Cornell to Be Need Aware for International Students

February 15, 2016

One of the few institutions to practice need-blind admissions for applicants from abroad will begin considering the financial need of prospective international undergraduates in admissions decisions.

Under its current policy, Cornell University does not consider need in assessing applications from international students -- but because it has a limited budget for international student aid ($11.5 million out of a total $235 million aid budget last year) it also does not offer aid to every international student with demonstrated need. Under a new need-aware admission policy for international students, to begin with the fall 2017 admission cycle, Cornell intends to provide all admitted students, including all admitted international students, with aid packages meeting 100 percent of their demonstrated need.

Barbara Knuth, the senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school, said the total budget for international student financial aid will remain stable.

“This is not at all meant as a budget-cutting move,” she said. “The intention of it is to give us more ability to actively manage enrollment, because there are clearly differences in yield,” the percentage of admitted students who choose to come to Cornell. “International students who were admitted and are offered financial aid yield at about a 90 percent rate. International admitted students who do not apply for aid yield at a rate of about 65 percent, but international students who apply for aid but are not offered aid yield at about 30 percent. It makes it a lot harder to manage for the geographic and global diversity that we’re trying to achieve in the international student population because the yield is comparatively low for that group," Knuth said.

“The other purpose of this of course is to avoid those very difficult situations where international students who are admitted who have demonstrated financial need but are not awarded any aid may in fact run into challenges meeting their educational expenses,” she continued. “We have had difficult situations like that. It’s very hard financially and psychologically on the student as well as the family.”

Cornell is still need blind for U.S. citizen and permanent resident applicants. Knuth said the change in policy will bring Cornell in line with peer institutions in the Ivy League that are also need aware for international applicants, including Brown and Columbia Universities, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania. (Dartmouth announced a change from need-blind to need-aware admissions for international students last fall.) The wealthiest three Ivies -- Harvard, Princeton and Yale Universities-- are need blind and committed to meeting full demonstrated need for all international students.

Juliana Batista, the president of Cornell's Student Assembly, said she worries about the loss of opportunity for international students under a need-aware admissions policy. “Moving into a need-aware policy really disregards some of the exceptional students that have come to Cornell in the past,” she said. Batista, who stressed that she was not speaking on behalf of the whole assembly, said that some international students who don’t receive aid from Cornell might apply for private scholarships after admission or find a way to pay for college with the help of a relative or by leveraging a financial asset of some kind.

“Essentially, you are not allowing those students the opportunity to find a way to finance their education,” she said.

In addition to becoming need aware for international students, Cornell also announced that beginning in fall 2016 it would treat undergraduate students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status the same as U.S. citizens and permanent residents for admission and financial aid purposes. That means that they will be eligible for need-blind admission and will no longer have to compete with international students for the limited pool of financial aid funds available to them. Because DACA students are not eligible for federal and state grants and loans, Cornell intends to provide institutional aid in their place. (Note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect that it was Cornell University that announced a change in policy for DACA applicants. The original article misstated the name of the institution.)

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