Financial Aid Policy in US Colleges

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This article is adapted from a blog by SMAK 1 Penabur alumni aimed to help SMAK 1 students apply to schools in the US. It is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion on US colleges’ financial aid policy. Opinions are author’s alone.

Many high school students in Indonesia think that going to college in the US is impossible because of the cost. Yes, US colleges are expensive and financial aid options are limited — but if you aim high, you can get what you need. Some colleges in United States are very rich, which means as long as you are accepted to the school, they will help you pay.

So what do you do? Well:

First, find out if the school provides financial aid for international students. This is the most important –if you visit the website, normally it’s not that hard to find this information.

Second, find out if the financial aid is “NEED-BLIND. Need-blind means: applying for financial aid does not affect your chance of getting accepted in the school. Your application to the college and your application for financial aid are sent to different offices.

Third, find out if the financial aid is “NEED-BASED. Need-based means: it doesn’t matter how much money your family has. If you are accepted to the school, you pay what you can, they pay the rest. Yes, you read that right — some schools are rich enough to do this. The aid you receive will be broken down into several categories, for instance: 1/4 loan, 1/2 scholarship, 1/4 part-time work. Once you are accepted to the school, you will receive both the acceptance letter and the financial aid offer with a clear breakdown. You can even negotiate for more aid if you receive better offers from other schools.

Yale University, where the author studied.

As of June 2012, there are six colleges that offer need-blind, need-based financial aid to all students, including international students: Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Amherst College. Stanford, Cornell, and Georgetown are need-based but not need-blind for international students, so your chance of getting accepted decreases if you apply for aid. You need to research the colleges you’re interested in individually to see what they have to offer.

Generally, the application for financial aid is separate from the application to the college. It asks for all sorts of financial information, e.g. your parents’ income, your savings, and the number of siblings you have. There may be specific forms for international students and some terms (e.g. tax returns) may confuse you, but you can always e-mail the financial office to ask.

What does this tell you? That financial worries should not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re applying for colleges. If you find the right school and you get in, you can find ways to pay for your education.

Photo credit: WestportWiki on Wikimedia Commons and Microsoft.