Do You Attend Your Dream School When They Offer You Little Financial Aid and Scholarships?

Funding, Scholarships & Financial Aid

Do You Attend Your Dream School When They Offer You Little Financial Aid and Scholarships?

My name is Gang Liu, and I am a Chinese student from Renmin University of China. Recently, I have received offer of admission from UMich, Emory, Brown and Waterloo. I should be happy about the result, but I failed to get the financial support from the first three universities which means probably I cannot afford the tuition. My dream school is UMich, and I really want to win some scholarship. Is there any chance to fight for it? What's more, faced with a dream school without funding and a safety school with full funding, would you advise me how to make the choice?

- Gang Liu | Renmin School of Statistics


Greetings Gang Liu. First of all, congratulations on getting into four excellent schools! Deciding between a dream school and a safety school—especially one with full financial aid—is a tough choice. This can be a common scenario that students face, since it’s difficult to stand out in the crowd at top universities while safety schools will often hope to attract top students with competitive merit scholarships other perks.

In principle, international students are not eligible for financial aid from the US government, but they are able to receive merit-based funding directly from universities. Some schools will have special endowments set aside for international applicants, while others have nothing at all—something that should be clearly indicated on their website. Therefore, while it is sometimes more challenging for international students to receive scholarships, it is by no means impossible.

Back to your question, your first challenge is to decide whether it is worth investing additional time and potentially money to attend Michigan. First, you could take out loans—not a great start. Second, if you feel that your financial circumstances have changed since making your application, Michigan allows you to appeal the decision and be reevaluated for funding. Finally, you could take a risk by accepting their offer and searching for external funding opportunities. It is almost certain that you could find some small scholarships, but probably not enough to cover the full cost of attendance for four years.

Sometimes unexpected choices lead to good outcomes—it’s important to remember that Waterloo and Michigan are both good schools, so either way you will receive a great education. Whether or not you decide to accept Michigan’s offer will ultimately hinge on whether or not you are willing to accept some level of financial responsibility and invest time in applying for fellowships each year to cover costs. Therefore, if you are willing to work hard, assume debt, or a combination of both, Michigan is still a possibility. However, choosing Waterloo is a more secure path, and you might be surprised just how much you enjoy the school once you arrive.


Daniel Burnham

MA UChicago | International Relations

BA Indiana University | History of Science & Religious Studies