The Most Generous Schools for International Financial Aid

I remember sitting in on international committee day at our admissions office. The stakes were high, the school admitted less than 8 % of the applicants who applied (and that was four years ago…now the numbers are more like less than 5%!). The most stressful day; however, was the day of “international financial aid committee,” because so few were going to be considered for admission. These students literally had to walk on water. We all sat down with every member of the admissions office who read international files around the table, and post-it notes were prepared to indicate which countries on a world map hung on a wall would have successful students.

Since the university I worked for was not “need blind” for international students, when I read application files, I had to right off the bat divide up the students who were elite enough to pay (one pile) with the students who couldn’t (the other pile). Getting out of the international student financial aid pile was something short of a miracle…those stats were less than 2% some years.

While it is incredibly difficult to be awarded financial aid as an international school at the majority of universities in the U.S., it does happen. Today I want to showcase and applaud the schools that are the most generous to international students in terms of aid. Read the article carefully, as U.S. News and World Report explains the that some schools are need based while others are merit based. This could be good news for international students who would be considered middle class, who are excellent students, but wouldn’t qualify for full tuition at some of the “need based” financial aid institutions. These families may be able to afford some of the tuition but certainly not the hefty price tag of $50,000 USD a year.

If you are academically talented, have great test scores, and think you are competitive in a highly selective applicant pool, try applying to these schools with high endowments that invest in international diversity:



Being Poor at America’s Rich Colleges

“… while poor kids are underrepresented on elite campuses, the wealthiest kids are overrepresented. At Harvard, 45.6% of undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000 — in other words, incomes in the top 3.8% of all American households.” 

For all the lip service to being schools that are open and welcoming to all students, many institutions like Harvard are still recruiting, admitting, and educating the nation’s wealthiest students.

Forbes author Maggie McGrath tackles a challenging topic in this article that examines the experiences of middle and lower-income students who find themselves in some of the privileged worlds of American higher education. They have the brains, motivation and toughness to succeed, but sometimes their backgrounds set them apart from their wealthy peers. I remember when I was a student at Dartmouth, wealth wasn’t always in your face, but if you thought about the fact that only about 50% of students receive financial aid, it meant that the other half of the students had families that could pay the $53,000+ a year with cold hard cash. I think there was even a discount for families that could pay the entire tuition in a lump sum. My parents were certainly not in that category.

While I applaud elite, highly selective universities and colleges for opening up their doors to low income, first generation students in order to diversify their campuses, it’s not enough just to admit the students. Faculty members are not always adept to deal with students from different backgrounds, making assumptions of students and families that can be harmful. There must be support systems in place for these students who are at times out of their comfort zone, especially in campuses were talking about wealth, money, and family background can be taboo. It’s great that schools like Stanford have invested in creating offices where students can learn about others and share experiences that they don’t feel completely isolated on a campus that seeps wealth and everyone has a seemingly carefree attitude. Many students from low income backgrounds have faced challenges in high school and beyond, but had mentors or community based organizations that supported them to be admitted to their highly selective schools. Universities need to ensure that the support continues throughout the undergraduate years to ensure that students don’t drop out. One of the best ways is to create mentoring networks of students from similar backgrounds: 1) to show that there is a community of students like them, and 2) to teach younger students how to navigate semi-adulthood while succeeding academically.

“… take it from someone who’s still navigating this often tricky terrain. Harvard’s Christian Ramirez remembers feeling alone as a low-income student at an Ivy League institution at first, but slowly realizing there were many other students like him and it was okay to ask one of them, or an administrator, for help.” 

 Did you face isolation as a student because it was taboo discuss money on your campus? Write to[at]gmail[dot]com to share your story!Widener-Pic




Reader Response: Educational Attainment in the Hmong Community

Today I want to share a heartfelt letter from a young Hmong woman who explains the lack of educational attainment in her community. Since I worked closely with the Hmong community at Stanford, and I was able to do recruitment programs in Fresno, Sacramento, and other Central Valley cities, I was really interested in her perspective. I think that the lack of peers and adults with higher educational degrees can be a limiting factor for students, and I hope that universities understand that in order to break that cycle, they have to be very aggressive about recruiting talented students from these communitites.

I read your article, “Highly Qualified Students from Low-Income Backgrounds Don’t Apply to Top Colleges”. It reminded me how frustrated I felt when my high school senior baby sister wanted to stay home and go to a community college for a “Nursing” degree because the mentality that “it is not where you attend school, it is how hard you work and how you utlilize your degree”. That mentality is dangerous considering her applying for the Gate Millenium Scholarship.


