Financial Aid 101

*What is financial aid ? *

What is referred to as a college scholarship by many people in Ethiopia is actually financial aid. If you hope to attend a college without paying the full price, you must apply for financial aid. Financial aid is a term that encompasses all types of aid- directly received from a university-that goes towards financing your education. 

*Types of financial aid*

Financial aid often comes in three flavors: need based financial aid, merit based financial aid, and loans. Top ranked schools in the US often have need based financial aid only, while other schools tend to offer merit based or a combination of the two

– Merit Based Financial Aid : This kind of financial aid is offered to you based on your GPA or other merits that you have. Different schools have their own type of merit based awards. However, most times, merit based financial awards only partly cover your cost of attendance

– Need based financial aid: This kind of financial aid is offered based on the universities estimates of your need. That is, the university, with the help of documents you provide such as employer letters, bank statements, determines how much you can afford to pay and offers aid. 

– Need blind vs need aware: Most schools are need aware; that is, they consider your financial eligibility while determining whether you are accepted or not. However, a smaller section of universities that offer need based financial aid claim to be need blind, which means your finances do not at all factor into your acceptance.
Financial aid for international students is scarce, and it is important not to waste time or energy looking into universities that will not meet your financial requirements. 


Financial aid, like the college application process, has many processes. Part of these includes filling out and submitting important financial forms.

– The CSS Profile:  is mostly used by US universities that offer aid to international students. It is a completely online form, which means it does not need to be printed and filled out.  CSS Profile is handled by College board, the same institution that handles the SAT examinations. If you signed up for an SAT exam, you already have a Collegeboard account you can use for the CSS profile. 

– The ISFAA: The International Student Financial Aid Application is another form that is shorter and easier to fill in compared to the CSS Profile. Unlike the CSS Profile, however, the IFSAA is not completely standardized, and it is not a single website that you enter your information to and then send to every school of your choice. Rather, each school has to make the IFSAA form available on its website, and not all schools decide to do so. 

– Supporting Documentations: After you have filled-out one or more of the above forms, you will need to send supporting documentation of your family’s financial circumstances to universities either by fax or by mail. This includes letter from your parents’ employers and bank statements.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions! Cheers!


The Author is a graduate of Columbia’s class of 2020 and is now working at Nextdoor as a Software Engineer.

Leave a Reply