Episode Title: Ben Stern of IvyAchievement: Finding Financial Aid to attend US Colleges.
Episode summary introduction: One big factor, if not the most predominant one, for college-bound students and parents is the cost of attending college. So, it is natural to explore what options are available to fund college education.
Benjamin Stern is the founder and CEO of IvyAchievement, a college counseling firm, tells us all about financial aid.
In particular, we discuss the following with him:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Benjamin Stern, Founder and CEO of IvyAchievement, USA focuses on international students applying to US Colleges from India, Vietnam and others. IvyAchievement students have been accepted by top universities in the US, a number of them with generous Financial Aid packages.
Memorable Quote: “Need-based [Financial Aid] means, it’s the College that decides what you Need, not your forms!”
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
One big factor, if not the most predominant one, for college-bound students and parents is the cost of attending college. So, it is natural to explore what options are available to fund college education.
Hi! Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.
Benjamin Stern of IvyAchievement has been successfully counseling international students to find financial aid for their college pursuits in the US.
Ben returns to our podcast to walk us through the financial aid process, what it takes for aspiring students to avail of the opportunities, and the impressive successes he has had with Top US Colleges.
Without further delay, let’s chat with Ben Stern!
So Ben, welcome back to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. And we wanted to talk about All Things Financial, the form of aid today, for our students.
So maybe, to jump right into it, maybe you could give us a sense of what's available out there, what does it look like, in terms of financial aid? what's available?
Sure. So when I, when I counsel families, I tell them, first of all, don't focus too much on the amount of aid you're getting, but focus on what the total cost of attendance is going to be.
So that's, that's important, the form of aid, and what things are called, is not so important, it is important to understand where it's coming from, but in, in figuring out where to apply, you want to try to understand, okay, what is the lowest I could possibly be paying, And isn't worth it for me to apply there. But I will I do want to take your listeners through a few, a few different forms of aid.
First, So, as, as your listeners may know, there are two two general types of aid called Need based aid and Merit based aid. Now, these, these are a little misleading, because all aid is merit-based aid, even need based aid requires academic merit.
So what is meant what is meant by need based aid? Is financial aid that is awarded on the basis of demonstrated need.
Now, what does that mean? schools that are that offer, need based aid, require financial aid forms that list the family's income, as well as, as well as assets and other major expenditures are actually major expenditures and sometimes minor expenditures as well - cost of living mortgages, they may have other college tuition, things like that. So there are financial aid forms,
colleges that offer need based aid require financial aid forms, requiring various levels of disclosure, that's financial, that's need based that need based aid.
The college, the college decides how much need you actually have. And that's sort of the wild card here. Where people think that they can predict how much aid they're going to get from an institution because of financial aid calculators and things like that those exist. But when it comes to international, when it comes to international students and international families, right, those calculators are basically useless.
So what's what's meant by demonstrated need is not really how much you think you've demonstrated, but how much the college thinks you've demonstrated. for domestic students, or domestic students or US citizens there, there are calculate, calculators that will tell the schools how much you're expected to pay, but those are not applicable to international students Let's need based need based aid.
Now some schools will we'll get to that a minute, we'll get to that in a minute.
merit based merit based aid is financial aid that's awarded on, on academic merit, meaning primarily grades and test scores. But also, but also accomplishments as well. The strength the overall strength of the application, including essays and recommendations, the overall strength of the, of the application, some schools will give merit based aid based only on only on test scores on test scores alone, or sometimes a combination between test scores and grades.
So there are some places that will guarantee a guarantee merit based aid. Those are the two general kinds of different kinds of aid.
So now if you look at, you know, all the colleges out there, is it common for both forms of financial aid to be offered by these colleges? Or do you find by and large, it's one or more, more of one than the other?
Sure. So I've done several years of analysis on this, on this topic to see which schools offer, offer which kinds of aid. And if you take a look at the top, I say the top 20-30 schools as ranked by US News and major rankings, most of them do not have any merit based aid, they will either have need based aid or no aid at all.
