Archive for the 'Financial Aid' Category

Finding Financial Aid for International Students

Many international students incorrectly believe that there is no financial aid available to them.  In fact, there are two major sources of financial aid for international students, both of which take a bit of effort to find and win.

1. Institutional Aid

Both public and private universities offer financial incentives for students to attend their institution.  Private universities are typically in a better position to offer financial aid because they do not have a duty to taxpayers.

Most of the institutional aid available to international students is reserved for graduate study in the form of assistantships and fellowships, but there is definitely institutional aid available for undergraduates, although they are quite competitive.

One form of instituitional aid are merit-based scholarships granted on the basis of special skills, talents, or abilities. Your university may have scholarships based on TOEFL scores, academic record, artistic ability, musical ability, or athletic ability.  Merit-based scholarships are usually very competitive. To be considered, you will need to demonstrate exceptional ability in the area required.  The trick is to find the scholarship most targeted to your situation and focus on selling yourself to the scholarship committee.

Need-based scholarships are awarded based on financial need. Those students who can demonstrate need at a predetermined level are eligible for this type of aid.

Academic departments within the university may have funds allocated to assist international students with exceptional need and/or talent. Consult with your university and/or your major department to take advantage of any special funding opportunities they offer.

2. Private Scholarships

It is true that many non-institutional, independently administered scholarships for undergraduate study are available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  However, there are free scholarship databases as well as private, corporate, nonprofit, and government scholarship funds that serve undergraduate international students.

It is very important to do a through search for financial aid, as many grants and scholarships go unawarded for years because no students bother to apply!


The Guide to Financial Aid

Decades ago, several private colleges and universities adopted a policy of not requiring any of its students to take on substantial debt in order to attend school.  They recognized that educational debt from a private school could cripple students, pressuring the student to put the need to make money over the desire to pursue the his/her true calling in life.  These schools decided that they would cover the costs of attendance for any student who could not cover the cost of attendance on his/her own.

However, guaranteeing full financial aid was risky, as admitting a class with too many students unable to cover the costs of attendance would result in a heavy financial burden for the school.  Schools recognized this risk and took different approaches to managing this risk.

Because certain private schools were well-funded and/or historically enrolled mostly students whose families could easily cover the cost of attendance, these schools were confident that the cost of this policy would never exceed their ability to pay for it.  These schools practiced “need-blind” admissions policies, where the financial status of the applicant was not taken into account in the evaluation of his or her candidacy.  In effect, the school imposed an imaginary wall between the admissions department and the financial aid department.  This separation was necessary to prevent admissions officers from taking the school’s financial situation into account when admitting students, which could cause them to reject students who were qualified but would require the school to cover part or all of the cost of attendance.

However, some schools either lacked the available funds for financial aid and/or historically enrolled large amounts of students unable to cover the cost of attendance.  These schools could not afford to be “need-blind” because of the risk that they admit too many students unable to cover the costs of attendance, which could present a financial responsibility exceeding the school’s ability to pay. These schools had to ensure that they did not enroll more students unable to cover the cost of attendance than they could pay for.  This situation led to what we call “need-aware” admissions.

In a “need-aware” admissions office, the admissions department consults with the financial aid department on the school’s financial aid capabilities for that year.  If a school has exhausted its financial aid capabilities for that year, the admissions officer might reject a qualified student who is unable to meet the costs of attendance at the school.

Because of shrinking endowments brought on by the recession, along with rising tuition and living costs, many colleges and universities find that their ability to cover the full cost of attendance for students has diminished.  As a result, many admissions offices that were traditionally “need-blind” have been forced to become “need-aware”.

What does this mean for the academically strong student who might lack the funds to pay for an expensive college education?  It means that there will be many students who will have all the makings of a top candidate; possessing strong standardized test scores, an impressive GPA, persuasive personal statements, and amazing letters of recommendations, but who will end up being denied admission because he or she did not have enough money to cover the costs of room, board, tuition, books.

The result of this phenomenon is that because of the significant costs involved, many students will not apply to some of the more exclusive colleges and universities in the United States despite having a good chance of gaining admission.  As mentioned, there are some schools that continue to practice “need-blind” admissions, and some of them have even extended it to international students.  These schools:

  1. Wesleyan University
  2. Williams College
  3. Harvard University
  4. Middlebury College
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  6. Princeton University
  7. Williams College and
  8. Yale University

Because these policies change from time to time, it is best that you check with the school on their current policy.

