Financial Aid

Planning for college expenses is one of the biggest financial projects a family can undertake. Four years of college usually costs tens of thousands of dollars. Indeed, the average annual cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, and other expenses) at private U.S. colleges is often over $40,000 USD, with several now over $70,000 per year.


Financial Aid Overview

Paying for college is a family affair. Parents and students must work together to make college affordable. Obviously, the earlier you start, the easier it will be; however, it's never too late to make a difference. There are four basic ways to pay for college:

  • You can save enough to cover all college expenses before you child enrolls.
  • You can work to pay for expenses while he or she is enrolled in college.
  • You can take out loans and pay after your child graduates.
  • You can apply for need-based financial aid.

Conversations about finances are important during the college process. Students can only make realistic choices if they understand their family’s ability to to pay. Honest communication between parents and students about finances is essential.

The SAS college counselors are available to have conversations about how to make college choices depending on your financial circumstances.

Cost of College

In most countries, the price tag of the college reflects what you will pay to attend. In the US, this is not always the case. College prices may vary from the published price based on your family’s ability to pay and/or merit scholarships. If you want to get a sense of what an individual college might cost your family, go to the school’s financial aid web page and complete the information required for its Net Price Calculator. The Net Price Calculator should give you a rough idea of how much you will be asked to spend per year at that school.

When looking at college costs in the US, make sure you are considering all of the costs associated with attending college: tuition, room and board, fees, travel expenses, books, and personal expenses.

Financial Aid Vocabulary

It is important to understand the different kinds of financial aid available if you are applying to schools in the US. Financial aid can be divided into two categories: need-based and non-need based. Here is some basic terminology:

Need-based financial aid: This is aid provided only to those who apply and qualify, based on the US government’s and the school’s assessment of a family’s ability to pay. Once a family’s ability to pay has been determined, assistance may be provided in a variety of ways:

  • Grants: This is money given to a family that does not need to be repaid.
  • Loans: Most financial aid packages ask families to take out loans, which must be repaid over time with interest. These loans are usually provided by the US government for US citizens. Private loans are much less desireable options.
  • Work Study: Students may be asked to take a job on campus during the school year as part of a financial aid package.

Non-need-based financial aid: Many colleges award “merit scholarships,” which are monies that are provided by the individual institutions and do not need to be repaid. At most schools, these merit scholarships do not require extra applications. Students may also apply for private, outside scholarships. A good search engine for these may be found on the Fastweb website.

The decision about whether to apply for aid is complex. Some families will absolutely need to apply; others will wonder whether they will qualify and whether it is worth it to submit an application. Please note that many colleges are “need-aware” in their reading of applications -- in other words, they may take a student’s ability to pay into consideration when they are making an admissions decision. We recommend that you start your consideration of financial aid possibilities early, that you do good research about the financial aid process, and that you have a conversation with your SAS college counselor about your options.

The financial application process is separate from the college application process -- and it has its own set of timelines. Please check the financial aid website of each college to which your son or daughter is applying and keep a list of each school’s requirements and deadlines.

All US citizens applying for need-based financial aid in the US must complete the FAFSA, the US federal application for student aid. This application is free.

Some US colleges may also ask students to complete separate institutional applications. Others may require that students fill out the CSS Profile, a tool created by the College Board to capture more financial information. There is a small fee for submitting the Profile.

Options Vary Based on Citizenship

On the tabs above you will find information based on your individual circumstances.

  • Each of the 50 states have a different set of legislative rules about what makes you a state resident for purposes of paying in-state tuition at a public university. If you think you might still be a state resident somewhere, research and learn about these rules.
  • If your child is a US citizen, you should look at the US citizen information. US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for need-based financial aid. That said, many SAS parents have compensation packages that makes eligibility for need-based aid unlikely. Check the information under the US citizen tab for more information.

Non-US citizens attending US colleges are not eligible for any US government aid. Only a small number of colleges offer aid to international students. You may want to review the information provided by eduPASS, which also maintains a list of colleges and universities that provide aid to international students. Read the Non-US Citizen information for additional details. Your SAS college counselor is also available to talk with you about your options.

Merit Based Scholarships

Merit Based Scholarships

The most selective US colleges provide only need, as opposed to merit-based, financial aid. Less selective colleges do, however, sometimes provide merit awards. These awards are used to encourage talented students to consider attending these schools. Colleges realize that talented students will have a number of acceptance offers and use merit awards as an incentive to attract them. Talent grants are given to students who demonstrate a particular talent in sports, the arts, leadership, social service, or academics. These grants are offered regardless of a student’s financial need and are often open to international students.