I asked her, “You are applying for the Gate Scholarhsip and you want to use that fund to go to an over-crowded community college?” She said yes and my parents and my other siblings supported her decision. Here is a kid who is graduating valedictorian, who have such a promising college career but her thought is, “Other people got their degree here, so why not do the same?” She doesn’t understand the world consist of a lot more than a brain drained town.


I agree that in the Hmong community, if one sibling get accepted to a high caliber school then the younger siblings will follow suit. Part of my frustration is that I wasn’t that sibling; I could have but I didn’t aim that far because of the fear that I didn’t want to burden my parents with the debt of attending such high caliber university with a big tuition. There was no one to hold my hands when I was a high senior. But I am here telling her she can do better than a overcrowded university or some burned out university that is cutting classes and prolonging graduation. The response I get is, “Why didn’t you do it then?” Because I didn’t do so; therefore, she think she don’t have to as well.


Other people come to the defense of her decision by saying, “I  went to a community college; those UC kids, they’re not all that! They’re pretty stupid too, you know”, which is beyond the point why I push her to attend anything else either than a community college. I grew up in an environment in which if you have a high school degree or a doctorate then people will bash you for not knowing anything because you only have a high school degree, or being a “smart ass” because you have doctorate degree. And because of stories about young Hmong folks who go off to big universities and come right back to this town to work at the fields instead of being a doctor or a lawyer. Or come back and tell people here the way we live here is wrong because they got to induldge in culture unlike here where the Hmong population is big and stigmas are strong. That really discourage people to seek more because if it is going to turn them into ignorant brats then they don’t want to go there and spend that much money. That instill a mentality that if you see that there are folks who aren’t successful by attending a high caliber university then you don’t have to go there because even people who went there aren’t successful; therefore, it is not the school but the person.


But I see it differently. It is the school that provide the resources and people that one needs to have in order to be successful. It is the school: either you attend one where you constantly fight for classes or where you know you will have a spot in the classroom. She can go where she can meet people who will push her to be successful or stay here and kind of just hang out like all of us here. I feel like a mother who push the child to do something I couldn’t accomplish but it is for her own good. I an older child and I didn’t have a sibling as my personal driver or bank account when I was in high like how she have me and my older siblings as her driver and bank. It is so frustraing and disheartening, it make me sad. Until someone in the family go out and beats the odds and prove everything that had been said about going away to a high caliber university is wrong; until someone break that old mentality that as long as you have a degree then you will be fine in life (employers still care about where you attend school); then everyone will just keep following the same path.


My boyfriend is the same. He wanted to attend [A High Calibe University] for their great English Department but he changed his mind that he don’t want to study English anymore; he want to be a [another degree] so he will settle for his local university. That is not bad but when given the top 10 choices for him to pick from, he said he don’t want to because it is cheap to go to the local school, even though he will be transferring out from the community college with honors and a GI Bill package. Money is not the problem here. The problem is people are too well rooted where they are. But he is bright enough to tell me, “You don’t want me to stay here because you don’t want me to be rooted here just like you. You don’t want me to get stuck here in this small town just like you.” OF COURSE. Plus, he is the youngest child and he don’t need to stay home and work to provide for his family. Everyone else can take care of themselves so why is he limited himself?


My suggestion is to break the poor man’s mentality that he should be complacent with what he have. If we are all complacent with what we have, our people and our community will not advance. High school counselors are not trained to do that. They were trained to tell us how to apply for college. They don’t know why we think any college is good enough for us. Rick Santorum said people shouldn’t attend college, they just need to work hard. The reason is he don’t want other people competing with him – he don’t want young poor colored kids to learn about working smart where you don’t have to shed a sweat, competing with him for equal power and money. We are just going along with it when we settle for last.”

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, and I hope that as educational professionals, family members, and community leaders, we are able to support our young people reach their highest goals for education.

Do you have comments that you’d like to share with this reader or me? Please write at us at[at]gmail[dot]com


Stanford University’s Hmong student group used to help with recruitment outreach with an overnight admissions visit and workshop! It would be so wonderful if students at different univesrities could help their siblings and communitites in this way too!

Highly Qualified Students from Low-Income Backgrounds Don’t Apply to Top Colleges

Happy New Year!

