Early Decision for International Student Needing Financial Aid?

Question: I am an international student from Bangladesh and looking to apply for fall 2014. I have been doing a bit of research on U.S schools for higher studies and thus I came to know about Early Decision. I am not looking for top notch schools like MIT, HARVARD or CORNELL because I might have the most possibility of getting rejected as only the best students from our country make it into those schools. Nevertheless, I did find a lot of schools that could meet up with me in every aspect. University of Rochester, by far fits me really well.

But now, when I came to know about ED, I got a bit confused. If I am admitted to the college but do not get the aid I need to attend, am I obligated to go anyway (and how could I)? Can I negotiate for more money? Thank you.

When a student applies to a binding Early Decision program and is also a candidate for financial aid, then the student may withdraw from the ED commitment if the aid award is insufficient. But this must be done almost immediately, usually within about three weeks of receiving the verdict. An applicant cannot wait until spring to compare the ED aid offer with other offers.

This can make Early Decision tricky for international students because some colleges have no need-based aid for international students, only “merit aid.” And, commonly, merit aid awards aren’t determined until the spring, well after Early Decision students must commit—or not—to their ED school.

With U. of Rochester, however, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that, although Rochester gives only merit-aid (not need-based) to international applicants, it IS possible to apply Early Decision because ED candidates will receive a merit-aid determination shortly after receiving an admissions verdict. So, as an international applicant requiring financial assistance, you CAN apply to U. of Rochester, as long as you understand that you will have to back out of the “binding” commitment promptly if you are accepted but without sufficient funds. There may be a little room for negotiation if the college comes close to meeting your need, but probably not a lot.

The bad news is that the top merit award at U. of Rochester provides full tuition, but students must pay room, board, and other expenses themselves. So if you family does not have the means to cover at least part of your college costs, then Rochester is not a wise choice for you. (And, at the time that you apply, you will have to supply documentation of the funds that your family has available to cover your college costs.)

Early Decision can actually be a smart choice for international students who need money, if the college in question provides a financial decision at the time of the admissions decision, as Rochester will. Colleges have limited budgets for international aid and often want to spend that money on students who really want to be there. Moreover, if you wait until the Regular Decision round to apply to a college you like, you may find out that another student (or several)from your country got admitted and received financial aid, which decreases the odds that you will be admitted and aided, too.

Note also that the bar is always set very high for international applicants needing financial aid. This means that, even if your grades and test scores mesh with the norms at U. of Rochester (or at any other college you’re considering), you may not be accepted because you need money. I can’t emphasize enough how competitive college admissions can be for international students seeking financial aid, especially those who need a lot. So do be wary as you make your college list. If you’re seeking financial assistance, make sure that you focus on colleges where you are likely to be one of the top students on campus.

In addition, you may learn about certain American colleges because other students from Bangladesh have gone there or are applying there. And that’s definitely a good way to add options to your list. But … your chances of getting aid will improve if you apply to places where your country is not highly represented in the applicant pool. Colleges on the East and West coasts tend to be popular for international students, so don’t overlook the middle of the U.S. where there are some very fine schools that are eager to attract more candidates from your home country. If you’re willing to study on a campus where Bangladesh isn’t well represented, this could give you a bit of an edge at decision and financial aid time.

Hope that helps. Good luck