So the Ivy League and the Ivy League is known for, for not giving any merit based aid at all. They you know, the Ivy League by agreement among its members does not give any merit based aid at all. And that, that includes that includes athletic scholarships that they say they don't offer, they don't offer scholarships for athletes to, to play there now. Because it's really up to the school, how much need you have. If you for somebody like an athlete who applies for financial aid, they can be very generous with the athletes who apply for financial aid, but they don't give, they don't give athletic scholarships to families who can afford to afford to attend. That and they're they're at a athletic disadvantage for that reason. Okay, and therefore, athletic scholarship, that's a different, that's actually a separate category when we help. We help students with athletic scholarships as well. But we'll leave out that category. For most of your listeners, that's for most of your listeners. Yeah, maybe we can talk about that at the end.
But Ivy League's do not give merit scholarships. There, there are, however, some scholarships for international students that are reserved that are funded for international students, particularly the Tata scholarship at Cornell University. Now that is, that is awarded on the basis of merit. So, it's sort of the basis of merit the academic academic strength, the very top students from, from India who applied to Cornell, but the amount of the award is based on need. And in order to qualify for the award, the student needs to apply for financial aid, the student will not get the award unless they apply for financial aid. And once, once they do get the award, it tends to be pretty generous. Okay. Okay.
So you need to demonstrate need before merit kicks in there, I guess that's sure.
Right now, that's for the, that's for the top schools, I do what I do want to continue for another minute, that's for the very top schools, there are exceptions.
Some of them, the other top schools like Duke and Vanderbilt do offer some merit based aid.
And then if you, if you take a look at, say, the schools that are ranked, like 30 to 50, there's very, there's very little aid, okay, there's very little aid available.
And if you take a look at the schools ranked 50 to 100 and beyond, there are going to be, very often these are nationally, national universities, very often mirrored small merit based awards. So you'll have, you'll have been giving $10,000 $15,000, which adds up to a lot of money, but generally doesn't really approach a third or even a half of what the total cost of attendance would be.
So those are, those are very common, because those are used to bring down the cost of the education to attract students who might otherwise go to the higher ranked schools or to rival schools. So, so those are, those are generally available.
There are, there are other, there are schools that will give what are called in-state tuition waivers. That's another, that's another form of award basically, they, they will, these are state public universities that have different rates for students in state and out, out of state or international. They will have, they will cost $15,000 a year for in-state and 50,000 five-zero thousand dollars a year for out of state or international. And they'll, they'll tell exceptional international students that you only have to pay $15,000 a year for the for the tuition.
Okay. Okay. So they can do that.
They can offer that. They can, there are some schools that do that, that this year, there may be fewer schools that do that. Yeah, sure. But, but there are, there are schools that offer what are called in state tuition waivers.
Got it. Okay.
I guess the next question I would have is, are there any key elements to these financial aid that students need to worry about, parents need to worry about? Or are they pretty broad and generous and not overly stringent in various financial ways or fiscal ways?
It really depends on the school and the kind of aid that you're looking for, or rather than the cost of attendance that, you, you want to have. There's sort of a baseline cost of attendance that colleges calculate that they're still going to be profitable. And it's relatively easy to get financial aid, which will bring it down to that level that it varies from school to school.
If you, if you want to get below that, though, it can be very difficult and very competitive. One example is U of Massachusetts, Amherst. For the past couple of years, especially this past year, almost every international student, in fact, every international student, that I know have gone to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which most applicants got, got offered some form of scholarship got offered between, and this year, it was between $2,000 and $16,000 a year. I didn't see any less than that. I didn't see any more than that.
So, and it appeared to be awarded mostly based on SAT scores. Some know why some students got 16, and some got $12,000, It wasn't always clear, it might have been availability of funds, it might have been when they applied, might have been just how much the, they were liked by the admissions committee. almost, almost everybody got some form of financial aid, financial aid award or scholarship board a merit based scholarship.
That and that brought down the cost of attendance to between, between 40, 35 to $45,000 a year. Okay, approximately. So there were some the, the cost of attendance, the full cost of attendance was close, as close to $50,000. And so the between two or $4,000, and $16,000 brought it down in the 30s and 40s.
