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Episode Title: How Srihari Balaji of Union College landed Financial Aid.
Episode summary introduction: Srihari Balaji, an international student, is a sophomore at Union College, New York. Srihari shares his experience and learnings while searching for Financial Aid and how he went about applying for Aid.
In particular, we discuss the following with him:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Srihari Balaji is an aspiring astronaut who is pursuing undergraduate studies at Union College, New York. Srihari is studying Mechanical Engineering. He was awarded the NextGenius Scholarship to pursue his studies at Union College.
Memorable Quote: “I would suggest students to prudently select colleges based on the financial aid needs they require.”
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
[Snippet] Srihari Balaji 0:05
So, I found that scholarships, which are actually different from financial aid scholarships, are merit-based, which means that they heavily, they are totally based on student's academic performance throughout high school. So scholarships are awarded based on the, based on donations from either our alumni or from the state government itself.
Hi! Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.
Srihari Balaji, an aspiring astronaut, is a sophomore at Union College, New York. Srihari shares his experiences and learnings while searching for Financial Aid, and how he went about applying for Aid.
Let’s hear directly from Srihari!
Hey Hari, how are you?
I'm doing good, sir.
Welcome to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters.
Thank you. Thank you for making the time.
So how are you doing? How are things?
Yeah, I'm doing good, sir. Yep, things are going good.
So today, we thought we could talk a little bit about the process by which you went about looking for financial aid for your study in the US, and thought that people, students and applicants would benefit from your experience.
So, I thought we could sort of go through the process. And I have a few questions. I wanted to ask you along the way.
But maybe, maybe we can get started with just some fundamental things like, you know, what were you actually looking for and some sort of a financial aid? What was your motivation? What were you looking for?
So I was looking for grants and monetary aid that will suffice to fund my undergraduate education. I was considering to apply for both like scholarships and financial aid.
Okay. Okay. And, and, what did you find?
So I found that there were numerous colleges that offer financial aid to international students, but predominantly liberal arts colleges and other small private colleges offered substantial aid to international students. So college[s] and universities, they offer financial aid. And they can be categorized as either Need-Aware or Need-Blind.
Okay, so Need-Aware colleges take into consideration the student's family's financial capabilities to pay for college during admission process, whilst Need Blind colleges do not consider the student's family's financial potential for admission. So this basically implies that need blind colleges will fully satisfy student's financial need.
How did you go about this process? Did you first pick colleges that gave aid or you just went about and sort of said, Okay, I'm going to find the right colleges for my, for what I need and then and then go from there. How did you balance those two requirements?
So I wanted to apply to colleges, which had a really strong STEM program, especially in engineering. So I looked about, looked at colleges, which offered mechanical and aerospace engineering, and also to those who offered financially. So are, there were a few colleges like Purdue University, which did not offer financial aid, but I still applied considering the progress in aerospace engineering. Those were kind of like my last resort. But I mostly applied to liberal arts schools, which had an excellent engineering program as well as a strong liberal arts field, since I wanted to get, gain exposure in other fields as well, not just in STEM.
So considering that liberal arts schools are known to be generous in terms of aid. I reached out to my counselors in order to know which liberal arts schools I should apply. Also I surfed through websites like Prep Scholar and InternationalStudent.com To know more about which colleges would be ideal for someone who needs substantial financial aid.
How do you do the research?
Right, so I narrowed down my research from like, top universities which offer mechanical and aerospace engineering programs to colleges which offer engineering programs and also offer financial aid.
So it was basically like filtering through of about 100 colleges down to about 15-20 colleges. I did that. tools like USA News, which had basically rankings of colleges and also those which offered financial aid. Also tools like prepscholar really helped me. And needless to say, my counselor or had a really good list of colleges, which had great engineering programs and also financial aid.
So cool. So those were sort of your combination of things that you used.
So, So, what did you actually find? I mean, so in each of these colleges, I mean, not in each of these colleges in this bracket that you are looking at STEM, Engineering, and sort of ones would give financial aid, what were the types of things that types of financial aid that the colleges were offering, or that were available?
So most of these liberal arts schools, they heavily rely on endowment that they get from alumni. So colleges like Dartmouth College, they are, you could pretty much consider them need blind, although the say that they are need aware, considering the average financial aid that students receive is close to about $60,000 per year, which is quite high, considering the total tuition and room and boarding fees itself is about is $75,000.
