#CollegeAnswered Q&A – November 13, 2015

This installment of #CollegeAnswered tackles a number of questions from our community.

Source: Flickr user concordnc.

This installment of #CollegeAnswered tackles a number of questions from our community. We have topics related to international students, as well as navigating the FAFSA after a divorce, and a question about the culture of college “fit”.

Students and parents submitted all these questions either via CollegeRaptor.com, Facebook, Twitter, or email.

If you have a question you’d like me to answer, you can submit yours here.

Question 1 – Financial aid for international students

Hi! I am a new college counselor at QSI International School of Tbilisi in Tbilisi, Georgia.  One issue that I am running into is financial aid for our international students. What I am finding is that there really isn’t much available for these students – is that correct?  

My other question is when do these students apply for financial aid? They obviously don’t fill out the FAFSA, so how does that work for them?

– Nikki (via email)

Answer 1

First, let’s address of the question of how to apply for financial aid when an international student cannot apply using the FAFSA (which is meant for US Citizens and Eligible non-citizens…i.e., those who have a green card)

  • Some schools will use the CSS Profile for International Students
  • Schools might request a copy of the tax return your file in your country of citizenship as proof of your finances.
  • In addition to the CSS Profile, some schools will also require you to file the InternatIonal student certification of finances. Those, like the CSS Profile, are also available from The College Board.

Secondly, let’s talk about the availability of financial aid for international students.

You’re absolutely correct–it can be a big challenge to find financial aid for these students. There are significantly more students who are talented enough to gain admission to a school than there is money to fund these students. Many of these students would need either a full-ride or something close to it. Unfortunately, there is not a single source of information that can help you with this issue. Instead, work closely with colleges to learn their specific awarding rules and financial aid availability.


Question 2 – Admissions and financial need for international students

I have read many articles on the subject of financial aid and need blind Ivys for international students some compare it to “the tooth fairy” while others believe it exists my question is how possible is need blind admission for international students at the Ivys

– Demetra (via email)

Answer 2

Need-blind admissions (colleges that make an admission decision without regard to a student’s economic circumstances or ability to pay) is an institutional decision. Even within the schools in the Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, U of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Yale), it is possible for institutions to differ on their need-blind admission policy for international students.  A quick look at Yale’s website makes it clear that international students are covered under need-blind admissions. But, that answer necessitated a phone call to Cornell to determine that, yes, they are need-blind for both domestic and international students

Most, if not all, of the Ivies, pledge to meet 100% of demonstrated. That may or may not be the case at other institutions (whose endowments might not be as large). So, again, it’s best to check with each individual institution for their policy. A school that is willing to make an admission decision without regard to your ability to pay (i.e., need-blind) doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll meet 100% of your demonstrated financial need.  

NOTE: Sound college admission advice would indicate that no student should apply only to the Ivies. Because of the selectivity of each of these schools, students should include schools whose odds of admission are higher simply to ensure they have suitable options.


Question 3 – Helping students find the right fit

In 2015, students still don’t realize that “college fit” has nothing to do with the college’s name. How can we change that?‬

– Alicia, counselor (via Twitter)

Answer 3

You’ve asked one of the most difficult questions in all of college admissions! Changing the belief that only the top 25 or 50 most selective colleges in the U.S., whose names are incredibly well known is a task that guidance and college counselors dedicate themselves to daily!

Unfortunately, there is not a quick fix…if there were, someone surely would have thought of that already and we wouldn’t still be asking this question–but we are.

I think the solution is to keep preaching the gospel of “fit”.

We need to keep telling stories of:

  1. Students who have had incredible experiences at colleges and universities
  2. The opportunities and facilities that these schools have to offer that do not pale in comparison to many of their more-selective counterparts.  

We need to keep spreading the word that these are good places. That’s based on a good academic and interpersonal match for students, not because of the name on the diploma.

One of my favorite anecdotes to share with students and parents is from a book called Harvard Schmarvard by Washington Post reporter Jay Matthews. In it, Mr. Matthews references a survey that examines the earnings of Harvard grads versus those who were originally accepted to Harvard, but who chose to go elsewhere (mostly cheaper alternatives.) The study showed that the Harvard grad did NOT earn more than their non-Ivy counterparts. They theorize that pay (or, outcomes, in general) may have more to do with the personality of the person than the name on their diploma.

I will continue to preach this gospel whenever I think it is appropriate and to anyone who might listen. I hope you will join me!


Question 4 – Family contribution after a divorce

I am divorced. I have joint custody of my son, and currently he lives with me about 60% of the year.

My ex makes about 7 times my salary. He has indicated that he would not contribute to my son’s educational expenses, beyond what he has already put in the educational savings account. When we fill out the FAFSA, will both parent incomes be included? Is there any way to reflect the lack of support? If it were just my income, he would qualify for large amounts of financial aid. Are there any legal ways to navigate the FAFSA and maximize the amount of financial aid you can receive?

– Senior, Class of 2016 (via CR.com)

Answer 4

Your question is a very good one, but the answer isn’t necessarily a simple one. There are some possible different scenarios and I’ll try to present them here:

  1. Student has divorced parents and is applying to a college that requires only the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Student fills out the FAFSA using the information of the parent with whom he or she lives with most AND that parent’s spouse.The good news is that in the scenario you described above, your son would use your info and your new spouse’s (if you have one) on the FAFSA. The FAFSA will NOT use the income of the non-custodial parent.
  2. Some schools (particularly those that give out a significant share of their own institutional grant funds) will ask for additional financial information from your family beyond what you have already provided on the FAFSA. This is usually done via the CSS Profile. If you’re required to complete a CSS Profile, it will ask for the info of the parent with whom the student lives with most and that parent’s spouse. They also, however, can (and usually will) ask for the information of the non-custodial parent. In your case, here’s what might possibly happen:
    1. Your ex refuses to fill out the Non-custodial parent information. Technically, they might consider your form incomplete. You’ll need to explain to all of the schools in question that your ex refuses to submit this paperwork. It is then at the discretion of the school to decide if they are still willing to provide you with an aid package despite this incomplete info. I’ve seen schools do it and I’ve seen schools refuse.
    2. If he is willing to fill out the CSS Profile but still refuses to contribute, you’ll need to communicate that to the colleges as well. Again, each college might respond differently to this.
    3. Based on the circumstances you provide in your communication to the college, your ex’s finances are “excused”. That is, they agree not to “count” them. Then, you are good to go; however, my experience is that many colleges will not excuse a parent from their financial obligation simply because of their unwillingness to pay. The cases where I have seen a school willing to forgo this info is in a case where the whereabouts of the non-custodial parent are unknown AND the student has had no contact with the non-custodial parent. Or, in cases where the non-custodial parent is abusive, incarcerated, deported, or some other similar circumstance.
    4. The bottom line is to try to do as much of what you’ve asked for as possible. If you cannot provide the non-custodial parent info, write a letter of explanation to the college(s). Include as much detail about your family’s financial/marital situation as possible so that they can make an educated decision.

Hope this was helpful…wishing you all the best.

Have a question you’d like me to answer? Submit your question for our #CollegeAnswered Q&A.

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