Everything else.. US University Applications and Receiving Financial Aid in a Pandemic

US University Applications and Receiving Financial Aid in a Pandemic

2021 Jun 11

Because fewer people started university in 2020, applications to the most selective US universities increased by upwards of 30% this year, meaning acceptance rates dropped significantly, particularly for international students seeking aid.

There are 5 need-blind universities in the US for international students. This means that asking for aid will not make it harder to get in, as it would with need-aware colleges. That being said, each of these, Amherst, Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Yale have incredibly low acceptance rates. Top ranked US colleges traditionally take no more than one from Sri Lanka a year, if that, so the odds are stacked against students at the best of times.

That being said, hope is not lost. This year Moir students were accepted by Ivy League’s Yale (with approximately USD280,000 aid) and Brown (and wait listed by Dartmouth and uPenn), top ranked liberal arts colleges Amherst (USD320,000 aid) and Wellesley, as well as Johns Hopkins and a USD 270,000 merit scholarship to Emory. We also have a gap year student starting at Columbia this fall. NYUAD offered two of our students USD 600,000 in aid combined, with two more on the wait list, and Lafayette College a further USD500,000 in total to two more. There were also offers, within our school from Tufts, Mt Holyoke, Grinnell, Yale-NUS and NYU (plus we have students due to start this year at Oxford, Imperial, UCL, LSE and many of the Russell Group in the UK). This is just a snapshot from one small school in Sri Lanka. I hear a Sri Lankan student has got a place at Princeton and another at Stanford and I am sure there are many other good news stories like this that can do everyone in this country proud. 

This is a highly competitive field, and although we are most invested in our own students, our university advisors have never turned down requests for advice or help from others. They do not claim to have all the answers but enjoy seeing deserving Sri Lankans do well. 

They would tell younger students that they can benefit from taking a broad range of subjects up to O Level, rather than being pigeonholed into a stream too early.  Despite the US application process being holistic, academic excellence is a must for the top-ranked universities. Extra-curriculars, essays and references are considered on top of this. Lafayette College told us that what encouraged them to break with the norm and give two students from the same international school such high aid was the detailed references from our teachers. Thus, it is important that teachers selected know their students well so they can write references rich with examples of a student’s strengths and personality. Applicants should be creative with their essays, linking brain with heart, while avoiding clichéd ‘I want to make the world a better place’ answers or simply rehashing achievements. I would encourage applicants to brainstorm ideas with their teachers and any alumni with experience at these universities. I am sure our past students at top colleges would be happy to help anyone who reached out to them. 

Finally, I would suggest not getting too carried away with prestige names and rankings and to consider happiness, well-being and affordability. There are lots of brilliant options if we just look for ourselves, rather than sticking with names our neighbours may know. Students who are well-researched tend to end up with more options, and often we learn more from them than they do from us.