So those schools really look for candidates who are, who would be an excellent fit for their college. They are not just students who are academically strong, but also have really great mindset and vision of what they want to do in future. And similarly, it applies to Union College as well, which is also liberal arts school. So you mean, as a really has a tradition of basically admitting students who are excellent and not just one area, but also are willing to step out of their comfort zone to explore other fields that they have that the college has to offer.
So it was basically, it was basically a combination of for students willingness to explore other fields and also to excel in the, in their intended field of major. Okay,
So that's what that's one of the areas so the endowment is one aspect, what are the other types of things that you found?
So I found that scholarships, which are actually different financial aid scholarships are merit-based, which means that they have little they are totally based on student's academic performance throughout high school. So scholarships are awarded based on the based on donations from either our alumni or from the state government itself.
So state donations of scholarships are only entitled for students who are American citizens, whilst alumni donations can be eligible is can be given to students who are of other nationalities.
So, scholarships usually range from about 20% to like 100% scholarship and they only cover the tuition, not the room and board, while financial aid can cover either it could be just the tuition or could be the whole fees itself, depending on the student's family's financial circumstances.
Okay, are there other, Is there any other type of financial incentive or aid?
There are student loans, I wouldn't really call them financial aid, but colleges offer student loans at low interest could be as low as 2 to 3%, which students have to repay within a 10 year period after graduation.
So it's, quite a lot of time students have to pay back to college. Loans can range from about 5000 to about $25,000 per year.
And those are available to international students as well?
So now, as you looked at these colleges was every college providing some version of all these three things? The loans I can understand that, you know, probably standard fare, but endowment and scholarships based financial aid.
These are offered by pretty much every college or was it, you found that some did and some didn't, was there any categorization there?
So most private universities, and pretty much every liberal arts college did offer some amount of financial aid to international students. Okay. But public universities did not offer, most of them did not.
There were some universities like University of Texas at Dallas [UT Dallas] and Texas Christian University, which were quite generous in terms of financial aid, in terms of scholarship, actually. UT Dallas offers the merit scholarship which is, which can range from about 20% scholarship to full tuition. Full tuition amounts to close to about $45,000 per year.
Very, very good.
Okay, so let's sort of switch gears.
And, so you found various sort of instruments, if you will, for financial support or aid. How do you go about applying for this? What is what is the process?
So are for financial aid, students have to fill a form called the college scholarship service profile, or CSS Profile. In short, CSS Profile is administered by College Board.
So incoming freshmen are required to submit both parents income tax returns of the past three years and details of assets. Okay.
While for scholarship, students have to basically fill a form in some cases, which basically involves writing an essay as to why they would like to receive a scholarship. In some cases, they, they will just apply normally through the Common App, and they will be considered by colleges for scholarship, if the college feels that they are entitled to receive.
I see. I see.
So um, so what is this FAFSA then that people talk about?
So, FAFSA is only for American citizens.FAFSA, it's like a form that students have American citizens have to fill in, in addition to CSS Profile, but interest assumes it's just the CSS Profile they have to fill for applying financially.
Got it. Okay.
Below, there are lots of grants and things of that kind. So you didn't you didn't apply to those or you didn't see what kind of grants are available? Or did you find that the scholarships and financial aid were better in some sense.
So, in some cases, some colleges they award grants as financial aid itself. For example, Union awarded a monetary grant to me which as a financial aid as part of financial aid process, okay, so those grants basically come from alumni donations, okay, which can be considered as endowment. Okay. So these grants are awarded to international students as well as domestic students as well. Right.
So when some colleges they have specifically financial aid department, which does not overlap with the grants that the college receives, so grants can be for a wide range of a wide range of things like they could grants could be spent for building construction or investment in research, or financial aid whilst Union [College], for example, they invest grants for multidisciplinary things, like for research for teaching, and also for supporting international students and domestic students for financial aid.
Very good, very good. I was thinking about these private grants.
You know, there are a lot of scholarships and grants like I know that in India, there are a host of companies that gives some, some amount of monetary compensation. I was thinking about those in you know, that are in the private sector or maybe elsewhere, not necessarily attached to the colleges.
Do you know anything about those, those, kind of grants?
Yup, Absolutely sir.
So most of the grants and organizations which award scholarships to students to study abroad are mostly for our master's degree or PhD degree. There are a few like the Next Genius scholarship program and Tata’s Cornell Scholarship which award students 100% scholarship to study at Cornell University, and Next Genius scholarship program is partnered with 16 universities that offer students financial aid and scholarship to study at one of their partner colleges. Okay,
Okay. So tell me about Next Genius.
