My daughter has spent the last several months touring schools, filling out applications, writing essays, editing writing samples, and sitting through interview and interview.

So what college is she going to?

Who knows? This was all just for high school.

Sometime in the last 30 years (when I entered high school), the private high school application process has become as long and arduous as the college admissions process.

Here were our parameters for a high school for our daughter. The school had to be Catholic and competitive enough to challenge her, but not so competitive that she ends up having a nervous breakdown before her 16th birthday. Or worse, can’t get into the University of Texas at Austin.

Side note, my husband and I are both UT alums and die hard Longhorns. I won’t go into the long legal history behind this rule, but Texas students who graduate in the top 6 percent of their high school class earn automatic admission to UT (roughly 75% of the freshman class). Everyone else gets to compete for the remaining 25% of the admission slots.

We narrowed our list down to three great schools. The good news is my daughter got into all three and was awarded scholarships.

The bad news? My husband and I were at loggerheads over which was the best school for her (and ultimately her sisters).

When two lawyers are married to each other, the arguments can be epic. Not, not shouting or name calling. We keep it civil. But we can keep it going, and going, and going…

Only a two-lawyer couple argues with spreadsheets, written notes, and power point presentations.

At one point, we seriously contemplated just accepting offers from the two schools we were considering to buy us more time.

But we didn’t.

Why? The enrollment contracts.

Parents typically sign an enrollment contract when they accept a placement offer for a child at a private school. One of the most important pieces of information in that contract is the deadline at which a family is on the hook for a year’s tuition. That’s right—before your child even picks up a pencil on the first day of school you could be on the hook for an entire year’s tuition. Schools argue that they making planning decisions (financial aid, staffing, and operations) based on the assumption they will receive a year’s worth of tuition for each child who has accepted a placement offer. Parents should read these contracts carefully and assume that the school will enforce the terms, for example with a lawsuit or debt collection.

We reviewed both schools’ enrollment contracts. While both were a little vague, we could see a lawyer making a good argument that signing the agreement made us liable for the full year’s tuition (or least a sizable chunk).

Yep, not going to take that risk.

What options would we have had if we signed an enrollment contract but then decided to withdraw our daughter’s enrollment? The first step would have been to talk to the school about voiding the contract (or agreeing to pay an amount less than a full year’s tuition). Also important is creating a detailed paper or electronic record documenting any discussions with the school. The school may decide to release a parent from the contract or seek to enforce it, but it never hurts to ask.

My husband and I finally made a decision. Who won? Hopefully it’s our daughter who will be going to a great high school.

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