5C international students report mixed experiences with financial aid

Graphic by Laney Pope. Data courtesy of the colleges’ common data sets.

International students at the 5Cs, who face higher barriers to receiving financial aid and more restrictive aid policies, report difficulties in dealing with their financial aid processes.

“There’s a general stereotype on campus that all international students are wealthy and that [when] people come here it’s like an extended vacation almost, in some people’s minds. Even professors; it’s not just students,” said Noor Dhingra PO ’20, a head mentor with Pomona College’s International Student Mentor Program.

Domestic students at Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College go through a need-blind application, meaning their chances of admission are not affected by their financial status. But international students’ financial aid needs are considered because they’re ineligible for federal financial assistance, except in some special circumstances, meaning schools have to shoulder more of the costs for such aid directly.

All students’ financial aid needs are considered at Scripps College and Pitzer College.

Only five colleges in the U.S. — Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, MIT and Amherst College — offer need-blind admissions to international students, according to Forbes.

“There’s a general stereotype on campus that all international students are wealthy and that [when] people come here it’s like an extended vacation almost, in some people’s minds” — Noor Dhingra PO ’20

Pomona’s policy for international students means the financial need of an international applicant may be a factor in determining the composition of the class, Pomona’s Director of Financial Aid Robin Thompson said via email.

“[Financial need] is just one of many components of a student’s application,” Thompson said.

Each of the 5Cs also prohibits international students who do not apply for financial aid from receiving it later on, according to the schools’ respective websites.

This policy is a greater concern for international students than need-blind admissions, according to ISMP head mentor Cheryl Yau PO ’19.

“In recent years I think our demand has moved more from, ‘need-blind financial aid’ to have just greater financial support for international students, especially greater flexibility to changes in financial circumstances,” Yau said.

International students like Yau and Ananya Sagar SC ’21 say they have also been impacted by fluctuating exchange rates between the dollar — the currency in which all financial aid packages are quoted — and their home countries’ currencies.

“Currency rates keep changing, so I feel like there should be a better way to account for that because it’s not always easy for people to convert their money [when] the rates fluctuate so much,” Sagar said.

Not all international students reported negative experiences with financial aid.

International student Merve Tozluklu PZ ’21 has had a largely positive experience with the process.

“I have been happy and lucky, but for [other international students] it might not be the case,” Tozluklu said.

Seoyoon Choi CM ’19, the co-resident of International Connect, a support network for CMC international students, also said she didn’t have much trouble with her school’s financial aid office.

Even so, Choi wishes there was more awareness around international student financial aid.

“It’s difficult for some international students … to choose which universities to go to. I really struggled with that when I was applying because I had to look for either schools that are need-blind or I had to get scholarships to attend, otherwise I couldn’t go to college in the [U.S.],” Choi said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s a hardship, but it’s just something I wish people knew, that there are also international students that are also on financial aid, doing work-study jobs.”

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