So the Next Genius Foundation is a registered Charitable Trust in India, who award high achieving high school seniors with scholarships to attend one of their partner colleges. Mm hmm.
So in the last five years, Next Genius' partner colleges have awarded a scholarship worth about $20 million dollars to 117 students.
Okay. I was fortunate enough to receive the Next Genius scholarship to attend Union College.
Thank You sir.
The scholarship can range from about $20,000 that Union awards to about full tuition, which amounts to close to $60,000. So one student every year is awarded the full tuition to attend Union College.
So, how, what is the what is the process for, someone wants to apply - So they have to be an Indian citizen to apply to the Next Genius?
Um, no. So they can also be Overseas citizens of India that are citizens of other nationalities residing in India as well. Okay. And they can also be Indian citizens, of course. Yeah.
So the process is basically there's, it's a three step process. The first step is an application that students have to fill. In. The next thing is website, which is from the month of May, to the month of September, that's appeared, the application is open. And in the first week of October, there's an online exam, which is administered by next genius itself. It basically involves critical thinking and English knowledge. It's similar to the SAT but I would say it's a couple of notches higher in terms of level of difficulty than SAT Hmm.
And once the students have cleared the exam, they will be notified about that. So they would have to select top 4 choices of colleges from the partner colleges of Next Genius. The top four college names could be the same name. For example, if the student really wants to attend union and really is interested in Union, they could know the four top four choices as union itself, or they could feel like top three is Union and the fourth one as another college.
So based on the choices, students will be allotted one of their top four choices by the by the Next Genius members, the staff members. So after that, they will be required to submit the Common App like other students do, and also the CSS Profile, to be eligible to receive financially.
And the last, the last step is the interview stage, which happens in Mumbai. Mm hmm. So that's in the month of January, where students basically attend a group interview. So about 20 to 25 students are attending every single college’s interview in my batch, there were 25 students who attend the interview for union, and seven students are selected every year to receive the Next Genius scholarship. And one or sometimes two students receive a full tuition scholarship.
Very good. Okay.
So, now that you've done this, what did you What advice do you have? And what did you kind of learn from the process that you can offer?
So I would suggest students to prudently select colleges based on the financial needs that they that they require.
And also make sure to apply to colleges, which have a really, really excellent academic program as well, because that's, that's the main goal of one of the students to go abroad and pursue their undergraduate education.
So you need to make sure that you do not have a financial burden after graduation. And one has also asked to make sure that they get an excellent education so that they can succeed in life.
So it's, it's a mix of fit of a student, if the student feels that this specific colleges would be a great fit for them, in terms of like academics, and also the extracurricular opportunities that they offer, like study abroad program, or the club, clubs and organization that the colleges offer. And also that colleges offer great monetary support, then I would encourage the student to apply to those types of colleges.
Now, in your own experience, what, what were the things that helped you stand out, say, for the Next Genius scholarship, or some of the other things that you received? What do you think, made the difference?
I believe I was, I'm very passionate about aerospace engineering and astronomy. So, I felt I reflected that in my essays and my, my really hard working nature to succeed in that field. So, I believe that was an important aspect of my application.
Apart from that, I was also quite involved in activities pertaining to aviation, for example, participating in National Aerospace competitions, and also in basically starting clubs and organizations for to talk about the importance of aviation and aerospace in India, as well as developing modules of mechanical engineering based modules for high school students, so that they can get ahead of the curve while studying at college.
So, these were some of the highlights of mine.
And apart from that, I, I felt that I also had a good academic standing, which is the most important aspect, one has to make sure that they are good in academics and need to be consistent in that aspect, so that they can prove to the college that they are capable of excelling at the university that they are applying to.
Very good, very good. So, so hurry these, you know, this has been extremely, extremely beneficial. And I will, I would like to congratulate you again for all that you've been able to do. I'm sure you will do well in the next few years of the remaining years of your college.
But thanks for sharing both the process as well as some insights into you know, what, what and how these things work the scholarships and financial aid.
And I look forward to talking to you some more, but for now, thank you and take care.
Thank you, sir.
Yep. Take care.
Hope you found this podcast with Srihari Balaji regarding Financial Aid informative.
I believe you will find the process outlined by Srihari a valuable resource for your application purposes.
For your questions or comments for Srihari about this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [firstname.lastname@example.org] with the Subject: Financial Aid.
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