There are almost 11,000 kilometres separating Pakistan and Boston. In spite of that distance, however, Isha Afzal is further along her journey to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology than she thought possible.
Though she has not yet been accepted by her "dream university," as she calls the prestigious institution that has been at one point or another home to 85 Nobel Prize winners, she's getting closer every day.
Hard work and talent will go a long way to determine whether she is successful in her quest; another significant portion is the financial assistance she receives while studying at Toronto's Bishop Strachan School.
Currently a Grade 11 student in her third year at BSS, the 16-year-old lives in the Greater Toronto Area, 10 years after moving to Canada with her family from Pakistan.
"Even in my third year, I don't believe I'm at BSS," she says, adding that in addition to furthering her education, she has also been able to try her hand at archery and set design.
"Every year there is something new," she says. "I just love how everything is so open, for anything you want there's so many opportunities and different resources, and the teachers are always there to help you."
Ms. Afzal's initial experience with BSS came through a summer school course for math. From there she found out more about the school, and the teachers showed her how she could apply for financial assistance.
"I had an interview and then there was a written application," she explains.
In addition to the tuition costs, which are $31,740 for day students for the 2017-18 academic year ($57,500 for Canadian boarders and $60,130 for international boarders), there are extra costs, such as a one-time registration fee of $8,500. School uniforms will also run a student about $800-$1,500, while there are other costs associated with field trips and textbooks in the middle and senior schools. For Ms. Afzal, BSS provides program support to cover such costs, as well as the cost of her tuition. The school also awards scholarships based on academic achievement.
A family's eligibility for financial aid is determined by a third-party company called Apple Financial Services, which looks after 150 private schools across Canada. Before making a recommendation to a school, Apple examines factors such as the income supporting a household, and what that income supports in terms of living arrangements and number of children. The awards are then based on a school's funding capacity and any financial cap that a board might place on it.
"Financial aid is given from Grade 7 and up and we give out $1.5-million a year, plus about another $168,000 that are on dedicated scholarships," says Cindy Tripp, chair of the board of governors at BSS.
A student's potential is key in deciding who qualifies. Areas where a student has shown independent initiative or intellectual curiosity is examined. Bishop Strachan recently completed a campaign to raise $35-million, $10-million of which was earmarked for financial aid, an area that Ms. Tripp described as a "critical pillar" of the school.
"At BSS, we talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, and there's many forms of diversity but one of them, for sure, is financial diversity, and it's important in this school," she adds.
Canadian Accredited Independent Schools, of which Bishop Strachan is a member, says it is seeing an increasing commitment to financial aid by its member schools. An 88-school survey conducted following the 2015-16 school year found that 6,805 students received financial aid from a pool of $70.2-million for an average of $797,000 given out per school, an increase of 32 per cent from 2012.
"In any learning environment you don't want to have a single perspective, you want to have many stories and many viewpoints, " says Patti MacDonald, executive director of CAIS.
"So the greater the diversity in the school, the more benefit to all of the students in the school, and the better the learning experience that happens."
A sampling of financial aid on offer
Much like Bishop Strachan, other private schools across Canada believe strongly in the benefits of offering financial aid. Here is a cross-section of some of those schools and what they do for financial aid students:
Appleby College, Oakville, Ont. (co-ed, 7-12)The school bundles its fees, including things such as required school outings, athletic therapy and a tablet computer, in its tuition costs. Eighteen per cent of the school's total enrolment receives some form of financial aid, with an average of $27,500 per student.
Branksome Hall, Toronto (girls, JK to 12)Offers $750,000 in total aid, with 5 per cent of the enrolment currently receiving some, for an average of $15,000 per pupil. Branksome also offers merit-based scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $12,500 for students entering Grades 7-11.
Havergal College, Toronto (girls, JK to 12)One of the oldest girls' schools in Canada, Havergal gives financial aid to 7 per cent of its student body, averaging $16,000 per package. The school offers a number of scholarships ranging in size from $2,000 to $5,000, and four Principal's Scholarships, which cover 95 per cent of the cost of annual tuition for Grade 9 girls who could otherwise not afford to attend for the duration of their four years.
Mulgrave School, West Vancouver (co-ed, PS to 12)Offering need-based financial aid to those in Grades 11 and 12, Mulgrave gives an average of $10,000 per pupil to 5 per cent of its student enrolment.
Queen Margaret's School, Duncan, B.C. (girls, 8-12; co-ed, PS-7)There is a sizable sibling discount at Queen Margaret, ranging from 20 per cent for a second sibling up to 50 per cent for a fourth. The school has $300,000 available for need-based financial aid, with 34 per cent taking an average of $3,000. Scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 are also on offer.
Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ont. (co-ed, JK to 12)Boarding school offers $1-million in financial assistance, with students taking an average package size of $16,000. Also hands out a range of scholarships based on merit, topping out at $15,000.
St. Michaels University School, Victoria (co-ed, K to 12)A fund of $2.26-million is distributed to 20 per cent of its students, for an average of $11,685 per student.
Dragon Academy, Toronto (co-ed, 6-12):
Progressive school has $60,000 in financial aid available, with 20 per cent of its enrolment of 75 students receiving some. Also offers a number of scholarships at $2,500 each.