Financial Aid and Scholarships from US universities

The tuition fee for University of Chicago, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, is $71,630 for the 2016-2017 school year.

That’s a lot of money.

The burden of university tuition that students and their parents have to bear is constantly increasing in every year so it’s very important to get financial aid and scholarships from your university if it’s available.

Financial aid and scholarships given to students by US universities totals more than 8 billion US dollars. People often think that only US citizens and permanent residents can receive these benefits, but 800 or more US universities offer financial aid and scholarships to international students. However, it is still difficult to obtain US Government scholarships as an international student. For international students, tt’s easier to pursue financial aid opportunities from each university’s scholarship foundations.

Financial aid in US universities is divided to two types: Merit-based and Need-based.

Merit-based financial aid is for students who have excellent grades or outstanding achievements in various fields. There is no need to request merit-based financial aid manually. Students can generally be awarded merit-based scholarships automatically when they fulfill the university’s conditions.

On the other hand, Need-based, which makes up approximately 63% of the US scholarship budget, is for students who need actual financial help. Students should request for Need-based scholarship when they apply to school, and financial aid is awarded based on student’s parent’s financial status. That’s why it is called “need-based” financial aid.

Scholarships are a form of merit-based financial aid, and it is given to certain students when the student is accepted to certain schools. Some state universities don’t normally give financial aid to international students, but they still award merit-based financial aid to international students with strong profiles in order to entice the student to attend. Grants (financial aid that doesn’t require the student to repay in the future) and Work-study (financial aid that gives students the opportunity to obtain paying jobs at the school) are other types of need-based financial aid. International students must request need-based financial aid, but it’s very hard to obtain need-based financial aid from US universities, especially from state universities.

Financial aid policy regarding admissions differs from school to school, and certain policies are disadvantageous to students that apply for financial aid.

The two main types of policies are need-blind and need-aware.

A need-blind policy means that the school will select and accept students without considering their financial condition, and will give financial aid to students if needed. Universities that have a need-blind policy include Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Georgetown, Amherst, etc. Need-blind policies generally apply to all students - US citizens, permanent residents, and international students.

A need-aware policy means that the school will be aware and consider student’s parents’ financial status in their admissions process. Naturally, it means if a student requests financial aid at the time of application, the student will be at a disadvantage. Therefore, students that want to apply to need-aware policy schools with a financial aid request should try to apply to lower ranking schools to increase his or her chance of acceptance. Universities that have need-aware policies include Cornell, Darthmouth, etc.

There is a third type of policy called need-met. Need-met means that the school will award a certain percentage of the tuition in financial aid and expect the family’s contribution to make up the difference. Universities that have a 100% need-met policy are Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Amherst, etc.

The most frequent question about financial aid in US universities is whether or not the student should request financial aid at the time of application. As we mentioned before, university tuition fee is constantly increasing. Therefore, we advise that if it’s hard to manage tuition expenses then the student should request enough financial aid and try to apply need-blind or lower rank schools to increase chances of acceptance. If student finds it impossible to pay tuition expenses after being accepted, then the time spent on the application would have been for naught. It’s very important to be realistic when making plans and deciding where to apply.

In the next column, we will discuss important points regarding the financial aid application process.