At the time of writing, the schools which still practice “need-blind” admissions include:

  1. Amherst College

10.  Beloit College

11.  Boston College

12.  Bowdoin College

13.  Brandeis University

14.  Brown University

15.  California Institute of Technology

16.  Claremont McKenna College

17.  Columbia University

18.  Cornell University

19.  Cooper Union

20.  Dartmouth College

21.  Duke University

22.  Emory University

23.  Georgetown University

24.  Grinnell College

25.  Harvard University

26.  Haverford College

27.  Lawrence University

28.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology

29.  Middlebury College

30.  Northwestern University

31.  Pomona College

32.  Princeton University

33.  Rice University

34.  Stanford University

35.  Swarthmore College

36.  University of Chicago

37.  University of Pennsylvania

38.  University of Richmond

39.  University of Virginia

40.  Vassar College

41.  Vanderbilt University

42.  Wellesley College

43.  Wesleyan University

44.  Williams College

45.  Yale University

Given that the majority of colleges and universities are not need-blind, you will need to bear in mind that for most schools, the admissions officers will still be taking your ability to pay in deciding on whether or not to accept you.  Therefore, there are some things you need to take into consideration when applying to colleges and universities and seeking to get financial help from the academic institutions:

  1. Total Cost

Given the fact that you will not know how much a college will cost you until they send you the financial aid package, it is very important that when you are selecting which schools to apply to, that you do not base your decision on the actual published cost of the college.  The reason why we make this point is that so many families get into huge arguments over which schools they should apply to, not understand that the more expensive and exclusive private schools tend to be able shell out more money in terms of scholarship than the public universities.

For example, for the incoming class of 2009 (graduating class of 2013), Harvard University’s average financial aid package was $40,533.  This stands in sharp contrast to a top public university such as University of Michigan, which had an average financial aid package of $8,615.  So although the private school might have a higher published cost, when you take into account the financial aid package it is willing to offer, this price differential might dissipate.

The school will base how much your need to contribute based on how much your family can afford, this is commonly referred to as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  To get an idea as to how much your EFC would be before you hear back from the schools, you can go to various websites to do a rough calculation.  Our favorite is College Board’s EFC Calculator which can be found on its website (

  1. Financial Aid Forms

To be competitive for scholarship money, it is imperative that you submit the forms on time.  To be able to do this, you need to check with the schools you are applying to which financial aid forms they require.  The one form that all students need to submit to be considered for scholarship money will be the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will be available in November online at  Some schools might require other forms and it is important that you see what forms you need to prepare.

  1. Merit-Based Scholarships

As mentioned, many schools have had no choice but to do away with their “need-blind” admissions policies and have had to start taking into account the student’s ability to pay.  However, that is not to say they are no longer giving out money.  The money that is being dispensed will be more focused, and the schools are moving towards merit-based scholarships, giving out money according to who they would like to attract to their school.  These is based on the institutional polices, policies which determine what kinds of students they want at the particular institution.

Merit scholarships, sometimes referred to as academic scholarships, are scholarships given to students who have exceedingly good grades and, most likely, graduate in the top five to ten percent of your class. Merit scholarships are often related to academic performance, but can also be given to a candidate displaying artistic or athletic excellence or sometimes a combination of the abovementioned there factors.

  1. Negotiation

If you receive a financial aid package with your admissions decision, you should seek to re-negotiate with the other schools you have been admitted to in order to encourage them to give you better financial aid packages.  You should get in contact with the director of admissions at the school in question and present your case.  Explain to them that you really want to attend their school but money is a concern and that you have received better financial aid packages from other schools.  In some instances, schools will reevaluate your case and try to match or better your other offers.  Of course, we have to be realistic here.  This will not happen for everyone and more often than not, the best package will likely come from the school you least likely want to attend.  Regardless of this, you should always try to renegotiate for a better package.  You won’t know until you have tried.

It is also worth noting that throughout this process that it is very helpful that you get to know the directors of financial aid at the various schools well and begin correspondence early in the game.  Arrange to meet him if you do visit the campus, get his name and email address, and drop him an email from time to time with questions regarding financial aid.  In this way, he will have you in his mind when you come to speak to him later in the application season when you are negotiating or re-negotiating for a financial aid package.

Our Consulting Services

Students International Consulting provides the following services to students:

Selecting Schools

We interview the student to understand the student’s educational and career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and preferences and limitations.   With this information, we compose a short list of 20 schools with a description of each school and an explanation of the school’s fit for the student.  We then conference call with the student to discuss the 20 candidate schools, and any candidate schools the student has come up with independently, and together narrow the list down to 10 schools

Writing the Personal Statement

Most students procrastinate on their admissions essays because they do not know how to begin answering such broad questions and essay prompts.   Students in Asian countries are particularly prone to fear because they are not accustomed to writing about themselves and are used to rote learning .

We break down the daunting task of composing the essay by giving the student narrow, focused writing assignments.   Through these assignments, the student is allowed to reflect on his/her life experiences, gets comfortable writing about him/herself, and builds up a body of work that can be used in the final essay.

After the student submits the writing assignments to us, we discuss the most compelling events and themes from his/her life story.  We then help the student craft these elements into a cohesive essay outline.   Finally, we proofread and the final product before the student submits the essay.

Finding Scholarships and Grants

We do a thorough search of national scholarships and grants databases for any financial aid available to the student.  We also do financial aid search of every school the student applies to in order to identify any unlisted scholarships or waivers the student might be eligible for.

Preparing for the Student Visa Process

We help the student track down all of the information and documents the student will need for the consular visa application.  After submission of the application, we then help the student prepare for the consular visa interview.

    If you are interested in our consulting services, please contact

    Need-Blind and Need-Aware: Admissions Policies that Guarantee Full Financial Aid and How Those Policies Can Hurt Your Chances for Admission

    Lady Justice

    Justice, said to be blind as well, is sometimes able to smell money.

