Financial Aid Best Practices

A strong financial aid package remains critical to a Scholar’s journey to college graduation. And Steppingstone takes pride in partnering with so many schools that think outside the box about financial aid.

Below, four of these partners–Derby Academy, Brimmer and May School, The Winsor School, and The Fenn School–discuss their holistic approaches to financial aid decisions. Their insights raise four important themes.

Helping students cover the true cost of attending an independent school.

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Non-tuition expenses add up quickly throughout the year–whether for books, AP exams, transportation, or other necessities. To make sure those costs don’t become a burden or barrier for students, many of Steppingstone’s partner schools adopt financial aid practices that cover the less visible expenses of attending independent school. “We must be generous, flexible, innovative, and proactive to successfully keep our doors open,” says Pamela Parks McLaurin, Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Winsor. That’s why Winsor often covers additional out-of-pocket costs for families receiving large tuition grants. Brimmer and May’s iPad initiative helps students with financial need afford their textbooks and access electronic resources by giving them free iPads and book vouchers. Derby Academy addresses commuting costs, a substantial hurdle for many families, by providing free transportation to some of their Boston area students. “This service is vital to Derby’s commitment to geographic and socio-economic diversity,” says Scot Chandler, Derby’s Director of Enrollment Management.

Ensuring Scholars can participate in all opportunities.

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Steppingstone wants Scholars to take full advantage of all the opportunities that partner schools offer, not simply the required activities. Brian Beale, Brimmer and May’s Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions and Director of Financial Aid, agrees. “You never want finances to determine what a student can or can’t do, or can and can’t access,” he says. To this end, the school allocates more than $100,000 to covering the cost of Winterim trips, which take students to places like Senegal, China, and Belize. Though the program is a mandatory part of their curriculum, Brimmer and May wants students to study in locations that are relevant to their interests, and not opt for the cheapest trip that will fulfill their academic requirements. This spirit of full participation also applies to activities closer to home. A well-rounded application has become a necessity when applying to colleges, but costs associated with sports teams, art classes, and music lessons can be prohibitive for many families. Making these activities available to students with demonstrated financial need is a priority for a number of our partners. “The basketball team might decide that every player should buy matching shoes. But this unanticipated purchase can be simply beyond the reach of some families,” says Winsor’s McLaurin. “To ensure that every student fully participates with dignity in all of our programs, Winsor takes care of the special sneaker charge quietly and confidentially.”

Providing flexible and personalized support.


Sometimes, a static aid package isn’t enough to support a student financially, and many schools work to offset expenses by adapting to students’ needs throughout the year. “We have an individual fund and an ancillary budget that we can work with to make particular opportunities accessible,” explains Brian Beale at Brimmer and May. Amy Jolly, Fenn’s Director of Admission and Financial Aid, believes that case-by-case decisions are key to helping students access educational and extra-curricular resources. “While Fenn has a body of financial-aid practices, we also remain flexible to each boy’s specific needs,” she explains. “There are many unanticipated costs to attending an independent school, and we focus on identifying these and removing them as obstacles for our boys.”

Using financial aid as an enrollment tool.


Financial aid extends opportunities to hardworking, underserved students, but it’s also a crucial tool in enrolling a balanced class. “Derby uses financial aid to build classes that include the best mix of students with academic, artistic, and athletic talents, who fit together to create a social group that appreciates and respects one another,” says Scot Chandler, explaining some of the benefits financial aid brings to his school. Brian Beale elaborates: “Brimmer and May is looking to get families from all walks of life, who enhance the community in a variety of ways. For us, it’s really about stretching the budget as far as we can to give this opportunity to as many people as possible, and to get the best kids at our school.”