Wednesday, March 7, 2012

YES, THERE IS! Financial Aid for International Students

Ace! NewsFlash 

Many of the students who work with me are international kids.  They come from China and Haiti, Germany and Ghana, Nepal and Costa Rica–and dozens of other places as well.  And while they are as different from each other as you can possible imagine, they all have one thing in common when it comes to attending college in the United States: in order to get a visa to study in the US, they all have to demonstrate where the money is coming from to pay for college.
Some colleges recruit international students partly for their ability to pay full tuition, and in fact, many families outside the US save and save and save for years to be able to pay cash to send their children to a great school in the States.  However, increasingly, colleges and universities are realizing that having international kids on campus is good for more than just financial reasons.
International kids also offer a terrific wealth of information for students in the US by sharing their language, background, observations, and culture.  Making a friend with someone from far away can lead not only to a great relationship but also a great contact, and when kids from different religions and language groups live and work together, horizons are expanded and differences are reduced.  This is a wonderful thing.
The way that many international students engage in campus life creates a positive effect for a large number of other students. When there is a real world diversity on campus, discussions are enriched, points of view are challenged, and new ideas are generated.  Students suddenly have the opportunity to practice their Arabic with someone from Dubai, or French with a Moroccan, or Spanish from a student from Argentina.  It makes good sense, then, for colleges and universities to figure out ways for international students to get to the US, and that’s why financial aid for international students exists.
Any survey at any college about financial aid will show that almost all of it comes from federal sources–in other words, money that the US government has generated or set aside for education.  And that money is not for international kids, but for US citizens or green card holders. Logical. However, there is also money available for international students at many colleges, but it simply isn’t as much as the amount that comes from federal aid.  That is also logical.  There are fewer international students than US students at college. Money for international kids tends to come from private sources, benefactors, and unique college programs aimed at increasing international enrollment.
The financial aid that is available varies from school to school.  Some colleges have NO money for you as an international student, while others have been more successful at creating a fund to help cover expenses. Remember that basically colleges are businesses, and they run programs the way businesses do.  If something is not cost effective, it doesn’t last.  The schools that have found ways to pay for international kids have also figured out how to make that cost effective for themselves as well.
To qualify for financial aid as an international student, it is usually required that students submit a good deal of documentation about the family’s financial situation–much the same way that every kid who is a US citizen has to submit the FAFSA before he or she can be awarded any financial aid.  International kids don’t do the FAFSA; instead the colleges ask them to use a different form.  Usually it is the International Student Certificate of Finances, and sometimes it’s the CSS Profile.  In most cases, colleges will list links to these forms and worksheets right on their admissions pages, under “International Students.”  Additionally, most colleges will also ask for a bank statement or official letter that certifies how much money the family has in a checking or savings account.  That information typically has to be notarized or legalized, and it also has to be translated into English.  Without those documents, the Financial Aid Office at a college or university has no way to figure out what a family can pay or what the college might be able to offer as a scholarship or grant.
Getting these documents completed and submitted is almost always a hassle, and parents often do not understand why some of the questions seem so personal and intrusive–especially in cultures that are very different from that of the US.  However, filling out the forms as accurately and quickly as possible allows the Financial Aid Office to do their best to provide the most money possible for any given family.  And then once a student and college have agreed on how the student’s college education will be paid for, the US government makes it possible for a visa to be granted, allowing someone from a different country to enter and live in the United States legally.
The money that is available to help students get to the US varies enormously, and often the most money is available at the smallest colleges.  Some schools have figured out that by having a large international population, they are able to attract more students from their home regions–students who are interested in globalization, international studies, world economy, diplomacy, languages, and business.  Sometimes the schools that cost less can offer enough financial aid to make to make a college affordable–it’s one thing to receive $20,000 of scholarship at a school that only costs $30,000 to start with, but something else entirely to receive that same amount and face fees in excess of $55,000.
To find out what is available for them, international students should ask lots of questions.  Those questions should not only be about costs, but about the possibility of finding a campus job (yes, international students can work on campus, but with restrictions), about transportation expenses, about possible tax responsibilities, and about grade requirements to renew those scholarships.  Write emails.  Attend college fairs at local schools and hotels. Go online and look for information.
Money for international students exists. It really does.  But to find it, a student should understand that he or she will need to present honest and accurate information about the family’s financial situation.  And students will also need to be flexible in where they look for aid.  Where the most money might be available might surprise people, so it is important to research schools thoroughly.  In the end, if a student from outside the US is determined to study in a college or university there, it is possible.  It just takes a little bit of work and organization and patience.

John Carpenter was a founding Executive Committee member of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools.  John currently is the Director of Admissions and University Counseling at the United World College, UWC Costa Rica.

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