Students can attract merit aid by applying to schools where their class rank and test scores will place them in the top 25% of the applicant pool. The most generous colleges tend to be private liberal-arts colleges that boast large endowments but face stiff competition from more-affordable and academically comparable state schools.

Merit-based aid is based on a student's achievements in areas such as academics or special talents such as music or athletics and is almost always open to international students. This free website allows students to complete a profile and a summary of colleges with merit scholarships will be generated based upon the information provided in the profile. Be aware that while the site says they don't sell your email to third parties, students do end up getting a lot of email from the site.


Local community organizations offer scholarships to SAS students most years. In recent years the Singapore American Community Action Council (SACAC), the SAS PTA, and a handful of other private organizations have offered awards to SAS students. SAS counselors announce scholarships to students as they learn of them. Applications are usually available in the Counseling Office each March.


A number of foundations and other private organizations have developed scholarship programs. The following search engines can help you sort through them. Beware of scholarship scams. If anyone asks you for money to apply for a scholarship, it's probably a scam. Also, if you're not a US citizen be sure to verify that it is open to international students. Check out these sites:


There are several ways to pay for college other than applying for financial aid. Students can also work! As SAS counselors hear about summer work opportunities, information will be announced.

US Citizens

US Citizens

The US government has consolidated 16 different financial aid web sites into one clean link. now contains all information on applying for aid, including the FAFSA application and the FAFSA 4Caster to estimate aid; it also has a direct link to the incredibly useful College Navigator program, a college search engine that rivals that of any private company; another link offers advice on avoiding scholarship scams, and there's an expanded section on paying back loans that includes a link to contact the government if you need to talk to someone about the loans you owe. Some colleges will require the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, a more detailed form, in addition to the FAFSA. However before completing the CSS Profile, check the list of participating institutions to see if it is required. The College Board provides helpful tips on the CSS/Financial Aid Profile through an interactive presentation.


US financial aid is only available to US citizens who demonstrate "financial need" as determined by a federal formula. Need based financial aid in the form of grants (grants do not have to be paid back and are often referred to as “scholarships"), low-interest loans, and student work-study programs is available based on the information submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid--the FAFSA. There is a very helpful online step-by-step guide to filing the FAFSA, which we encourage parents to read. The federal government makes a determination about your expected family contribution (EFC), or the amount your family can reasonably be expected to contribute toward a student's education, based on information you have entered on the FAFSA about assets, income, and other data from a parent's (and student's) US income tax form.

The data you submit on the FAFSA goes to a place called CPS (Central Processing System) where it is compiled and then a formula is applied. The EFC is basically what the government believes you should be able to contribute toward the cost of attending college, based on your state of residence, household size, number in college, and student and parent income and asset information.

Next, the school you attend establishes a Cost of Attendance (COA). The COA is composed of tuition, room and board, fees and estimated expenses (e.g., books, supplies, personal items). Together, the EFC and COA are used to determine your financial need. Financial need is calculated by subtracting the EFC from the COA and is a guideline in determining how much need based financial aid you may receive. The equation looks like this:

COA - EFC = Demonstrated Financial Need

The college's financial aid office then uses the "need based" resources they have available to try to "meet" your financial need.


Sally files her FAFSA and a couple of weeks later receives her Student Aid Report (SAR). She notes that the EFC on the SAR is "01200" or $1,200. Her school has a COA of $18,000. So, using the formula above we find that Sally's need is $16,800.

The financial aid office then uses this information to construct a financial aid package. For example, the college offers the following:

TOTAL AID: $13,650

Sally's need for financial aid is $16,800, but the financial aid office was only able to meet $13,650 of her need. The difference between the two is called unmet need. In this case, Sally's unmet financial need is $3,250. What that means to Sally is that she will have to contribute more than her EFC in order to meet her educational costs. Unmet need is a common occurrence in financial aid packages. The school is under no obligation to meet your full need for financial aid and, in many cases, is simply unable to do so, given the types and amounts of funding at their disposal. What the financial aid office does, to the best of its ability, is to meet as much of your need as it can with the resources it has available. Those resources may include scholarships, grants, loans, and work. If you think you have an "unusual circumstance" which should be considered (e.g., recent loss of job or divorce), you should discuss it directly with the college's financial aid office.

Before you go through the arduous task of completing financial aid forms, take a look at financial aid estimator on sites such FinAid or ACT. You can enter your financial information and these estimators will provide a rough evidence of whether you might qualify for aid.

