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International students face burden of high tuition, limited financial assistance

Posted by  October 7, 2013 02:29 PM

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By Hannah Rex, Boston University News Service

While her friends at Boston University are enjoying senior events, easy classes and coveted senior housing options, Tessa ten Cate, BU 2013, is across the Atlantic. She graduated with a degree from the College of Communication, participated in campus activities and had local internships – but all that was crammed into three years because of the university’s high financial burden for international students. Instead of fully experiencing a “proper” senior year with her friends, ten Cate, of The Netherlands, said she had to finish early because of high tuition costs.

“If BU had offered me financial aid I would have stayed the full four years,” ten Cate said via email.“It was tough being friends with so many American students knowing they could stay the full four years while I had to graduate early.”

Most international students are not eligible for federal financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education, but BU does offer two merit-based scholarships available to all students. The competition is stiff –only five percent of the incoming freshmen class receive a $20,000 scholarship and just 20 incoming freshman receive a full tuition scholarship. For the 2013/2014 academic year, BU’s tuition is $43,970, and including additional living costs the university estimates the total cost of attendance to be more than $58,000. 

Although ten Cate was not offered any financial assistance from BU, she did receive 371.25 euros, or about $500, every month from The Netherlands’ government, even during the summer. But she said that in light of BU’s high tuition, the government aid was not enough to significantly help her financial situation.

According to an Open Doors report conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE) during the 2011/2012 academic year, Massachusetts had the fourth largest number of international students in the country, with schools like BU, MIT and Harvard priding themselves on cultural diversity. The BU Class of 2015 set a new record for the largest percentage of international students, coming in at 16.1 percent. The IIE reported that 80 percent of all undergraduate international students receive the majority of their funding from personal and family sources, but Ingrid Cook, a senior from England, is one of the few recipients of a BU merit scholarship. 

Based on her academic ranking in high school, BU awarded Cook a half-tuition scholarship. She said this significant tuition cut has made her financial situation easier, but she still faces other monetary struggles because of her international status. 

“It’s the silly things like a phone contract,” Cook said. “Because I’m not on a family plan I have to individually pay $100 a month.” 

Republic of Georgia native Eke Kokaia, BU 2014, does not receive any financial assistance for tuition and his parents must pay full freight. Including housing and food, Kokaia said his parents spend almost half their income on his education. 

“It's just very hard to pay around $60,000 per year for anyone,” Kokaia said, referring to international and domestic students alike. 

Aside from tuition and food, students also have personal expenses. A round-trip ride on the T is $2.00, a movie ticket with a student discount is generally $9.00, and the price of a specialty coffee barely leaves room for change from a $5 bill. But international students can only be paid by BU, and no other institution, because they are in the United States under a student visa.Chinese student Yazhou Sun, BU 2014, and other international students said that even with this option it is difficult to find a job because it seems like most on-campus jobs are already taken by work-study positions. Students are granted work-study jobs as a way to work for financial aid, but international students are not eligible because these positions are mostly paid with federal money.

“I found a job at BU but the pay is horrible,” Sun said. “But I was really grateful that the office hired me because they could have easily replaced me with some work-study students.” Sun said before she landed her job, she was once in a position without any money in her account. Her parents immediately wire-transferred her $3,000. 

“I’m still guilty about it to this day. My parents are not millionaires, and I know my college tuition is a burden to some extent,” she said.“I think most of the Chinese students studying abroad are from upper-middle class families, but if international students have more loan or scholarship options it would make our situations significantly easier.”

Ten Cate said BU offers a prestigious reputation for which many students are willing to pay the price. However, she said BU might be very accommodating to financially burdened students.

“I think that BU can get away with [high tuition] because there are a lot of wealthy families…who want to send their kids to an American institution,”ten Cate said. “And they’re willing to pay the full price for four years for it.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Boston University News Service

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