Sunday, 7 August 2016

PI: Money Matters

Today we are lucky to have another insightful post from Anzo about US college applications financial aid.

Money matters

by Anzo Teh

“Asking for a university degree? Let’s see if you’re qualified, awesome enough to pass through the admission sieve, and have enough money to study in our institution.”
This is the tacit message of universities, but fortunately there are a number of universities which remove the last statement: they make sure that there’s no financial problem for you to enroll in their place if they decide to admit you.
Reason? They have generous need-based financial aid. And that’s unique to US institutions.


Most applicants should have heard of phrases like “need blind”, “need aware”, etc, but there’s always confusion between these and “meeting full demonstrated need”. Here’s the difference:

Need blind: 

This particular university doesn’t consider your financial needs when it comes to admission process, so by all means, just apply its financial aid as it never hurts your admission chance. It’s even possible to apply for financial aid after being admitted (the aid award letter may arrive late, though, so that’s not recommended).

Need aware

This university does consider your financial strength during admissions. Unlike those need blind schools, it probably will not allow you to ask for financial aid throughout the four years of study if you don’t state your intention to apply for financial aid during application. Stanford University and Dartmouth University, for example, are need aware for international students (so please think carefully!)
Only apply when you are certain not to attend without aid (like me to Stanford).

Meeting demonstrated need: 

After determining your ability to pay (resources), this university will cover the balance of the money you need to study there (via grant, work or loan). Interestingly, there are 7 universities in the states that hail for being both need blind and meeting full demonstrated need:
Princeton University, with the slogan “Affordable Princeton.”
MIT, which assures that “it's your mettle, not your money, that gets you into MIT.”
Harvard College
Yale College
Amhest College 
MInerva schools at KGI
Soka University of America
(source: Wikipedia)

Private vs public universities

Usually, only private universities provide aid for international students. The University of California, for example, provides financial aid only for California students beginning from 2017 (it used to be for US students). However, there are exceptions: the New York University does not grant aid, while some other public universities do provide aid for international students.

How much aid will I get?

For every university you apply to, there’s financial aid calculator. But there’s a trap! Some universities (e.g. Princeton and MIT) will caution you that this is accurate only for US and Canadian students.

Components of financial aid package

Generally there are three:
1. Grant: this is the money that doesn’t need to be repaid.
2. Work: students are expected to work on campus to help partially on their funding.
3. Loan: Princeton has no-loan policy since 2001, but MIT includes Technology Loan as part of package.

Application process

There’s nothing in the world that comes automatically: same goes for financial aid application.
For most universities, the application can be done through the College Board CSS profile. Examples are MIT and Stanford.
There are, of course, exceptions such as Princeton University, which states CSS profile as optional. Instead, it uses the Princeton Financial Application webpage (which is mandatory).

What to expect during application

Need based financial aid means that the financial aid offices (FAOs) give aid based on your need, but they don’t stop at family income. Instead, they will evaluate on broader spectrum: your family assets, side incomes (like interests), number of family members, expenses (especially medication of elderly and education of other siblings) and extenuating circumstances.
Attached below are snippets of the questions that have been asked in my Profile application. Believe me, it’s so inquisitive that there are total of 9 pages when I saved it in PDF for record.
Princeton financial aid application was less tedious, but wasn’t easy either. Since that was my first financial aid application (I applied to Princeton through early action), the questions dumbfounded me as I had no idea on the financial status of my family. I in turn requested my father to fill in all the details for Princeton.
Extra: for both Princeton and CSS there are spaces for extra explanations, so utilize that to explain things that may be ambiguous in your application (for me it was the explanation of an acronym of school name since there wasn’t enough characters to spell out). Also include those extenuating circumstances if it’s not mentioned previously (like the weakening of local currency against he greenback).
Rule of thumb: always have your parents besides you when you fill your application.

What’s next?

Phew! Application submitted along with the application fee for CSS profile ($9 for base fare, plus $16 for every college applied). But the story doesn’t stop here: you need to submit proofs to the admission officers, such as tax forms translated into English version for the previous year.
The avenues to submit are specific for each university and these are for the universities that I applied:
1. Princeton: directly email, fax or mail to the officer, with application number and student number stated. I chose to email.
2. MIT: chances are, the tax form of immediate previous year (year N-1) hasn’t been filed (the deadline for Malaysia is 1 July), so email the tax form of year N-2 directly to FA officers as well (instead of submitting it to IDOC). Please note that, however, that the tax form of year N-1 is required to finalize the award. For further information please visit the Student Financial Service webpage.
3. Stanford: either fax the tax forms and International Student Certification of Finances to the financial office, or upload them at secure upload webpage.


Financial aid package
Aid package of about 57% of total cost (grant and work).
Aid package of about two thirds the total cost (grant, work and loan).
Denied admission.
* After my first appeal; before that the aid package was 45%.
To be honest, the aid has been a bit disappointing (especially in the case of Princeton, which typically gives almost full grants for students with income below $65000 per annum). This best explains the initial struggle in deciding among Princeton, MIT, Waterloo, and the final decision on Waterloo which awarded me full merit scholarship.



I intend to apply early action/early decision. Should I apply financial aid early as well?

It depends. For Stanford and Princeton, yes, since the former is need aware while the latter issues award letter along with the decision. For MIT, no; students admitted through early action apply to CSS together with regular applicants.

Must I submit application on time?

Not a must, but strongly recommended. This is to ensure that the aid award letter arrives on time should you be accepted (it could be possible that the letter cannot be ready by 1 May if you submit your application late, since FAOs receive thousands of applications).

I’m unhappy with my aid package. What should I do?

Write an email to appeal! Of course, you need your evidences like better aid packages offered by other institutions, discrepancies with financial aid calculator, new extenuating circumstances (e.g. the PSD scholarship slash).

The tax form for previous year isn’t ready. How should I fill in the income then?

Request your parents to give their best estimates, especially in the case of business revenue.

How about those miscellaneous expenses like food, automobile, etc?

Again, estimate to your best ability.

Is it advisable to fabricate some data to gain more aid?

Absolutely no! FAOs reserve the right to ask for your parents’ bank statement. You can, however, use the worst possible scenario for future financial situations (like answering “no” to “do you expect to gain any scholarship?” if you’re not guaranteed a scholarship at that point).

What happens when I’m awarded both college financial aid and outside scholarships?

You must declare it to the FAOs of the universities, and the outside scholarships (should you accept) become your part of your aid package. FAOs will first exempt you from work and loan, then reduce grant such that the aid package and your resources remain the same.

How often do I need to reapply during my studies?

Annually. The aid conferred may vary from freshman year, depending on the changes in your financial situations.

I did not apply for financial aid during my freshman year. Can I apply during later years?

Yes, since your financial situation may change.

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