Every private school sets its own admissions procedure. While there is no fixed model, most schools ask parents to part with considerable sums of money – some refundable, some not - at certain points of the admissions journey.
You may find you’re asked to pay more than you expected and that the sums quickly add up especially if you’re applying to more than one school.
The first step of the school admissions process is to register your child. Once you have filled in the school’s registration form, you will usually be asked to pay a non-refundable registration fee (generally between £100-£400). As it’s common to apply for a few schools simultaneously, total costs can soon add up.
Some of the most popular UK schools advise parents to register as early as possible – sometimes at birth! And some ask for the registration fee before even allowing a visit. But many schools are moving away from that and advise parents – as we would – to visit the school before registering. And not just for the open day. You should feel free to request a private tour or meeting (this could be online) so you can ask the questions that matter specifically to your family.
The popularity of the school, as well as how selective it is, will determine how early you should register but the general rule would be at least a year before entry, and two years for schools with a waiting list. Schools that are not oversubscribed will often register applicants until they are full (even mid-academic year). Registration deadlines are usually published on schools’ websites. Be sure to research these as early as possible as most schools won’t accept an application if you miss their deadline date.
Sixth form entry tends to be a bit gentler on the purse strings as many schools only require you to pay the registration fee when accepting the place.
Entrance exam fees
In some schools, you will be required – at certain entry points – to pay an exam fee instead of, or as well as, a registration fee. At St Paul’s School, for example, a non-refundable examination fee (£50) is payable when registering your son for 11+ entry to the junior school.
After your child is successful in their assessment and/or interview, they may be offered a place. This is the point at which some schools request a refundable deposit (also known as ‘entry deposit’ or ‘refundable deposit’).
You will be given a fixed deadline (usually a matter of weeks) by which to pay the deposit. This, together with signing the school’s T&Cs, represents your acceptance of the school’s offer and enters you into a binding contract with them. You may be asked for a fixed amount, while other schools ask for the first term’s fees. Or it could be both.
When do you get your deposit back?
Some schools will refund it at the end of the first term; with others, it’s only when your child leaves the school (and unless you adhere to the school’s T&Cs around notice periods - usually a full term’s notice - you won’t get it back at all). Or it may be a combination of both. At Harrow School, an applicant who accepts a place is asked to pay an entry deposit of £3,000, half of which is returned at the end of the first term and the other half is deducted from the final bill.
If pupils don’t pass further exams that are required to continue at the school (eg Common Entrance, academic scholarship exams or the necessary GCSEs to join in sixth form), the deposit would usually returned.
Note that non-selective schools often offer places on a first-come-first-served basis – which can mean paying the deposit 12-18 months before the start date. That can cause problems if you’re using the school as a backup while you wait for the outcome of assessments at selective schools, which usually happens around eight months before the start date. In this case, it may be worth asking the non-selective schools that have offered you a place to be kept on a waiting list so that you can defer your deposit payment – the admissions teams may even be grateful as it helps them keep tabs on who is most serious about a place.
If you do accept more than one school place, check the ‘notice of withdrawal’ or ‘withdrawal of a place’ section of any T&Cs that you sign, alongside any acceptance of a place. You don’t want to find that you’re liable for the autumn term school fees on the first day of the summer term because at least one term’s notice is required to withdraw your place (which means you’d need to have done so at the start of the spring term).
When the family is not from the UK or where at least one parent resides overseas, applicants may be asked to pay an additional deposit. Winchester College charges £7,000 (on top of the main £3,000 deposit) to non-UK residents and some of the other most elite boarding schools may demand even more – we have seen in the region of £15,000+. This is usually refunded when the child leaves the school (or before the child has even joined the school if you give a full term’s notice).
Some schools ask for an acceptance fee instead of, or in addition to, the entry deposit. This may or may not be refundable, depending on the school, or it may be part-refundable. The non-refundable part is kept by the school to cover administrative costs.
At Eton College, the acceptance fee is £3,200 - of this, £500 is refunded when the student leaves the school. At Priory School in Edgbaston, the senior school’s acceptance fee is £500 – of this, £350 is refunded when the student leaves the school.
What if I can’t afford it?
If you can’t afford the deposit, registration or acceptance fee, you should talk to the school’s registrar who may be willing to reduce it in some circumstances. There are no guarantees but we have been told that when a large bursary has been awarded following an assessment of a family’s finances, the school will exercise discretion when it comes to the additional fees which come with the admissions process.
Photo credit: Winchester College
Do you want help from The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants?
Our expert education consultants can provide your family with one-to-one help on all of the issues raised in this article and many more. We regularly help parents understand the particulars of UK independent schools and assist them in mapping out potential educational pathways for their children. If you would like to find out more about our services, visit the Education Consultants homepage or to speak directly with one of the team email [email protected] or call 0203 286 6824