    Adding yet another layer of complexity to the process of selecting colleges, U.S. colleges are now redefining their policies on need-blind and need-aware admissions.  Typically, certain schools maintain a policy where every student they admit will be able to attend the school without taking on too much debt (less than $5,000/4 years).  This policy requires to offer grants to admitted students who cannot pay for the cost of attendance on their own.

    However, this policy can get expensive if the school admits too many financially “needy” students.  This is because the school is forced to pay for the students irrespective of whether the school can afford it that year.  To prevent budget deficits, some schools will refuse to admit too many financially “needy” students, even if those students are perfectly qualified applicants.  These schools are considered “need-aware” in admissions because financial need plays a factor in their admissions decision.

    Conversely, schools that are “need-blind” do not factor financial need into the admissions decision.  “Need-blind” schools will admit students based solely on merit and only later figure out the financial aid package for each admitted student.  Sometimes, these “need-blind” schools will not be able to ensure that every admitted student can attend without taking on student debt.  Even worse, some students who claim to be “need-blind” actually end up admitting much less financial “needy” students than “need-aware” schools.

    Continue reading ‘Need-Blind and Need-Aware: Admissions Policies that Guarantee Full Financial Aid and How Those Policies Can Hurt Your Chances for Admission’

    Virtual College Fair Starts on March 24-25 is an on-line event that lets students and parents chat via text and video with hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide without leaving their computer.  This is a wonderful opportunity for international students to speak to admissions officers directly without having to fly to the U.S.  The first event of the year is this week on March 24-25.  Below, I have listed the schedule for the rest of the year.  Mark your calendars!

    Virtual Open Houses

    Dedicated days which showcase a specific college or university. Includes live video presentations and virtual booths on topics such as admissions, financial aid, student life, and academics

    MARCH 2010
    Wednesday & Thursday, March 24-25 CollegeWeekLive SPRING 10 AM to 10 PM
    APRIL 2010
    Thursday, April 8 The University of Alabama in Huntsville TEXT CHAT
    Friday, April 9 University of California, Irvine Non-California and International Students VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Saturday, April 10 The University of California, Riverside VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Monday, April 12 University of California, Santa Clara TEXT CHAT 6 PM to 10 PM
    Tuesday, April 13 University of Florida VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Wednesday, April 14 University of California, Santa Clara TEXT CHAT 6 PM to 10 PM
    Thursday, April 15 University of Miami VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE 3 PM to 9 PM
    Tuesday, April 20 Mount St. Mary’s University TEXT CHAT
    Wednesday, April 21 University of California, San Diego VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Thursday, April 22 Texas Tech University VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Friday, April 23 University of California, Irvine  California Students VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Tuesday, April 27 Washington State University VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Wednesday April 28 Long Island University Brooklyn-Campus International Students
    9 AM to 11 AM
    Wednesday April 28 Long Island University Brooklyn-Campus Domestic Undergrads
    7 PM to 9 PM
    Thursday, April 29 Wright State University VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    MAY 2010
    Thursday, May 2 University of Northern Iowa Juniot Day TEXT CHAT 2 PM to 6 PM
    Friday, May 3 Iowa State University College of Design
    Thursday, May 6 CollegeWeekLive FLORIDA DAY 12 PM to 10 PM
    Friday, May 7 University of California, Santa Clara TEXT CHAT 6 PM to 10 PM
    Sunday, May 16 University of New Haven VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE
    Wednesday, May 18 CollegeWeekLive TEXAS DAY 10 AM to 10 PM
    Saturday, May 21 University of California, Santa Clara TEXT CHAT 6 PM to 10 PM
    SEPTEMBER 2010
    Thursday, September 23 CollegeWeekLive TEST PREP
    NOVEMBER 2010
    Wednesday & Thursday, November 3-4 CollegeWeekLive FALL

    International Students Urged to Fill Out U.S. Census

    Fill it out please.  No schools will be funded without it.

    Fill it out please. No schools will be funded without it.

    University administrators nationwide are urging international students to fill out a U.S. census report in order to boost the populations statistics of their home counties.  Higher population attracts more funding and political representation for the district.  Sensing some reluctance on the part of international students, administrators want to assure students that the results will not be used to violate privacy nor will it be very hard to complete since it is only ten questions.

    Another great outcome of this census survey will be a clearer idea of where international students are studying at in the U.S., which means it will be easier to see which schools like international applicants.  So please, fill it out.

    International Students Replace Traditional Out-of-State Students at the University of Wisconsin

    The recession has compelled many talented American students to opt for in-state public universities over out-of-state public universities, which cost on average $27,000 tuition/year for a non-resident.  At the University of Wisconsin system, this void in non-resident applications was swiftly filled by a 25% increase in international students, mostly from China and other Asian countries.

    Though the State of Wisconsin has suffered budget cuts like most states, the University of Wisconsin is in much better financial shape than most state schools.  This cushion comes from the licensing fees the University received from the Warfarin patent and the licensing revenue it is still receiving from the Vitamin D patent.   Every time someone in the U.S. drinks milk, the University of Wisconsin sees money.