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$tudying in the US

Study in USA

Interested in studying in the United States but worried about cost? Well, there are financial aid options out there.

IT may seem strange, but for an international student, studying at a private liberal arts college in the United States may actually be more affordable than studying at a public university there.

The availability of financial aid, a distinctive characteristic of US tertiary education, is the reason for this interesting fact.

Says Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (Macee) executive director Dr Donald McCloud: "Most small liberal arts colleges will pay to have Malaysians study there."

Because of their educational philosophy, such colleges think more in terms of how international students will enrich the student body rather than whether they can afford the fees.

According to Dr McCloud, financial aid packages usually consist of a combination of partial scholarships or grants, loans and work-study programmes.

Almost all tertiary institutions in the United States offer some kind of financial aid package. The important thing to note is that not all these packages are available to international students.

Although public or state universities generally charge lower tuition fees, the chance of obtaining financial aid for international students is low as most of the financial benefits of attending such universities are reserved for American students, especially those who originate from the state the university is located in.

Private colleges, on the other hand, charge higher tuition fees but tend to have larger endowment funds, which are used to provide financial aid to both local and international students.

Dr McCloud shares that some colleges even have funds that are specifically earmarked for international students.

"You must look at the nett cost, rather than just the tuition fees or cost of living alone," he says.

Tips from the wise
Management consultant Ooi Eng Hong believes that a US undergraduate programme is within the financial capability of most urban middle-class families, provided they obtain some form of financial aid.

Both his children, Audrey and Barry, are currently pursuing liberal arts degrees in the United States.

Their education is made affordable by the financial aid packages both of them are receiving from their respective colleges.

For example, sophomore (second-year student) Barry currently pays US$14,000 (RM49,252) out of US$35,000 (RM123,130) for both tuition (US$25,900 or RM91,116) and cost of living for one year at Wabash College, Indiana.

The remainder of the amount is covered by his financial aid package, which comprises a loan of US$2,000 (RM7,036) to US$3,000 (RM10,554) a year, a grant and campus employment.

Shares Eng Hong: "One of the things we did was to look at whether the schools we were interested in had the ability to give grants and other forms of financial aid."

They did this by looking at the size of the college's endowment fund. "The larger the fund, the better the chances of students getting aid," he says.

Eng Hong also checked out college rankings like the Kaplan/Newsweek College Guide and the US News & World Report, which list liberal arts colleges according to "generosity of financial aid" or "best value".

Many college websites also provide statistics like the percentage of students who receive financial aid, which can be used to assess one's chances.

Colleges, according to Eng Hong, are generally flexible and prepared to look at cases on an individual basis.

Dr McCloud says: "We see many students who are partially funded; fully-funded scholarships are for the really outstanding students."

He adds that getting financial aid for around one-third of the total amount of tuition and living expenses "shouldn't be too difficult as long as you have good grades, decent letters of recommendation and good TOEFL scores".

Obtaining financial aid for two-thirds of the total cost will depend on the college one applies to, he opines, while getting aid for the entire amount will be on a case-by-case basis.

Earning a little extra
Full scholarships for undergraduate programmes in the United States are rare.

Aside from government scholarships provided by the Public Services Department and Mara, other fully funded scholarships open to Malaysians include the Amcham-Macee Scholarship, Wesleyan Freeman Asian Scholarship Programme and Carleton College Starr Scholarship Programme.

Former Wesleyan Freeman scholar Chan Mun Chun says: "The Freeman scholarship is truly incredible. During my studies (1998 to 2002), it covered everything tuition, living expenses and a semester stipend for books.

"There was even a monthly stipend, although I think they stopped providing that in recent years to conserve money and send more students."

As desirable as getting a scholarship is, the limited number of places makes it a difficult proposition.

However, getting a little extra money which may make the difference between eating instant noodles the entire semester and being able to enjoy a decent meal once in a while may not be that difficult.

San Jose State University senior (final-year student) Tilia Wong shares: "A lot of the fraternities or honour societies give out US$1,000 (RM3,518) to US$2,000 (RM7,036) awards to their members every semester.

"Usually you just need to write an essay to qualify."

Being in the heart of the Silicon Valley, many local companies are also rich enough to offer similar awards for essays, as well as well-paid internships.

"The thing about these awards is that a lot of people think they can't get it, so they don't even try," says Tilia.

Another benefit of studying at her university is that it has a cap on tuition fees.

This means that students need only pay for up to 30 credit hours per academic year; any credit hours they study beyond that are free.

International students are also legally allowed to work up to 20 hours a week on campus during the semester.

The number of hours can be increased to 40 during the summer break.

The average pay, according to the students interviewed, is about US$8 (RM28) per hour.

Typical jobs include working as waiters, cooks, research assistants, library assistants and administrative staff.

Some jobs, according to Dr McCloud, have extra benefits.

For example, residence hall counsellors do not need to pay for their rooms, while cafeteria staff usually eat for free at their workplace.

Certain jobs are also specifically reserved for those under the work-study portion of the financial aid package.

Students can also do off-campus work after one year of study but will need authorisation from the immigration authorities.
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