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:



Infographic: International Students at U.S. Universities


U.S. News and World Report collected data on U.S. universities and presents them in an easily digestible infographic describing which schools have the most number of international students (New School in New York, New York). I found the bottom statistic that states that 27.5% of the 1000+ top ranked universities send admissions officers to recruit international students. International students contribute diversity and bring different perspectives to the classroom, no doubt, but increasingly many universities see them as “full pay” students who can afford the price tags at universities.

One question I always get when I am meeting with international students is to pay for the sky high tuition rates. The infographic also shows the universities that are most generous toward international students below:


It is really great to see these schools commit to international diversity and back it up with the financial aid!

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




Student Share Admissions Essays About Money, Economy, and Class

As the dust settles from the past admissions season, the conversations around the impact of the economic crisis on the student experience still abound. Today, Ron Lieber of the NYTimes published four student admission essays about the subject of class, money, and the economy. The title video essay by Lyle Lin is truly impressive.

I recommend any student who is thinking about writing their college essay this summer watch and digest this great essay. Here’s an excerpt:

“Instead of diplomas and accolades, my parents’ room emits a smell from the restaurant uniforms they wear seven days a week, all year round. It’s funny how I never see my mom in makeup, expensive jeans, lavish dresses, or even just casual, everyday clothing that I often see other moms wearing. Yet, one must possess something extraordinary to be able to stand in front of a cash register for 19 years and do so with pride and determination.”

I personally love essays like this that reflect on personal challenges, family history, one’s place in the United States/immigrant experiences. Of course, these subjects need to be authentic and reflect your values. Done well, these essays can be truly moving. My old boss, S. Abbot (currently working @ NYU), obviously was moved saying:

“His essay brought his family’s circumstance and background into Technicolor,” Mr. Abbott said. “He paints a very vivid picture of what life is really like in his home. I think he’s proud of his accomplishments and work ethic, but there’s also a humility each day when he takes off his preppy blue blazer in front of his mom.”

Very well done. Working with low SES Asian American students during my time as an admission officer was one of the most meaningful experiences of my career, and I hope that teachers and parents can support these students feel pride in their own experiences that prepares them for college.

Check out all of the essays that the NYT selected here. I also love that admissions officers from schools like NYU and Hamilton openly discussing why these essays worked and ensuring transparency in the system. I can understand why Princeton wouldn’t want to comment, because it can open the door to angry parents wanting explanations on why their child was rejected…but students should get some perspectives on what admissions officers are looking for.

Have a great weekend!

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!

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…


Who graduates? Who Doesn’t? And Why It Matters…

Today’s find is incredible! The Chronicles of Higher Education has an interactive website that shows research regarding college completion rates. It’s the most comprehensive website that I’ve seen with this information. It blew my mind!

I’ve discussed college completion before in an article about the South, but this website illustrates it with graphics and tables. You can start by doing a national search, then narrow down state-by-state to find the schools that you want to research. Then you can click on the specific school to see the stats. There are comparison tools that are really useful too.

For example, if you look at the rates for Dartmouth College, you can see that 88.1% of the students enrolled graduate within 4 years.  15.5% of the students at Dartmouth receive Pell Grants.

According to the Pell Grant website: “The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.”

Please pay attention to the graduation rates within 4 and 6 years, AND the PELL GRANT PERCENTAGES. It’s also disturbing to look at the racial breakdown of who is graduating and when…

Click here to learn more about the project.

Why is this relevant to you if you are a high school student looking at different colleges? You should ensure that the institution that you choose has the support system that will guarantee that you will graduate! Especially if you are about to embark on your higher education journey with a lot of loans…please make sure that you will be able to graduate. The Pell Grant percentages also says a lot about the school’s student population’s diversity…or lack there of…and if that school prioritizes promoting access to low-income families.

I’m going to continue to explore the website and share what I find for the next couple of posts…as always please email me at with questions or comments!