Can’t believe it’s already 2013…I’m still in training preparing for a new job, but it gives me more time to explore the world of college admissions. A recent article in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson summarizes new research by Professor Hoxby at Stanford that states that the smartest kids in low income communities are not applying to the best colleges with generous financial aid packages. I heard Professor Hoxby speak about this topic in 2010 (she is an professor of education/economics at Stanford University), and thought a lot about what factors lead students to apply to top schools and where the connection is lost.

It is true, that when I was visiting low income schools in Northern California, there would be schools where only about 12% of the students who graduated would matriculate into a 4 year college, and they had never met someone who had gone to a Harvard or a Stanford. Even though these schools were within 50 miles of Stanford University and UC Berkeley. So much of your world view, especially when you are young is shaped by your community. If your parents work at the Jelly Belly Factory or Travis Air Force Base and your siblings went to community college before taking on a job in your hometown, there is not a lot of ways that you can learn about opportunities for higher learning. On top of that, some guidance and college counselors that I would meet with did not know how to encourage their top students and they were not familiar with need blind financial aid programs. I think Thompson is right that there needs to be better marketing that is targeted toward the right kinds of students.

I spent the last summer volunteering for a political campaign and learned about how data is used for micro-targeting – for example, if you want to find women who are 35-55 years old who live in a certain county and have voted Democrat in the last 5 elections and are in the education sector…you could use your data base to find those people to hit them up for donations or volunteer shifts. Why can’t we use the data collected from the SAT (although they are self-reported by students so there are questions with accuracy) to micro-target students who are exceptionally smart within a community but are not linked within a network that encourages “college going” in their culture. I think a great example of this is College Horizons, which is THE premier college prep program for promising Native American high school students. I have close friends who recruit high school students for this program, and since many Native students live in rural communities, they rely on social networking and word of mouth. I have also seen in the Hmong community while working at Stanford that if you can get one sibling accepted, the younger siblings will aim high for high caliber schools following the foot steps of their siblings.

Lots to think about. On a really exciting note, my best friend brought a friend to visit, and I found out that his cousin was part of the cohort of students that I admitted during my admissions days. Obviously, I did not discuss details of the application, but I went back and read through my notes about the student…and it really warmed my heart to know that he was doing well and about to graduate. There are days when working in education just feel so worthwhile. This was one of them. If you have ideas about how to outreach better to low-income high achieving students, write me at

Happy New Year Everyone!

Asian American College Applicant Profile on NYT & Senior Check List!

Vietnamese American College Applicant

Love this young Vietnamese American girl – she is so modest and adorable, and she believes in the good in people…I have to say that she comes off totally likable, but shows her love of learning and curiosity by letting us know that she is interested in technology and biotech and tinkers with games and electronics. LOVE that she’s a woman in science and she’s not shy about it. This type of geeky-smart is well liked in admission offices across the county! She does not seem overly stressed and comes off as friendly and calm. Please approach college in the same way that she does.

Thanh-Tran is so likeable because to me, she acts like her age. She isn’t trying to be overly sophisticated or adult. I meet so many students during college interviews who are trying to pretend to be something that I would be impressed with…and a lot of them miss the mark because how can one high school student try to guess what their admission officer (reader of their application would like…?) Students should just try to be authentically be the same!

She is a A/B student, and honestly, there are more students like Thanh-Tran who aren’t the tippy top of their class and curing cancer. I was in the bottom half of my senior class during high school, but I still graduated from college cum laude (I think that’s top third of my class), had a wonderful first job at a university and went on to graduate school…so deciding how successful you will be at 16 or 17 years old is just ridiculous. Don’t stress out students…learn from Thanh-Tran!

She says

Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from college fly-in programs. Given that I can’t afford to make cross-country college visits, these fly-in programs would help me get a real sense of what I’m looking for in a college, as well as firsthand experience of the colleges I’m going to visit.

I applied to Oberlin College’s Multicultural Visit, the Multicultural Open House at Colgate University, the SEED program at Brandeis University, and the Voices of Tufts Diversity Experience.”

She’s on the right track to pursue these diversity programs, and I hope that she will be able to visit many schools and see which one is the right fit for her. She mentions that she needs financial aid, so perhaps she comes form a modest family?

I got this blog post from the NYT admissions blog, The Choice, where they profile eight students every year who are going through the college process. Wow, it must take guts to let the entire nation know what your college process is like…from where you applied to where you are accepted and denied! I like the video format they have this year a lot!

Below is a quick checklist for our seniors who are getting ready to apply to school: Making a List and Checking it TWICE!

