How to: Apply for Financial Aid – Chantelle Lim (University of Rochester ’19)

Chantelle, a recipient of a merit scholarship, a research grant and financial aid from five colleges, will be a freshman at the University of Rochester. Here, the Penangite who will be majoring in Biomedical Engineering shares her tips on Financial Aid applications.


Hi! My name is Chantelle and I’m very excited to set foot on the beautiful River Campus and experience 6 months of snow-covered upstate New York (we are ranked the 3rd snowiest college in the US!). I grew up in Penang and I spend most of my time playing the violin in symphony orchestras, running cross-country, and playing netball.

Navigating the financial aid system can be one of the most important and sometimes difficult part of your college application. Based on my experience, here are the 9 things you need to know about applying for financial aid as an international freshman.


1. Types of scholarships

There are two types of scholarships/financial aid: Merit-based scholarship and Need-based aid.

  • Merit-based scholarship: awarded based on your academic/ extra-curricular ability. It can range from a few thousand dollars up to full tuition.
  • Need-based aid: awarded based on your financial need. It can comprise of grants, work-study and loans

Most of the public colleges only provide merit-based scholarships for international students; Private colleges either provide one or both. Do check their financial aid website for more details.

To get an overall idea on the number of freshman receiving aid and the average aid amount each year, you can refer to each colleges’ Common Data Set. The common data set is a annual survey completed by colleges, which contains a section on financial aid that might help applicants based on freshman statistics.

The section contains info on: Need-Based and Non-Need Based Financial Aid Offered in $’s, Number of Enrolled Students and Average Aid Awarded (Need and Non-Need Based), Financial Aid Filing Deadlines, Types of Aid Available, Scholarships and Grant Available, Criteria used in Awarding Institutional Aid

You can also visit– It shows a list of which colleges offer aid to the largest numbers of international students.

2. Admission

When applying for financial aid for some colleges, be aware that it will affect your chances of admission. At most times, international students who apply for financial aid will be placed and  reviewed as a separate group. This group is highly competitive because funding is limited.

There are two types of college admissions in this case:


  • Need-blind admission: applicants’ financial resources are NOT taken into consideration when deciding whether to offer them a place
  • Need-aware admission: applicants’ financial resources are taken into consideration when deciding whether to offer them a place.

There are currently only 6 colleges in the US that are need-blind and meets the full financial need of international students: Harvard University, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Here is a link to the top 10 colleges that award international students the most financial aid. Application to these colleges are rather competitive but it is still worth the try!

However, College rankings, reputations and ‘need-blind’ admissions should not be dominant in the process.

Ultimately, the emphasis should be on finding the right “fit” college to put yourself in the best position to find success both in the college admissions process and the undergraduate years that follow.

3. CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®

Most colleges participate in the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®. Although the CSS profile for Fall 2016 applicants are only live on October 1st junior year, you can get a heads start by accessing the 2015 financial aid forms now to get an idea of what type of forms and details are needed. Normally, there are only minor changes in the forms each year.

Sending the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® does require a fee. It costs $25 for the initial application and $16 for each additional application.

If the fee proves to be a financial hardship, you can try emailing your financial aid officer at each college for any alternative forms.

From my previous experience, some colleges do provide an alternative application form for you to fill in and send it to them at no cost.

For those colleges that do not participate in CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, normally, there is an in-house application form. There are also some colleges that require both the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE and an in-house application form.


The Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) collects additional documents such as income statements and tax returns to finalize your financial aid package from the college. Not all colleges participate in IDOC and some of them only require applicants to submit tax-return information to IDOC after they have been accepted. However, there are a handful of colleges that do require applicants to submit tax-return information to IDOC when applying. Do remember to read the financial aid webpage of each college to determine when applicants are required to submit tax-return information to IDOC when applying.

Unlike the CSS/Financial Aid profile, there is no fee required for IDOC.

5. Deadlines

Take note of deadlines as different colleges have different deadlines for submitting financial aid forms. Submitting forms after the deadline may cause delay in notifying you of your aid package and sometimes, late applicants may obtain a smaller aid package as funding is limited.

Always remember to check each college’s website for the specific deadline on all the forms.

For merit scholarships for international students, some colleges have deadlines as early as December 1st Eg. Boston University and University of Southern California.

Some colleges only offer merit scholarships/ financial aid to early decision international applicants only. The deadline may be as early as end of November.

However, there are also some colleges that do not offer merit scholarships/ financial to early decision international applicants Eg. Rice University

  • Deadline for CSS form: Each college has their own priority filling deadline, which can range from November to December for early decision/ early action or January to March for regular decision.
  • Deadline for IDOC form: Each college has their own deadline. Usually around March.

6. Bank statements and tax returns

Coming from Malaysia where Bahasa Malaysia is our official language, bank statements, income statements and tax-return information have to be translated into English.

For Fall 2016 applicants, most of the colleges require documents of year 2015 when submitting the financial aid application.

7. Appealing


In early April, you will receive acceptance letters from colleges. If the aid package is not substantial, do not fret! It is not the end of the world! Colleges DO allow applicants to appeal for more financial aid and financial aid officers are very understanding of your situation. Do remember to express your intent of attending the college (if it is one of your top choices) in the letter.

To have an estimate of your financial aid package beforehand, you can utilize the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator.

The Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need

8. Additional financial aid forms

Some colleges have college-specific financial aid forms to fill in, so do remember to check their website for additional forms such as: The International Student Certification of Finances.

Again, as different colleges have their own deadlines, I would suggest having a calendar of deadlines to avoid missing any submission dates.

9. External funding

There are a handful of Malaysian scholarships available. Here are some of the links:

My final tip: ALWAYS START EARLY! The application for financial aid can last for months: from October to March. It’s hard. It’s complicated BUT it’s worth it!

Good luck to all future applicants!

Best wishes

Chantelle :)