Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Financial aid

I don’t remember how we ever got onto the subject, but when I was a child my grandfather spoke to me about the cost of a university education in the United States. “A year of private university in the United States,” he told me, “has always been roughly equivalent to the cost of a quality automobile.”

He was quite right from the financial standpoint: a year at a top U.S. university still costs roughly what it takes to buy a better-than-average car.

With all due respect to my grandfather, who knew the value of money if anyone did and saw prices change over decades, the comparison between education and cars holds true for up-front cost but just about stops there. That is because a car depreciates quickly in value, while a good education increases in value with time.

I mention this because attending SAIS is akin to investing in your future. SAIS, like other private educational institutions, charges tuition to cover costs. The price tag – 29,000 euros for SAIS Bologna in 2010-11 – seems steep for many students, certainly those outside the United States.

We receive a great many questions about financial aid. Before I turn to aid options, I think it’s worth making a general point that the cost of SAIS will be absorbed over time. SAIS graduates generally land jobs of their choice quickly -- employers know the value of a SAIS education. What can seem like a huge amount of money to you now will seem less burdensome once you hold down a job, particularly if the costs are spread over time.

Another general point: most SAIS Bologna students receive some kind of financial aid. Much of it comes from funds managed by SAIS; some of it comes from other sources. Many arrange loans or use savings or work part-time jobs while at SAIS to earn pocket money. A typical student will tap a variety of sources of funds to make the investment affordable.

If you require financial aid, then you submit an aid form with your application. It requires you to answer some basic questions about your and your parents’ finances.

(Gabriella Chiappini, director of development at SAIS Bologna, speaks about financial aid options in the video below.)

SAIS manages a substantial amount of money for fellowships. Some of it comes from its operating budget; some comes from outside donors. In all but a few cases, the single financial aid form is all we need to allocate aid when admissions decisions are taken.

There are aid sources outside SAIS’s control: a partial list can be found here. You are encouraged to scout around for other sources of aid in addition to SAIS. Some funds award grants to specific categories of students – you will want to check whether you are eligible for such funds. This will mean spending some time doing research, but it is time well spent.

Many students take out loans with lengthy maturities to help cover the costs. U.S. students may have access to subsidized loans; European students at SAIS Bologna can tap a special loan program offered by UniCredit Bank. In most cases, such loans are paid off over many years, meaning the monthly payments can be quite manageable.

To sum up, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Consider SAIS an investment. With some effort on your part, it will be an affordable investment.
  • Most students combine funds from a variety of sources to cover costs. The sources can include fellowships, savings, loans, part-time work.
  • SAIS manages its own pool of funds. Check other sources, too: home, local or regional governments; corporations; your alma mater.
Tomorrow: GREs and GMATs

And don't forget the speech by U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at SAIS Washington at 1330 GMT (1430 CET) on Wednesday, January 12, webcast at www.sais-jhu.edu.

Nelson Graves