Avoid Crushing Debt – Don’t Allow Your Parents to Shoulder Your Loans

Our parents raise us and help us with everything, but what if our student expenses drive them to take out huge loans that cripples them forever? I recently read a terrifying article in the NYT about families that are burdened by debt that their students took out in order to finance their education. From a mother who has to move in with her daughter to a family strained by a father’s suicide, many American seniors are finding that their children’s debts are getting in their way of retirement. With the economic recession already hurting families, loan repayments that are in the hundreds of dollars a month makes it even harder for families.

What saddens me most is the lack of understanding that parents and students have when they take out these loans. The student wants the best education possible from their dream school, and parents want to do everything in their power to make it work for their kids. In the worst case scenario; however, this can prove to be a disaster for kids and parents alike. With the difficult job market, almost a quarter of recent graduates are under/unemployed. While there is a short deferment period, once the monthly payments start, it can be very hard to keep up without a steady income.

During this election cycle both candidates focused on educational loans in one way or another. President Obama wanted to increase Pell Grants and open access to more students, while on the other hand Governor Romney said that students can “borrow from their parents” in order to pay tuition. Romney’s policy showed a huge gap between the reality of financing a college education and his out of touch views.

So, what can families do to avoid these traps?

1. Please make sure you understand the financial aid offers from your schools. You can compare packages and get a financial aid officer to explain to you what the difference is between grants, loans, and scholarships. Great news from the Dept of Education – more than 500 schools have signed on to using a “shopping sheet” to be able to compare college costs. Check out the sample sheet below! Follow Dept of Education and Sec. Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) on twitter to learn more and follow the updates.

2. Figure out what your monthly payments will be after graduation with the amount of debt that you are signing onto. Are you going to be able to pay back that amount with the type of work that you want to do? Figure out median salaries for fresh graduates in your field as well as from your school!

3. Have honest and frank conversations with your parents about what you can afford as a family. Your parents should not have to take out another mortgage or dip in to their retirement funds to pay for college. There are colleges out there with generous financial aid programs and plenty of scholarship organizations that can help. Trust me…you don’t want $100K in debt for your BA…especially if you want to go to graduate school. Prestige and rankings for a good school (I know Asian American families are all about that) is NOT worth it.


Best Values in Private College & Financial Aid – 5 Things to Know Before You Sign That Loan Promissory Note

Recently I had a great chat with a friend about school tuition, student loans, and earnings post college. So few students know about the TRUE cost of college, and it really scares me. Both my friend and I were joking around that we had NO idea what it meant to sign loan forms when we were first year college students, and that these loans could add up so quickly. I’ve written before that a good estimate should be that for every $10,000 you take out in loans, you should expect to pay at least $100 in loans every month for the next ten years. So, if you take out $60,000 over 4 years, you would have to pay $600 every month. With the unemployment rate of young college grads being so high these days, these numbers should worry all of us.

Here are things you must know before you sign those loans:

1) Average Amount of Debt for Graduating Students: These numbers should be published by each school, and I recommend a great article by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance this month that has a ranking of Private College and their debt rates. Please do your research before going to a school that you can’t afford! What many students don’t realize is that there are certain schools, like Yale University, that have an extremely high sticker price, but have some of the most generous financial aid programs in the county. If you end up going there and you are coming from a modest income family, you can actually pay less than in-state tuition. Check out the rankings here.

2) Graduation Rates : Please, please, please find out if the school graduates students on time (4-6 years). These rates are a good indicator of how much support students are getting, and is also tied to their employ-ability after graduation.

3) Financial Aid Support and Types of Aid : Please read my blog post on the different types of aid. There are federal loans, university grants, federal grants, scholarships, and private loans. Understand where your money is coming from and when/how you have to pay it back.

4) Loan Forgiveness Programs (Federal and University Programs): I speak to a lot of kind heart-ed and generous young people who want careers “helping others.” That’s great. I love it, but these jobs, in reality, do not always pay the best salaries. Students can see if there are loan forgiveness program – for example for teacher who teach math and science in low income communities or get federal jobs with the State Department, etc (that’s what I’m doing), where in ten years you can cancel your loans. Do your research about income-based repayment plans too!

5) Average Salary of Graduates: Another great stat that you can find out from rankings and research. Of course, there is going to be a big difference whether you major in engineering (like my friend who will always have great job options) or government (like me…who was at a loss at first about what to do with my life)

I hope this helps you with your research, and make sure to compare financial aid packages between schools to ensure that you are making the best choice for you and your family! And sorry about the crappy picture below…