There were no offers that I was aware of, for anything less than that resulted in a cost of attendance that was less than that. So at a school like University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts, Amherst, and in other schools like it, are looking to be competitive, but still make money from international students.
Okay, so now as, as students think about it, or I mean, before we even get there, what what, in your opinion over the last few years, as you've seen, what do students, students need to have to qualify?
You said there was a merit component to financial aid anyway, because they are looking at looking at how the student has performed or continues to perform. So what are the kinds of thresholds that you've seen? Or does that well vary depending on the school and stuff like that?
Sure. So the best way to see whether scholarships and financial aid are going to be feasible is to take a look at the score percentiles, and they're available on US News website, on the school's own school releases own data, we have our international financial aid guide, admissions guide that's free, you can look at the 25th and 75th percentiles of the SAT and usually the ACT as well. And the students who are at or above the 75th percentiles are much more likely to get to get financial aid, then students who are in the range for both scores and both math and reading, writing, who are and then certainly who are below it.
,It's very, very rare if you're below the 25th percentile in one or both, to get to get the financial aid. Now, there are a few reasons for that. One is that if you have those scores, you've demonstrated that you're at least as academically capable of academic capable as the students who are already there. That's one and two schools are looking to increase those percentiles. And the way they do that is by enrolling students who have higher than their current 75th percentile. So they're looking, they're looking to increase the numbers. And they're looking sometimes they they're looking to do that very aggressively. And that can be a good, a good way to, to know if you're going to be eligible for, for scholarships.
So it's important to look at the percentile SAT scores. Now this year, a lot of schools are not requiring SAT and how financial aid is going to be determined. I think really haven't even figured that out yet. How? It's very, it's very likely my, I anticipate that, that students with SAT and ACT scores will have a huge advantage not just in admissions, but certainly in even if not an admissions then certainly in the financial aid process.
Yeah, so now so is, is this quantitative assessment the only qualifying factor, I mean, obviously, what else would matter? Or is this sort of a predominant factor?
So for some schools, it's a predominant factor. But if you're looking at the Need based schools, so we haven't haven't discussed, need aware and need blind sure yet. So that's something that your listeners may be familiar with.
So schools, this is these are schools that give need based aid fall into two categories. Okay. One is these are schools not not merit based scholarships, these are schools that have that offer need based aid. So there are two categories of need based aid schools. Some schools are need blind, a high school there need blind meaning that they the admissions process for students who need aid is the same and whether the student need needs aid is not taking into account in the admissions process. And then once the student is admitted, then they figure out okay, what's the student's financial need. That's, that's need blind. And there are only five schools that are actually need blind. Those five schools are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Amherst College and MIT. Those schools are need blind. And they, some of the schools may not be quite as neat blind as they say they are. But if we give him the benefit of the doubt, they're in the blind, they are going to be relatively easier once you get in. Or having, let's just say, having financial need is not going to be a factor in getting in. There are other factors. Other factors Sure, are very important, much more important than getting it right.
So the other category of schools, which is every other school, that gives financial aid is what's called need aware, meaning that as part of the admissions process before the student is admitted, they look at the application to see if the student needs aid at all. And if so, how much aid the student needs. And basically, the more aid the student needs, the harder it is to get into the college.
So those are, those are two, the two categories of need of, need based aid schools.
So here we are, I guess. I mean, now we understand the landscape, what colleges are looking for what the students may have to aspire to get, or must, should have gotten in terms of standardized test scoring, And then what happens then?
Do you factor that in, in the college application process first, Or do you kind of pick the list of colleges? And then figure out the financial aid later on?
Or do you kind of say, Oh, these schools are likely to provide you more financial aid, So apply? I mean, so I'm just asking the question, do you bias it to colleges that are likely to give you a more generous package?
So cost is a factor for most families, even families that don't need financial aid, still want to want to economize and get the best value for their money. So cost of attendance is always a factor. Almost always, I don't say always, but almost always a factor in selecting which schools and, and I try to figure out, okay, what's a what's a reasonable reasonable budget for the family, and make decisions based on that.
