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Can I Afford to Study In The US?

06 MAR 2020

The US has some of the world’s best colleges, beyond just the eight Ivy League schools. The university admission process can be extremely hard to decipher for international students, making studying at a top US institution seem like a pipe dream.

And then there's the cost of college itself. Wanting to attend one of these schools is one thing, but knowing if you can afford it is a whole different kettle of fish.

Everybody knows about how young Americans are crippled by student debt. Do you really want that kind of life? I mean, don't you need some easy scholarship money to even think about attending those colleges?

But guess what:

The crazy expense of tertiary education in the US is a bit of a misnomer.

In fact, in some situations, going to a university in the US can be less expensive than going to university in your own home country.

Yep. More expensive to study at home than in the good ole US of A. Ain't that a surprise?

First, You've Got Financial Aid Wrong

Cost 1

US colleges, in general, offer financial aid. Applying for money might seem daunting for international students and families, however, it's regular part of American life.

US financial aid can confuse international students, who view this type of financing through their own cultural lens where payment support often means a loan, like HECS-HELP, which the student will have to pay back.

I can't stress this enough: US college financial aid is not a loan.

For example, if you're offered a spot at a US college with financial aid package of $US 45,000, you are essentially given that money.

It’s not loan money, there’s no interest, it all goes straight towards your education. Financial aid covers student costs like tuition, housing, food, and in some cases, books and other academic materials.

So Wait, Free Money?

Cost 2

Yeah, not really.

Most financial aid packages are determined by your "Expected Family Contribution", or EFC. Each college assesses what each student's family should be able to afford while they attend university.

The EFC is a little complicated.

It's based off the data you provide in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Service Scholarship PROFILE Basically, the lower the EFC, the higher your financial aid.

Zero is the lowest possible number and means your family can't contribute anything.

The highest is 99,999, which means you're like Batman rich.

How they arrive at your number is most likely generated by looking at a combination of factors, such as number of dependents in your family, number of siblings in college, low-income households with fewer assets.

College can also lower your EFC score if you have a bunch of unusual cirmcumstances happen to you, such as:

  • Parent loses their job
  • Parents divorce or separate
  • Death of a parent or spouse
  • Medical expenses

Once you're given an EFC score, a college will use it to give you a total financial aid package.

The rest, or your actual family contribution, is what you have to pay.

US universities give financial aid because they know that not all families can afford the full sticker price of attending university.

These colleges would find it counter-productive to stop you from attending because of price. Plus, colleges look to enroll the most diverse class possible, including socio-economic diversity - even if you're from overseas.

For example, Harvard has more than a billion dollars in it's endowment, which is uses around 10% of to hand out financial aid, scholarships and loans.

So What Does This Mean For Me?

In terms of the various aid packages offered, US institutions accept students based on three methods, they are Full-need, Need-blind and Need-Aware.

Keep in mind, the EFC formula can vary from year-to-year - mainly if your family circumstances change - and colleges have individual ways to determine your EFC score.

For example, your EFC score may differ from your little sister's or brother's, like if you go to different colleges.

Anyway, here are the respective 'financial need' definitions :


If a school meets “full-need”, it means the college is committed to providing financial aid that covers the family’s demonstrated need (an amount that is determined through an analysis of the family’s financial information.)


If a school is “need-blind”, it does not take your financial situation into account when considering your student’s application There are five US universities that are “need-blind” for international students: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Amherst, and MIT.


If a school is “need-aware”, it does take your financial situation into account when considering your student’s application. All US schools, apart from the 5 mentioned above, are need-aware for international students.

How can you receive financial aid?

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While I’m sure you appreciate the different variations of Financial Aid, all you really want to know is whether you can qualify, right? Well, qualifying really depends on your family income, assets, and household size.

What’s more, each US school has a different method of calculating a student’s “need”. If you wish to get a more specific reading of the potential Financial Aid support available to you, you may wish to talk to a Crimson Education Financial Aid consultant.

Applying for financial aid happens around the same time as a student is applying for university, and requires families to fill out several forms detailing their financial information. This includes:

  • Tax returns
  • Estimates of future income
  • Information about assets like homes, businesses, and trusts

This information is securely sent to the universities students are applying to.

Final thought...

US financial aid is very different to how other parts of the world understand paying for tertiary education. Depending on your situation, you can lessen the financial impact of your studies and make attending a college in the US affordable for you and your fami

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