How to get financial aid

How to get financial aid

Advice for international students at US colleges

Nicole McLaren Campbell

Saturday, June 25, 2016

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Financial aid and scholarship souring may very well be the most important part of the college application process for students whose matriculation depends on securing funding for their studies. After all, you can get into all your dream colleges, but you can’t enrol unless you can pay for it.

With the cost of tertiary education in the US expected to continue to increase each year — while the Jamaican dollar continues to lose value a robust affordability strategy is a must for parents and students.

Here are some tips to ensure that your plan is solid.

1. Start early!

Sure, some students naturally build a million-dollar profile complete with a unique record of achievement inside and outside of the classroom, read widely, and stand ready to ace the SATs/ACTs, but most students do NOT fall into that bracket. Students should start thinking about the strength of their profile from third form when they select their subjects (HINT: please stick to the college prep core!).

2. Parents, talk to your children

...about what you can afford and are prepared to spend on a US college education. Too often students do not understand what parents’ financial reality is and thus do not understand their role in making their college dream a reality. That is, they don’t focus enough on getting the grades, SAT scores or developing the profile necessary to attract scholarships and funding opportunities because they don’t realise how much going to college depends on it.

3. Focus on institutional money

Scholarship websites like
Fastweb offer many scholarship opportunities; however, the requirements tend to involve several essays and recommendations while the scholarships promise less than US$1,000 in many cases. Since the cost of a US college can be as much as US$70,000 per year, applying for a single $1,000 scholarship may not be worth the student’s time. Also, many of those scholarships tend to be one-off awards, and students must consider their ability to fund themselves for four years. The smarter strategy is to focus on getting university-offered funding. Comb your college’s website for major/interest specific awards which may require separate applications. Those monies tend to be renewable each year over the four-year period if the student meets certain criteria, for example maintaining a certain GPA.
Athletes should be aware that many scholarships are discontinued if the student is unable to play for any reason, including injury.

4. It’s ALL in the list!

It seriously is. Look at your profile, the universities that offer financial aid and scholarships to international students AND have a track record of funding Jamaican students of a similar profile to yours. Once you have a suitable list, focus on ensuring that you produce a flawless application. Remember, if you are in need of financial assistance, look for schools that would be excited to have you, not schools where you’d barely get in! Make sure your list includes schools for which you would be in the top 10 – 25 per cent of the incoming class. In receiving feedback on applicants last year, one prominent college told us that although their general admit rate was 30 per cent, when it comes to international students needing financial aid, the admit rate plummeted to just five per cent.

5. Understand financial aid policies

It may be worthwhile to invest in getting professional help to navigate the entire process, which is less than straightforward. Some schools are need-blind, while some are need-aware; some award merit-aid, while some only award need and still yet, some award a combination of both. Your idea of what you can afford is probably VERY different from what a college’s formula will say you can afford, based on your assets and income. It’s important to understand where you stand, before you waste time, energy and money applying to various colleges.

Nicole Campbell is the founder and CEO of Aim Educational Services, an independent college admissions counsellor, and public speaker. Contact her at

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