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The Importance of Considering Financial Aid in your College Application

05 MAR 2020

You’re starting to weigh up your university options after learning the benefits of investing in a top-ranked US college education.

But there’s the looming issue of cost. In comes the financial aid questions … how to apply for financial aid? Which universities typically provide it? What should you request in your financial aid submission and how does it impact your chances of getting accepted?

It’s pretty standard knowledge that the common application includes a financial aid section and now is the time to start preparing your submission as a Class of 2024 applicant.

We’ve tackled the most common financial aid questions we regularly hear from students and parents so that you can approach the common application with confidence.

How to apply?

Within the Common Application there is a section that asks if the student would like to apply for financial aid - and once checked, the university then asks for information on a family’s finances. (Don’t worry it won’t happen immediately! The university gives you plenty of time to provide the information they require!). This is so that if aid is awarded, the amount can be calculated to meet that student’s needs.

How does it work?

The beauty of US university financial aid is that it does not have to be ‘paid back’. It is in effect a ‘grant’ or ‘gift’ from the university which enables a student to study free from the stress of having post-graduate debt (last year alone 70% of Harvard students were on some form of financial aid).

If you are an American student, you will need to fill out both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS). FAFSA determines the amount of federal aid you are eligible for, while the CSS profile determines the amount of institutional aid you are eligible for.

How much financial aid is on offer?

Many assume the Ivy Leagues are beyond their reach due to the price tag attached, however the opposite might in fact be true. Thanks to the generous donations that these institutions receive from philanthropists, donors and alumni, financial aid provided to students can be super generous. Perhaps even more significant is the many millions of dollars available to international students in athletic scholarships. Hundreds of US universities are willing to subsidize the education of talented athletes regardless of their country of origin - and these athletes not only receive assistance in funding, but are also supported by some of the best coaches in the world in universities with unparalleled facilities and support mechanisms.

Worth noting is that Crimson Education has helped their students gain over $US68 million in the past 5 years, with some Crimson students attending US universities on 100% financial aid packages.

Here is a table we’ve created to help outline typical tuition costs and on average, the grant provided to students.

University Total Cost/YearAverage Grant/YearWhat YOU Pay/Year
Princeton $67,100 USD $48,000 USD $19,100 USD
Harvard $71,600 USD $50,000 USD $21,600 USD
Yale $70,570 USD $47,000 USD $23,570 USD
Columbia $71,690 USD $52,073 USD $19,617 USD
UPenn $72,584 USD $50,171 USD $22,413 USD
Dartmouth $71,827 USD $47,833 USD $23,994 USD
Brown $71,050 USD $47,940 USD $23,110 USD
Cornell $71,321 USD $39,797 USD $31, 524 USD

What other forms of aid are available?

Financial aid in the US comes in four forms:


Most grants come directly from the government and are based on your FAFSA. The most common grant is the Federal Pell Grant, which is limited to $5,500 USD a year and is only available for American students.


Scholarships are a great way of funding your education; however, they require a lot of time on your end. You’ll need to research, fill out applications and maybe even write a few essays. Luckily, there are scholarships for just about anything. If you are an international student, you can look for scholarships through this website.


Financial institutions are willing to lend you money for college but you’ll need to pay the money back, with interest. There are two types of loans available for college students.

  • Private loans: Companies have strict rules for handing out loans and tend to have higher interest rates and you’ll usually have to start paying them back right away.
  • Federal loans: The federal government has lower interest rates on loans and better repayment options. Before applying for loans, do some research on what works best for your financial situation. Just bear in mind you need a US citizen or permanent resident to cosign the loan.

Work-Study Programs

If you are a US citizen or permanent resident, the federal government may also give you a work-study. This will allow you to work (usually on campus) to help you earn money to fund your education.

Financial aid terms

Full-need: These colleges will provide enough aid to sufficiently cover your family’s need, based on your EFC.

Need-aware: These colleges take your financial situation into account when accessing your application and may reserve some spots only for students who can pay full price. The Ivy League is need-aware for international students.

Need-blind: Need-blind colleges do not take your financial situation into account at all when assessing your application. These colleges will not deny you based on whether or not you are able to pay. However, there are only 3 Ivy League universities that offer need-blind admissions for international students:

  • Harvard
  • Yale
  • Princeton

Final tips

  1. Keep a digital copy of the form on computer
  2. Prepare the paper-work in advance including account balance details
  3. Don’t wait to till in the FAFSA form or Financial aid section at the last minute
  4. Be thorough
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