Very often, a student will need financial aid for some schools, but not for others. And so we,, we try to, we, we choose schools, based on the total budget of the family. And then once we have that we can we can exclude schools, if schools that don't give aid fit within their budget, then we can apply to those schools. If schools that are too expensive, don't give aid, then we don't apply to them when we then we don't apply to those schools.
And we look at Okay, what are the schools left that are too expensive without financial aid, but do get financial aid that are that are available that where financial aid is available.
And then given the student's profile, either their actual scores or their anticipated scores, and other other factors like grades and extracurricular activities. Okay, where are the schools that, that are most likely to get aid, and when it would be a good fit for them?
We do that, do that with a spreadsheet that has all the information about financial aid, what percentage of international students are getting financial aid at the school? What the average award is? How much total aid the school is giving? Those are, those are statistics that we have from the schools themselves. That, that they publish.
Got it. Okay,
Okay. So now, what's the process? So now, you know, as far as you know, the application is one part, now for the financial aid. How does one apply? What is the process?
So, for most, most schools, there's no additional effort. At the schools that give only merit based aid. There are two kinds of merit based aid awards, some merit based merit based awards are, are just a don't do not require any particular application. Okay, they don't require any other, any other action, but to apply, there's nothing there's nothing else required. Okay.
Other schools have merit based awards that require a separate application. And that may require additional essays and may require recommendations. There are, there are different, there are different merit based awards to apply to. Some of the bigger awards are, require a separate application.
So where is the cycle? Where is this in the cycle of application? Do you.. Is it along with the common app and supplementals and all that? Or is it something that happens post submission of the application?
Sure, so some schools, some schools have scholarships, where you will, you would be eligible for the scholarship if you apply by a certain early deadline date.
For example, example Vanderbilt University in order to be in order to be considered for, for their merit based scholarships, you have to apply by December 1, is by their regular deadline, I believe is January 1 around there, January 1, or second. But their deadline, if you want to apply for scholarships is, is December 1, and then there's additional application for their big scholarships, for their big, their big scholarships have tuition and full tuition and full ride scholarships. That is due shortly thereafter.
So it's due sometimes the scholarship application or do with the application sometimes or do slightly after some schools don't have a separate deadline. And you would just apply at the same time or apply slightly after.
So if there's a separate application, it's usually within a short amount of time of the application itself being due whether it's the regular deadline or an early, early scholarship application deadline. Those are generally what you'll what you'll find.
In Canada. I don't know if you want to talk about Canadian schools, but there are some scholarships for Canada there. There do. They're also generally due within a short amount of time of applying.
And for Canadian schools, all the same, similar kind of SAT, ACT kind of threshold as well, or is it...
Canadian schools rely more on grades than SAT. They, some, some Canadian schools will take SAT, but they rely primarily on grades and for this for the scholarships that you have to apply to your essays and recommendations if that's applicable.
Okay. Okay. So now, so I guess. So this is, this is great. So I think this gives us a very nice overview of what students and families ought to be doing and when they ought to be doing it.
Now, how do you counsel and help students with financial aid? How do you, kind of get into the trenches, if you will, with the students?
Sure. So the first step is, is selecting the schools and understanding which schools are most likely to give them financial aid or most likely to be affordable for them. That's, that's the most important part where we help because the data is available publicly, but we can understand the trends based on our previous experience based on our staying abreast of developments are knowledge within the industry to tell them okay, the number of say this, but here are the actual, here are the actual trends here, students, students from India, for example.
You may see a school that gives a lot of financial aid. But we know, we know from experience that, you know, this school particularly, particularly say Columbia University, doesn't really give financial aid to Indian students. And so even though they give a lot of financial aid to students that are receiving it they are very, very, very rarely give financial aid to Indian students. And so we may steer them away from applying to places like Columbia University, for example. Whereas Dartmouth College, Dartmouth college is more generous with financial aid for, for Indian students just as an example.
