Swarthmore’s Financial Aid Does Not Turn a Blind Eye to All

That nerve racking time of year: college admissions season. For many, as the excitment from their acceptance letter wears off, they nervously await the perhaps more important fianancial aid statement.  

Swarthmore College prides itself on its need-blind admissions policy.  In other words, the college does not take into consideration an applicant’s ability to pay when deciding whether to admit a student or not. However, this policy only applies to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and undocumented students. International students go through a need-sensitive process, meaning their financial need can affect the college’s admission decisions.

This raises the question: why are the policies different between domestic and international students? According to Varo Duffins, Swarthmore’s Director of Financial Aid, the reason for the discrepancy is that, “the international financial aid budget is funded entirely by the College without subsidization from the U.S. Federal government.”

International students are not eligible to receive federal aid.  As a result, their financial aid packages tend to be higher than domestic students’. Last year, international students were awarded an average of $51,501, which is $4,000 more than the average package for domestic students.

Swarthmore meets the indicated need of both international and domestic students. Jim Bock, Swarthmore’s Dean of Admissions, provided the following insight:

“We are extremely fortunate that the College is committed to setting aside a significant portion of its financial aid budget for need-based financial aid for international students.”  

International students typically receive higher aid than domestic students because of the lack of federal funding available. The College takes this into consideration when admitting international students, because international students cost the College more.

Many of the international students require aid. Most other colleges and universities have a similar financial aid policy for international students. Bock contends, “Most international students have few need-based options when applying to U.S. colleges and universities, which is one of the reasons why we see so many deserving international students applying for admission to Swarthmore every year.”

On the topic on international admissions, Bock assures, “Selectivity remains extremely high for all students. We are fortunate to be able to aid many deserving international students, unlike most colleges and universities.”

To what extent does an international applicant’s ability to pay affect the admission decision?

According to Jim Bock, “The admissions office reviews all applications to Swarthmore holistically. The same criteria apply for all applicants, and all files are reviewed by at least two deans. In addition, all international applications are reviewed by an international committee . . . The admissions office does not look at the student’s (specific) financial situation; rather, we separate by those who have applied for aid versus those who have not applied for aid at the beginning of the process.”

It is inevitable that the College use need-sensitive admissions for international students, since it is impossible to meet the full need of all international students. After all, an educational institution has budgetary constraints. However, this policy is not aligned with the values of equality embraced by the College. As an institution founded on Quaker values, Swarthmore should not employ differentiated admission processes based on citizenship.

Moreover, the need-sensitive policy does not help to promote socioeconomic diversity. It is fairly easy to imagine that need-sensitive admission poses an invisible barrier for many prospective international students from low-income households. They will be discouraged to apply, as they realize that chance of getting in is even more competitive than what it already is in the need- blind admissions. These ideals conflict with practicality — the only solution may be to raise endowments until the college can secure adequate resources to be able to put its ideals into effect. I truly hope there comes a time when the admission process is need-blind for all applicants regardless of their citizenship.

Image courtesy of www.swarthmore.edu


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Haruka Ono

Grew up in Japan (Kanagawa and Chiba), New York, and Minnesota. Graduated from Shibuya Senior High School in Tokyo. Potential major in psychology, computer science, or peace and conflict studies. Interested in refugee rights and refugee acceptance systems. Fascinated by the why's of human behavior. Personality: very introverted, serene. Motto: enjoy the little things in life.

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