While some colleges are more expensive than others, cost doesn't always equate to quality; rather it may be based upon other factors such as the school's endowment and location. Of course state universities offer a lower cost option to state residents so you may wan to click the state resident tab above for details about your possible eligibility for in-state tuition at a public university. If cost is an issue for your family, please let your counselor know.


If your financial aid award package includes an education loan, you are responsible for applying for the loan. Instructions are generally provided with the award letter. Even if an education loan is not a part of your financial aid award, you may apply for a loan if you cannot meet the Expected Family Contribution from your savings or current income.

Loans have made higher education possible for millions of students, but you should consider your options carefully before borrowing and limit it to only the amount necessary. The following sites have more information about student and parent loans:

State Residents

State Residents

US citizens living abroad who seek admission to a public university in a state where their family has existing ties may be eligible for in-state tuition. If you own real property in that state, are registered to vote there, file a resident income tax return, hold a state driver's license or motor vehicle registration, and can demonstrate prior residence of at least 12 months, you may qualify for state residency for tuition purposes. Each state legislature has its own rules and regulations for determining residency and universities make the determination.

For additional information about residency, check the requirements for the different US states. The College Board also provides a link to check state residency requirements. While the interpretation of the law should be consistent, SAS counselors know of situations where one university in a state determined a family was a resident while another institution in the same state told the same family they weren't.

Further, many states have tuition discount programs that allow residents to attend universities in another state without having to pay out-of-state tuition.

California: SAS counselors frequently get questions about California residency requirements. In California, a student's residence is determined at the campus level. Campus officials can give you the most accurate advice on residence issues. If you have specific questions about your residency status, please read the statements of residency requirements published in the catalog of the public institution you plan to attend or contact the official who has been designated to make residency determinations for that institution. Here is additional information provided by UC Santa Cruz for the State of California. Information can also be found on individual UC websites. For example, on UC San Diego's website you will find the criteria to establish residence for tuition purposes.

In brief, to be considered a California resident for purposes of tuition, an out-of-state student must have lived in California for more than one year preceding the residence determination date, relinquish residence in other states, show an intent to establish residency in California and demonstrate financial independence. Unmarried undergraduates from other states qualify as financially independent if they were not claimed by their parents or others as dependents for tax purposes for two preceding tax years and if their annual income is sufficient to meet their needs.

Texas: Texas is another state for which SAS counselors often get questions. Rules and Regulations for determining residence status are set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Residency information can be found at The University of Texas at Austin also has extensive information about Texas residency.

Non-US Citizens

Non-US Citizens

Very few colleges or universities in the world offer financial aid to students who are not citizens of that country. Students who are not US citizens or permanent residents should plan on finding their own sources of money to pay for their US college education. If you are not a US citizen, the cost of a college may become a large factor in your choice of where to apply. If you plan to study in the US, you will not be granted a visa unless you can prove you have sufficient financial resources to pay for your college, living expenses, and a return trip to your home country.

If you are an international student and you must have aid, don't waste your time applying to schools that don't offer it. Because the amount of aid available to international students is limited, colleges will only offer it to the very strongest applicants in their applicant pool. A general rule of thumb is that if you are a non-US citizen who requires financial aid, you will need to be among a college’s top applicants in order to receive an offer of aid. If your scores or grades are marginal for that college, you will most likely be rejected, since money will be allocated among the top students, and the college cannot admit you without proof that your family will be able to pay your bills.

If you are not a US citizen but are looking for financial aid to attend a US university, determining which colleges offer aid can be confusing. Fortunately, Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy have provided a list, updated in 2015, that offers some insight by detailing which colleges offer need and merit aid. As you can see, most public universities offer no aid at all. Some, like Washington State, offer modest amounts. Others like Stanford and Yale offer a full ride to needy (and superior) students. eduPASS also provides a list of colleges and universities that provide aid to international students is included. The Council of International Schools (CIS) also provides information on financial aid for the US, Canada, and the UK.

You should realize that some colleges and universities are less expensive than others. Cost doesn't always equate to quality, but may be based upon the school's endowment and location. If cost is an issue for your family, please be upfront about that as you're meeting with your SAS counselor.


If you are not a US citizen but plan to go to the US for college, you will be required to obtain a visa from the US Department of Immigration before you travel to the US to attend college. This requires you to demonstrate that you have the necessary funds for the first academic year. For most schools you must complete a "certification of finances" form and attach documentation showing that your family has sufficient financial resources to pay for your schooling. Most colleges do not require this documentation until after you are admitted, but some ask for it at the time of application. Additional details are on our immigration and visa page.