2 years ago
Admissions Advice

As an international student, how best to approach institutional aid?

Basically, do I ask for money or not.

My family can pay, but not easily - I want to still take as much aid as I can get (though based on various calculators our EFC is above the sticker prices). However, I still prioritize getting in, and most of the schools I am looking at are highly selective.

For a need-aware school, does asking for aid significantly decrease my chances of admission (even if I ultimately don't get any) compared to not asking? Would colleges rather spend lots of money on fewer low-income students to raise their average award, or less money on more upper-middle class students to maximize the number that can get in under their budget/raise the "% students receiving aid" figure?


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3 answers

Accepted Answer
2 years ago

For the most part, your odds of admission as an international student will not decrease if you ask for aid. Colleges have a need-aware policy not so they can reject low-income applicants, but if anything, for the opposite reasons - they want to make the financial aid process more holistic and let in more top applicants who happen to be low-income.

If you are a competitive applicant, your financial circumstances will only make your merit look more impressive. It will add socioeconomic diversity to your profile, which is something that colleges look for in the prep school student-heavy international applicant pool. Even if you do get rejected, it would be because of factors other than your financial need.

Hope this helps!

2 years ago

Hi @serotonin

Thanks for your question. This is a good one and I recommend that you search for previous posts about this subject on College Vine because there are a lot of them.

The way financial aid works for US colleges is that there are 2 basic types. 1.) Need-based aid and 2.) Merit Aid. Sometimes they work for hand in and most of the time, most available aid out there is need-based.

Colleges that are very prestigious, have clout, low admit rates and high yields do not have to work very hard to get a lot of applications. These are called "seller" schools because they are selling the dream. They are no different than luxury brands like LV, Dior, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, and Hermes. There is so much pent-up demand to attend these schools that they in theory could price tuition at $100,000 and they'd still get 50,000 applications. Seller schools have ZERO need to give out merit aid because, in theory, everyone meets an academic threshold for excellence. The truth is about 2/3rd of the class is super smart, and a 1/3 are ALDCs (recruited athletes, legacies, development donors, children of faculty) and hooked applicants who are black, Latina, indigenous, low income, or first gen. So let's just say they are smart for being ALDCs and hooked applicants and leave it at that. For the most part, T25 schools and top liberal arts colleges are sellers as well as top publics like UCLA, UCB, UT-Austin, and Michigan.

Most colleges are BUYER schools. Why? The total attendance for college students is dropping and there are just too many colleges out there competing for the same students. There are 4300-year colleges and like 4200 of them buyer schools. Buyer schools are Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota, and Dodge, Mitsubishi, Nissan. They have to give special financing or perks to lure customers to buy their product. So what they do is give applicants a discount off the sticker price. Sometimes the discount is 10% off, 20% or 30% or more. But when you know the cost of attendance at private college is $80,000, that still means students and families often have to take out supplemental loans to make it work. Buyer schools would be like UMiami, CaseWestern, UPitt, Loyola, Gonzaga, St. Johns, etc. These schools have more NONNEED financial aid to spend on marketing incentives to fill up their incoming class.

This is where it gets more complicated for Int'l students. All US colleges know that US citizens who are low-income and qualify for Pell grants State Grants and federal work-study programs are less risky and less of a financial burden to them because they are getting 15-18,000 per year from these programs. So over the 4-year term, that means that it costs them 60-75,000 more to fund an international student that doesn't qualify for these programs. So you are less likely to have a "Buyer" school volunteer to cover the gap. Their job is to fill up the campus year after year. If they can do it 20% more efficiently with more US Citizens, they'd rather spend their available dollars that way. After all, they don't want to risk shrinking their campus or facing some financial pressure from being benevolent to Int'l students.

This is the main reason why there are so few Need-Blind colleges that meet 100% of the demonstrated need of Int'l students. Most of these will be Ivys (6 out of 8 of them), Elites like Stanford, Duke, UChicago, and top LACs, like Amherst, Williams, and Pomona.

So Int'l students who need funding either more than 50% to 100% do not have a lot of options without supplemental funds coming from relatives, private lenders in their country, or other means. And unfortunately, some schools like MIT or Dartmouth and others admit fewer Int'l students as a percentage than US Citizens. I think MIT is 1.4% or 3.5X fewer admits than US Citizens. And Dartmouth used to be about 2% but since they received a big gift, I think that number is going to go up but it's still not 6% like the US admits.

When you look at a college, you have to be careful not to waste too much time hoping that you are going to get some huge funding. Therefore the NPC Net Price Calculators are one of the only things you can do besides carefully researching the college using the COMMON DATA SET, section H. In section H, you can see the allocated dollars for a NEED Based awards vs NON-NEED awards. You can also see the average award for the college. So if the school cost of attendance is $85,000, and the average aid award is $55,000, then there still is a $30,000 gap on average. If the school states they will meet 100% of demonstrated needs without loans, then you are golden. But most schools may require you to take out loans to close the gap.

Each college has its own specific way they want to use financial aid so it's not as simple as saying colleges want to do this or that.

My recommendation is to do as much research on your college list as possible but realize that you are trying to solve 2 things at the same time, get admitted, and be fully funded up to your demonstrated need. If you apply to a lot of need-based colleges, you might get into a lot of them but have no ability to attend because you do not have the means to close the financial gap. There is only so much negotiating you can do as an Int'l student. If you get into 2 prestigious schools and one award is $55,000 and the other is $40,000, you might be able to get the $40,000 to come up to $55,000 or $60,000 if you show the award letter and a lot of demonstrated interest in the schools. Bu you are not going to get either of them fully funded if you really need $75,000 per year. I hope that makes sense to you.

Good luck.

2 years ago

Most colleges are need-aware for international students. Also, applying for financial aid does not lower or increase your chances of getting in. The goal of colleges is to give you a good, affordable education. With that being said I would apply, can't hurt right? Also, you can work for scholarships and work-study to help close the gap of what your parents need to contribute.

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