center for Education Statistics provide lists of independent schools in the Philadelphia area. You can visit a school’s website to learn more about its academics, admissions process and extracurricular offerings.

Once you’ve found a school that might be a good fit, schedule a visit. Call the school and ask to meet with an admissions officer. If you like what you see during the visit, the next step is to submit an application.

Financial Aid

In 2011–12, 34 percent of students at independent schools in the Philadelphia area received some form of need-based financial aid. More than $190 million in financial aid was awarded overall. The average financial aid award was about $11,000 per year.

Most financial aid is given directly by the schools. Financial aid can come in the form of outside loans, which need to be repaid, or grants, which do not need to be repaid. 

It’s a good idea to apply for financial aid at the same time you submit your child’s admissions application. Schools have a limited pot of financial aid to give out each year, so the earlier you apply for financial aid, the more likely it is that your family will receive assistance.

In addition to school-based aid, there are a number of outside organizations that provide financial support for children from low-income families to attend independent schools. Local organizations that provide aid include:

National organizations and programs that provide financial aid include:

Contact these organizations directly for information about applying for financial aid.

More Information

Looking for more information on finding a great school? See all articles here.