Financial Aid, Scholarships and...
We don't generally get involved with financial aid applications, but here are some useful tips to get you started, and some other ideas for alternative student revenue streams.
As you may, or may not be aware, going to university or college in the USA is very expensive - for the kind of institutions you will be looking at we are talking between 50 and 90 thousand dollars a year. This is 'All-Inclusive' if you will, but remember, a US undergraduate course is four years long, so the grand total will be between $200,000 and $360,000.
You may be surprised to learn that there is quite a lot of financial aid money available for international students. Accessing it, however, is highly competitive - and being privately educated in Dubai puts us at the top of no-one's charity list.
Anyway, I'll explain how it works as best I can, and there is really no harm (other than a lot of forms to fill) in applying.
Broadly speaking, universities and colleges in the US take one of three approaches to financial aid for international students, they are either:
How to find Financial Aid
You can find out which institutions have financial aid available for international students by visiting the College Board's Big Future scholarship search page here: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search#!personalinformation
How to apply for Financial Aid
In order to apply for aid you will first need to complete an extensive form about your finances. The College Board has the CSS form available here: https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile, but ironically, I think you have to pay for it.
Instead, it is much better to complete the ISFAA form that can be found on most university and college websites, and is free. There is a link to the standard form here (thanks Earlham!): https://earlham.edu/media/3489549/2018-19%20ISFAA.pdf and I have included the form at the bottom of this page so you can peruse it at your leisure.
When to apply for Aid
If you are applying for aid the time to do so is between the early and regular application deadlines, i.e. November 1st - to January 1st or February 1st (depending on the institution)
It is important to remember:
You are more likely to get aid if colleges think you will definitely attend, so if you have somewhere you really want to go, that isn’t a very top tier university, reach out to them personally. Dubai College students are of a very high caliber and would potentially be at the top of second tier institutions' applicant pool, and thus a little more likely to be given financial aid. UNLESS colleges feel that the student really wants (and has the profile to make it possible) to go to Harvard and is unlikely to attend their institution; finances are finite so why waste the time and effort to calculate a financial package for a student who is unlikely to show up. Hence the need for personal contact and reassurances.
Merit based scholarships are hard to come by, and many will be for athletics – which again are fiercely contested, but these and other academic scholarships can also be found here: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search#!personalinformation
Merit based scholarships can range from covering the cost of books to a 'Full ride' - which means all costs. These can be applied for each year, and if you are unsuccessful, there is nothing to stop you applying again the following year.
Please don't...base your choice of institution on a financial package. Consider the broken leg theory (it's a sporting analogy, but is relevant for any kind of scholarship, I suppose) - if you were given a scholarship to play tennis at a university and broke your leg and couldn't play, would you still want to go to that university?
Finally, Get a Job
If you don't get student finance due to your economic position, but it is still going to be a stretch (up to $360,000 remember), there are other ways for international students to minimise costs - the best of which is to get a job at the university at which you are studying. Jobs can range from giving tours to conducting research to being a resident adviser in a dorm and can be done for college credit, free accommodation or cold hard cash. Take this latter RA position - in exchange for being part of other students' support network, and being resident in their accommodation, Resident Advisers are usually given free housing (this alone is worth between $10k and $15k per year), a small wage and sometimes free food! Add to that a summer spent working in the admissions office and you'll start to see a significant reduction of costs. In addition, the personal growth that this kind of community involvement gives to young people is priceless.