Yeah, so we, we, we steer them toward colleges that are more likely to give them give them financial aid based on, their based on their profiles. Also students who are applying it who expressed an academic interest in a major other than the very popular ones can have a slight edge in financial aid. Now, that doesn't mean every student should apply for I want to do computer science should apply for something else, right. But if they have a genuine interest in that, in the case, a convincing case can be made, that can sometimes be that can sometimes be a positive factor in their admit both our admissions prospects and their prospects are getting, we're getting financial aid.
So we can advise students, whether it's whether it would be a good idea for them to express an academic interest in something other than, say computer science or business and economics. that's those are the two most common I think we've discussed that said last time. Yeah, we do. So that's another way we help.
We also do help in the essay writing process for those for the universities, and to help understand what the help students understand what the university is looking for in their essays, what they're looking for in applicants. So, so that the process of applying whether there's a separate application for the, for the school financial aid, or scholarships itself, or there was no there is no separate application at all, we still help students as we always do, present the best application possible. And that's what you need for those, for those scholarships, financial aid.
And then this is something I did not where I mentioned, the very beginning, these financial aid forms, they're generally due about a month after applications are due, they're usually due around February, these financial aid forms we can help, we can help families understand what's being asked in the financial aid forms, and to fill them out accurately and completely. Because they can, be they can be confusing, and some of the questions they ask are not, are not always applicable to international families.
So we can help them, we can help them fill out those forms completely inaccurately. In addition, there shouldn't be there's very often correspondence with admissions and financial aid offices. And we can help families, parents and students email and communicate with financial aid offices and admissions offices.
Now, so that's great. Now what what have, what have I not asked you or what have we not covered here that you think students and families ought to know about financial aid?
So we haven't talked about what this year will be like.
And I did, I did mention that a little bit. Colleges, a lot of colleges are facing budget crunches, right? A lot of that has to do with, with declining enrollment, some of it is because of and because of athletic programs, athletic programs are bringing in a lot of money.
Even very, even very wealthy schools are feeling big budget crunches, for example, Stanford University, just eliminated 11 of its of its of its sports of its varsity sports, but they are the big league a lot of money from their football program primarily and a few other programs and finally football, and then hasn't been operating, there's no nobody buying tickets, nobody buying merchandise, really. Nobody is watching games on TV. So they are losing a lot of revenue. And traditionally, the athletic revenue has funded other sports.
And so they are they've cut sports, but I'd expect to see a large reduction in international financial aid for schools that would give that give a lot schools that give the small awards places like University of Massachusetts Amherst, yeah, I expect to continue to see them give basically they're giving a discount on tuition are still making money, right? They're still making money, right? They're going to be revenue positive. They'll just make a little less from the international students, those schools, I expect to still still get money.
But the schools that are need based that are give only need based aid, I think we're going to see this year, drastically reduced. They're going to have to cover already, what their what their commitments are to existing students, students who are going to be sophomores and juniors and seniors and they are going to want to use They're financially budgets to cover those students. And new students, they're going to look to enroll international students who can pay the full price and domestic students who can pay the full price.
So two points I wanted to make. So one is this, when you say this year, you, you mean people applying for fall 2021? Are you talking about returning students as well?
I'll talking about people applying for fall 2021.
Okay, fair enough.
And the second point I wanted to make is, you know, for example, the Amherst example that she used, those could be competitive advantages for schools. Because if they continue that, then and the other guys, the generous packages are sort of diminished or disappearing, then, you know, they might be able to attract more of the international students, so might not be able to go elsewhere if finance is the constraint.
That's right. And I think that we're going to see what happens. Other schools are going to respond in two years to what happens this year.
So some of the some of the schools that we've helped students get financial aid at one, we had a student who got into MIT this past year, they are a need blind school, and he was able to get a scholarship overall over the course of four years, worth $268,000. That's, that's gonna be about 60. So that's $67,000 a year, right? Which is, which is most of the cost of 10s. The cost of attendance at MIT is about 77- $78,000 a year. So about 10 total, his, his total, his total cost was about $10,000 a year. Right. And, and the tuition the financial aid award covered the rest.
