Financial considerations are, for most, a significant factor in determining their higher education path. Wellesley’s financial aid assistance program is committed to meeting 100 percent of calculated need for all admitted domestic and international students who apply for financial aid. Next week, by Nov. 1, students all over the world will be submitting Early Decision Round I and financial aid applications to Wellesley, which, if accepted, bind them to the College. International students undertake a slightly different process from domestic students in regards to applying for financial aid due to various constraints, including need-aware consideration, college budgetary concerns and an inability to reapply for aid each year.
The international student financial aid application begins the same way as the domestic student application: the CSS profile. This online application, created and maintained by the College Board, collects self-reported information about a student’s individual and family financial situations, which allows participating schools such as Wellesley to calculate need and allocate non-federal aid to the student.
Regardless of citizenship, Wellesley requires incoming students to submit their parents’ most recent tax documents, said Director of Financial Services Karensa DiFonzo ’07. For domestic students, the application continues with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but international students are not required to fill out additional forms beyond the CSS Profile, including FAFSA, a federal program for which international students are ineligible.
Domestic students are considered for admission on a need-blind basis while international students are considered on a need-aware basis. There are currently only seven U.S. institutions that are need-blind and meet full demonstrated need for both domestic and international students.
In the years of the uncertainty of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), Wellesley has reaffirmed its position on accepting undocumented and DACA students. “For financial aid purposes, Wellesley considers undocumented and DACA students as international citizens, which means financial assistance is available for a limited number of undocumented and DACA students,” stated the College’s admission frequently asked questions web page.
According to DiFonzo, typically, between a quarter and one-third of Wellesley international students receive financial aid. In contrast, about 60 percent of the overall student body receives financial aid.
The difference in this element is due to the fixed budget from which international student financial aid is drawn. “As we are evaluating prospective international students and making decisions about who to admit from that pool, we are working within the constraints of a budget,” said DiFonzo. The fixed budget, according to DiFonzo, is determined based on projected commitments to domestic students, available endowed scholarships and gift funds for international students.
Endowed funds restricted to international student financial aid make up less than one third of the total international aid budget each year, said Dean of Admission Joy St. John. In addition to the endowed funds, gift funds and grant support from outside foundations, the majority of the international aid budget is funded by the College’s operating budget.
Another difference in the domestic and international student financial aid experience lies in the fact that international students do not have the chance to reapply for aid every year. Due to the fixed budget, the Student Financial Services office sets family contribution at the time of admission and keeps it the same for each returning year, “allowing both the College and the family to budget accordingly,” said DiFonzo.
But not being required to reapply each year does not bar international students from appealing to the Financial Services office in case situations at home do change. “Aided students whose family financial situations decline to a level that they believe might qualify them for additional aid are encouraged to contact Student Financial Services to discuss their changed circumstances,” said Dean St. John.
DiFonzo says that one of the biggest challenges in reviewing these applications is understanding the context of different financial situations as it pertains to culture and politics. “Unfortunately, these circumstances are not always outlined by the student or family, so we often find that we have an incomplete picture of their situation,” DiFonzo said.
Ella Apostoaie ’21, an international student from the United Kingdom, sees both pros and cons to not needing to reapply every year. “Now that I’ve left the house, my mum isn’t having to pay for me to live in the house. So in a way, it looks like she’s doing well. So then if they reassessed our financial situation, they could be like, ‘Oh, we want you to pay more now,’ and that’s not something I could do. I’m really grateful that when I came in, they took my situation as it was and I haven’t been able to deviate from that.”
Apostoaie appealed her original aid package when she was admitted after applying Early Decision Round I. She and her mother sent a letter to the Financial Services office detailing considerations that may not have been apparent in the paperwork they had filed. “That was something so crazy. The financial application makes you feel just so vulnerable,” she said. In the UK, government benefits and child tax credits are not granted after an individual turns 18. This had, according to Apostoaie, a significant impact on her family’s situation. “I felt a lot of pressure because I was an international student with this amazing opportunity.”
In addition, in the United States “[Tuition is paid] upfront. That’s something that’s so foreign to international students, that you just have to drop this [amount of money],” Apostoaie said. Her appeal was denied by the College.
Since Spring 2016, the percentage of international students at Wellesley has hovered between 13 and 14 percent, according to statistics provided by Slater International Center, which provides a variety of services and support to the international community at Wellesley. Although the percentage has remained relatively stable, the number of individuals has grown by about 40 bachelor’s degree-seeking students from Spring 2016 to Spring 2019, proportional to the total student population increase in that same time.
“We always offer more aid to admitted international students than our budget allocation,” said Dean St. John. In years when more students than expected accept offers, exceeding the budget, the College must reduce the amount of international aid offered in the next entering class in order to compensate for the budget overage.
“In the past 15 years the number and quality of international candidates has grown. As a result, we have admitted and enrolled more non-aided international students because the candidates have been competitive and abundant in the applicant pool, and there has been no financial barrier to admitting them in the way we would like,” Dean St. John continued.
“We have not been able to significantly increase the number of admitted and enrolled, aided international students because we have not had the financial resources to do so.”