In 2013, 276 international students called Wellesley home. Of this group, 158 students hailed from East and South Asia. Yet, in the same year, the college paid only $1,044,056 in financial aid to undergraduates from these regions, according to Wellesley’s 990 tax report from 2013. In contrast, the 41 European students received $1,129,459. Per person, this amounts to a financial aid package of $6,607 for those from Asia and $27,547 for those from Europe, based on statistics published by Slater International Center. When asked why the number of recipients on the tax forms and number of international students differ, Student Financial Services was unable to clarify this discrepancy.
The limited funds available for international financial aid makes it difficult to attract socioeconomic diversity across students from different regions. Director of Admissions Grace Cheng explains that “The availability of aid is a major factor in determining whether the perspectives of students from a broad range of regions, countries, and experiences will be represented on campus.” Cheng observes that students from Europe simply apply for more aid: “We do see variations from year to year in terms of how many families are applying for financial aid from different parts of the world. If families don’t apply for aid, they aren’t going to get any and it’s not a factor in their admissions process.”
Although the Admissions Office strives to admit students from different regions, there is no strict regional quota to ensure that aid is awarded to different regions equally. Director of Student Financial Services Scott Wallace-Juedes explains that when making financial aid decisions, “…we are not looking for X number of students from certain regions of the world…one of the factors that is not considered when determining aid is where in the world are they from. So if you are from Asia we are not giving you less just because you are from Asia. What we are looking at is the family’s financial strength income…but one of the things that we are not looking at is: we have reserved this much money for this part of the world.”
Similar to domestic applicants, the international population begins their financial aid application by filling out a CSS profile. However, since no federal assistance is available, all international aid is derived directly from the endowment, requiring that the admissions process be need-aware. According to Cheng, “[…] Our budget for international financial aid is limited and since we always have a great number of qualified international candidates requiring financial aid, competition in this pool is very keen.”
International students who apply for financial aid are less likely to be offered admission to Wellesley. Because of the limited funds available, admission for this group is need-aware, unlike admission for domestic students, which is need-blind. While those who do not require financial aid and are deemed fully qualified by the Board of Admissions are offered admission, international students with the same circumstances are put through a second round of selection. In this evaluation, students are viewed in the context of their financial aid. At this time aid is distributed to the most qualified applicants until the funds run out.
For some candidates, this policy causes them to avoid applying for financial aid. Sannidhi Joshipura ’19 recalled that she almost did not fill out the CSS out of fear that she would be rejected as a result: “For me, it was scary because Wellesley was my top choice, and I didn’t want to not get in because of financial aid…but I had spoken to some alumni in Bombay and they encouraged to apply regardless.”
“In terms of making decisions regarding international citizens who are applying for aid, the Board generally admits the most qualified and diverse set of students who seek aid, attending to the limitations of our budget and being consistent with our policy to meet 100% of demonstrated need,” Cheng said.
Most of the international socioeconomic diversity at Wellesley stems from European students, as they regularly apply for financial aid. Hero Ashman ’16 noted that, “University is free in Europe, [and] coming to the United States doesn’t make much sense unless you have a good financial aid packet.” Furthermore, public education in some European countries can adequately prepare students for college in the United States. This is not necessarily the case for countries in other regions of the world, where public education may not prepare students to attend college abroad.
Students who come from countries where English is not taught extensively in public schools are inclined to come from private institutions. Associate Director of Admission Milena Mareva ’01 explains that, “Academically, each student we admit needs to have a solid foundation in math, science, history/social studies, English (or her native language) and foreign language (or English) in order to successfully meet the distribution requirements of the Wellesley curriculum.”
Savitri Restrepo Alvarez ’16, a UWC scholar from Colombia, pointed out that enrolling students from public schools in Latin America is a major challenge. “I don’t think that either UWC or Wellesley have been able to target students from public schools in regions like Latin America and Africa.” Demilade Adeboye ’19, an international student from Nigeria, expressed a similar sentiment: “Generally speaking, because the applicant pool is so competitive due to financial aid limitations, most people who were accepted went to boarding or private school at home.”
Indeed, many international students attended United World Colleges (UWC), an institution that aims to join young people from various nations in a collaborative and intercultural environment. UWC maintains that its mission is to better equip its students to solve major issues in their home countries by providing them with an elite education. Upon completion of the program, graduates are able to apply for the Shelby Davis Scholarship, which funds undergraduate study in the United States. Although 91 universities participate in this program, Wellesley has the distinction of being one of the original five members, leading to large numbers of UWC admits.
Given that international students bring diversity to Wellesley’s campus, students agree that it is important to prioritize ensuring socioeconomic variety within the international population: “The dynamic really depends on the exposure that Wellesley has in certain countries and the populations that they’ve targeted there. Specifically, the communities that the college might be advertising to are not necessarily middle or lower class ones, because they want people to be able to afford to travel to this country. However, quite a few Wellesley students study abroad in Europe, so we have more exposure there, and that affects who applies,” noted Adeboye. Attracting students from less affluent backgrounds requires a large amount of resources and commitment. Nevertheless, students like Ashman argue that the effort is worthwhile: “It is amazing how quickly people adapt. If Wellesley wanted to bring people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds it would make a big difference.”
Photo by Megan Stormberg ’18, Photo Editor