We've had several students get into Dartmouth university with financial aid. And that's sort of Dartmouth College, from the university. College, right. And we've seen awards range between 45 and $65,000, a year at Dartmouth College, and Vanderbilt University. We actually the same student going to MIT, also got a, got what's called the Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship. That's one of the scholarships that you need to apply to. That was worth $220,000 over the course of four years.
We've had students get, get scholarship, smaller scholarship to Vanderbilt, as well.
We've had students get a scholarship, the University of Southern California $15,000 a year, we had a student get he received Notre Dame $60,000 a year total total $240,000.
Our student we had a student who got into, got into Yale two years ago, with, with about 50,000 US dollars in aid each year, so about $200,000 overall.
The women's, women's colleges, this past year, we had students who got into some women's liberal arts colleges with pretty generous financial aid packages. So we had a student going to Smith College and Mount Holyoke College. Smith College with with $60,000 a year and then Holyoke with about $50,000 a year. Those are those were very generous, with their, with their financial packages, there were a few.
She also got into Bryn Mawr College, which was a little less generous, they gave her about 20 $28,000 a year. That would have been a little more expensive. I believe she chose Mount Holyoke at the end. But the, this is based on, this is based on the same financial aid forms. So Exactly, these are all these are all schools, these women's colleges are all schools that give only need based aid not merit based aid is based on the same financial forms, you had one school, awarding $60,000 a year one school awarding $50,000 a year and one school, awarding 20, $28,000
So it's really up to the schools. And we haven't we have another student who, who got the tattoo scholarship at Cornell qualify for the tattoo scholarship at Cornell. Yeah. This was three years ago. And she, her award from Cornell was about $60,000 a year for her need base and she got into another school with financial aid, and they gave her $15,000 a year one 5 thousand a year. And so based on the same exact financial aid, financial aid forms, so that that goes back to what I was saying the very beginning that need based need based aid is a little little deceptive. are calling the bases deceptive because it's the college that decides how much you need, not your forms.
But we've had, we've had students that's why we have students apply to a range of schools and we've had students with very, you know, have gotten a lot of financial aid and, and have been able to find schools that they can afford to go to.
You know, Ben, based on what you're saying, it also seems like which college needs you more! Maybe the other way to look at this.
Right. If they like you, if they really like you, they'll find a way. Yeah. To enable you to attend. No, that's basically that's basically the story.
Well, that's fantastic. I mean, I think the record speaks for itself. So I mean, you guys have really been able to get a lot of students into great colleges with a lot of financial help. So absolutely.
So no, thanks for bringing this up. And I, I should have asked you earlier, but no worries.
Thank you, again, anything else? Before I wrap up anything else you think we should touch on here?
No, I, we're going to be monitoring what's happening and, you know, news from colleges, what they're going to be saying, I'm going to be having my staff send out emails, once we get some collect some of the data and the email to email schools to ask them, you know, what did you anticipate this year.
Because we want to, we want to be able to guide our students appropriately, we don't want to guide students toward schools that are not going to be able to help them, you know, help them attend that schools that will not enable them to attend. And the schools themselves are not going to want to get applications from students who won't be able to afford to go there.
So we have a common interest in determining, you know, what, what each school is going to do.
Fair enough. So maybe we can do an update in 45 to 60 days.
Sure, that would be a good idea...
...And we can catch up on things.
Okay, Thank you so much, Ben. Thank you for making the time. And till I talk to you again. Be safe, and thank you.
Venkat, yeah, stay safe and healthy.
Hope you found this podcast with Ben Stern of IvyAchievement informative.
As you heard, Ben has been able to bring smiles to a lot of students’ and parents’ faces when it comes to financial aid.
For your questions or comments for Ben Stern about this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [email@example.com] with the Subject: Financial Aid.
Thank you so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
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Students, India, College Admissions, Extracurricular, College Essays, Ivy League Colleges, College Counseling, Counselors, Counseling, fitment, Vietnam, International Students, Pandemic, COVID-19, Tata Scholarship, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Yale University, Need Based Aid, Merit Based Aid, Need Aware, Need Blind