Discover Studying Abroad

The Financial Aid Situation at U.S. Universities

After Cooper Union scrapped their free education program, students have been devastated. But no fear, there are still generous offers of financial funding - and some colleges even throw in laptops, research grants, as well as housing subsidies.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   25-07-2013
Cooper Union, photo courtesy of
Cooper Union cuts back on it’s free tuition

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was once the Holy Grail for South Asian students as it offered a free college education – and for those wanting to study engineering in particular from South Asia, this was once a boon. But the prestigious East Village university in New York has been under severe financial strain, and announced in April, that for the first time in more than a century it will charge undergraduates to attend.

For over a hundred years, Cooper Union – the United States’ most famous tuition-free private college provided all its students with a full tuition scholarship, which would otherwise cost $39,600 a year. Its three schools enroll about a thousand art, architecture and engineering students, but a budget crisis has forced the college to wrestle with changes that would once have been inconceivable.

Beginning in the Fall 2014, Cooper Union will charge students based on what the college described as a steeply sliding scale, from those deemed able, paying around $20,000, to those “with the greatest needs,” paying nothing. International students will pay an additional fee of $1,910 per year.

This means that next year, all incoming students will receive a minimum 50 percent scholarship. The value of this half-tuition scholarship is $20,000 per year ($10,000 per semester). It is also available for international students.

“Under the new policy, Cooper Union will continue to adhere to the vision of Peter Cooper, who founded the institution specifically to provide a quality education to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it,” says Cooper Union Board Chairman Mark Epstein.

Cooper Union, which has graduated architect Karen Bausman, artist Alex Katz and even taught inventor Thomas Edison, is one of the most selective colleges in the U.S. Still, the tuition the college expects to charge is below that of many colleges. At Carnegie Mellon University, which also has a highly ranked engineering program, tuition is $46,670 per year.

Macaulay Honors College at CUNY’s Subsidized Education

Macaulay Honors building, CUNY

For New Yorkers, now the closest to tuition-free college is Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York (CUNY). Students have to meet the college’s New York residency requirements to receive the full tuition scholarship. International students are not eligible unless they legally qualify as New York state residents at the time of their application. But the good news is that they are eligible for the other generous benefits that elite New York students receive.

“International students are eligible for all Macaulay benefits such as a laptop and $7,500 opportunity fund, with the exception of the merit scholarship for tuition,” says Macaulay Honors College spokesperson Lisa Dierbeck.

Macaulay’s $7,500 “opportunity fund” is for research, travel or internships, and the program also throws in a cultural passport to many New York institutions, and in many cases, housing subsidies, too.

Scoring Financial Aid

Georgetown University, photo courtesy of

There might not be a full-tuition scholarship for everyone, but it’s still worth asking your college for merit based aid. Tuition awards of $10,000 or $20,000 add up, and every dollar you receive is a dollar you won’t have to pay back in student loans.

A student from India, who didn’t want to be identified, said she negotiated a partial tuition waiver from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute (GPPI) in Washington, after she secured a spot in their Masters program.

“My tuition is $44,408 a year, but the Scholarship Committee at GPPI enhanced my funding to $20,000 a year after I wrote them a pleading email saying I can avail of their offer only if I am granted a financial break as I have worked exclusively in the social sector,” she says. “Georgetown made it possible for me to study in America.”

“With the currency redux and dollar being so strong, students from India and South Asia are scared away by the list price of US schools, but they usually end up paying much less” says Abhay Kumar, an engineering graduate from the University of Toledo, in Ohio.

“The list price of tuition is different from the net price that a student actually pays after financial aid, grants and scholarships,” says Kumar. He says he was lucky to get a tuition scholarship to complete his Masters from Toledo.

Do Your Research

Berea College, photo courtesy of

Berea College, a liberal arts college in Kentucky looks for those with little or no ability to pay for college, and then each year offers 400 students a free education for four years. These students are however required to also work 10 hours a week, but they do get paid. For most Berea students, the four-year tuition scholarship amounts to nearly $100,000 over four years.

Berea College is the only U.S. institution that provides full funding to international students for the first year. All admitted international students receive financial aid and scholarships that cover 100 percent of tuition, room, board, and fees for the first year of enrollment.

International students studying at Berea are even provided with summer jobs, so that they can offset some of their tuition obligations in subsequent years. Many families in the Berea area participate in a host family program, also providing international students a “family away from home.” It’s all part of the package that many universities are offering to continue to attract international students.

Foreign students say this year the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University offered half-time graduate assistantships and university health insurance. This covered nearly $25,000 of the total cost of attendance for the one year graduate degree program.

With a little bit of extra research, there are still study options and some generous tuition funding out there.

Uttara Choudhury is Associate Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.  



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