Decoding Scholarships and Financial Aid in the US

Decoding Scholarships and Financial Aid in the US | The Red Pen

Deciding on which US university to attend is probably one of the most important decisions that you can make in your final year of high school. While there are many factors to consider while making that choice, including the location, course, faculty and extracurricular activities, the cost is a major factor that comes into play when choosing your college. According to The College Board, the average out-of-state tuition fees at public four-year institutions were USD 24,930 in 2016-2017 and USD 33,480 at private non-profit four-year institutions for the same time period. This is a 3.6% increase from 2015-2016. This figure does not include room and board expenses.

While many can afford this, there are some students who may require financial assistance to complete their higher education abroad. Options to fund your education include loans, grants and scholarships.

However, there is often confusion between financial aid and scholarships.

Need-based financial aid:

In the US, colleges either follow a need-blind or a need-aware financial aid policy. In both instances, international students will need to demonstrate financial need through bank statements, income tax reports and other documents, which are reported in the CSS profile. This profile helps colleges calculate your estimated family contribution (EFC).

Colleges that evaluate financial need along with the rest of the application are considered ‘need-aware’. So, the university will consider whether you require financial aid while making their admissions decision. You may have excellent grades, unique extracurricular activities and strong essays. But if you require financial aid and the university cannot provide it, then you may be rejected. Many universities, especially private institutions, will only admit students for whom they can meet the demonstrated financial need. Thus, applying for need-based aid at a need-aware college can impact your admissions outcome. Nonetheless, there are many US institutions that are need-aware, yet they provide generous aid packages to international students. These include Vanderbilt University, University of Richmond, Colgate University, Drexel University, Duke University and many others.

Need-blind admission means that the college evaluates financial need after reviewing your entire application and making an admissions decision. So, if a university accepts you, only then would they look at your financial requirements and accordingly provide it. However, for international students, there are only five US universities that are need-blind; Amherst College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton University and Yale University. Keep in mind that these are some of the most selective colleges in the world, so even though they are need-blind, it is already extremely competitive to get into these institutions.

If you require financial aid, do thorough research on your college list to ensure the college can give you the aid you require. For instance, as an international student, you are not likely to receive aid from a public university such as the University of California, University of Michigan or Georgia Tech, as their mandate is to first support the students within their state. Hence, they have limited funds left for international students.

Merit-based scholarships:

There are many types of merit-based scholarships in the US which are available to all students regardless of their financial need. The most common types are academic scholarships–which are awarded if you have demonstrated outstanding academic achievements–and athletic scholarships–which are given if you have shown a high level of skill in a sport. Generally, there is a different application route for athletic scholarships. Other types of scholarships include scholarships for a specific course, for women, for minorities, for leadership or achievement in certain extracurricular activities or community service projects, among others. 

Colleges will outline the requirements for each scholarship on their individual website, along with deadlines, additional materials and interview processes. Some colleges may automatically consider you for various merit scholarships based on your overall profile at the time of application. The amount awarded will vary and can start from around USD 5,000. However, you can still be accepted to a university even if you do not receive the scholarship.

Applying for financial aid and scholarships can be confusing, however, there are various strategies available that can help ease the process. Get in touch with us if you have questions relating to your undergraduate application or read our blog if you want to know more about ways to fund your education.

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