As a common target of jokes on campus, GW’s tuition is widely acknowledged as burdensome. This is especially true for international students who need to consider the high exchange rate when paying bills. Financial aid and scholarships are important factors for students to consider when applying to college. If students can receive any financial assistance from the University, then they don’t need to feel as much pressure when it comes to paying GW’s cost of attendance — which is now more than $70,000 per year. And that number can be as much as six times more when converted into Chinese Yuan. Financial support after being admitted is almost exclusively available to domestic students because, even though international students like me can apply for financial aid, it’s not as accessible due to its complexity and the lack of guidance from the school.
Although international students receive the same consideration for merit scholarships at the time of admission and can apply for more merit or need-based financial assistance after the first year, it isn’t enough. It can be particularly difficult for international students to apply for this aid because of the lack of assistance when filling out the application abroad. GW should offer more detailed instructions that streamline the application process and better financially support international students by providing a travel stipend – that every international student can apply for – in addition to the existing merit scholarships.
To better serve foreign students who need to apply for financial aid, GW should first update the student financial assistance website.
To apply to receive additional financial assistance after starting college, international students at many private universities, like GW, must submit a College Scholarship Service profile after earning 30 credits. This is a laborious process that requires information from parents and documents that are hard to obtain when studying away from home. Although the CSS is required, GW doesn’t provide specific guidance on how to fill out the forms. The absence of directions, along with the application’s 15 complex sections, can deter some students from trying to apply in the first place. Domestic students can start this process as early as their senior year of high school and can turn to their parents and counselors, while international students only get limited help from their high schools and must wait until after the first year of college to start the process.
To better serve foreign students who need to apply for financial aid, GW should first update the student financial assistance website. There should be more substantive directions and a frequently asked questions page geared specifically to international students. This would help them navigate through the confusing steps of the application – like the ones that require parents’ income tax forms. In addition, informative flyers including instructions that outline the application procedure should be made and put around campus. This way, international students could at least have a clearer sense of how to easily access the available resources.
GW is not the only university in the country that doesn’t offer sufficient financial support for international students. In fact, there are only five universities that currently adopt the same need-blind criteria for financial aid for both domestic and international students at the time of admission. Amherst College, known for its generous student financial aid programs, has clear information on different types of available aid and how international students can utilize resources to make their four years more affordable.
International students shouldn’t need to decide between taking a flight home during winter break and avoiding the expense of plane tickets.
GW should strive to lead the pack and attract more international students by making changes that other schools aren’t. The University should start with small but practical initiatives to better support international students. Since it costs a lot more for international students than domestic students to travel back home during breaks, GW should provide international students with a travel stipend to help alleviate some of the financial stress of going home. To fund these stipends, GW can first take the money from the current financial aid pool for international students, while trying to attract international alumni to donate by promoting this new initiative. International students shouldn’t need to decide between taking an expensive flight home during winter break to spend the new year with family and staying in D.C. alone to avoid the major expense of plane tickets. As an international student from Beijing, I typically spend at least $1,500 dollars for a round-trip plane ticket, which means I spend more than $3,000 dollars just to travel back and forth from the District to Beijing for winter and summer breaks.
GW should allocate funds to allow international students to apply for a travel stipend twice in their freshman year. The stipend would cover half of the cost of traveling back home from D.C., which would help international students before they are eligible to apply for additional financial aid. This would also be more feasible and flexible than offering more merit scholarships. Students applying for the stipend would need to show documentation of the lowest price it takes to travel back home by using websites like Priceline or Expedia and the applicants who spend the most can receive the stipend.
More explicit directions on the financial aid application process and stipends to partially compensate for travel expenses could help international students and relieve financial pressure in small but attainable ways. These efforts can ultimately improve international students’ experience and make GW more accessible for talented students across the world.
Marx Wang, a sophomore double-majoring in political science and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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This article appeared in the October 2, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.