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Brown Fin Aid Office inner workings?

negrunegru Posts: 880Registered User Member
edited August 2009 in Brown University
Hey guys I'm back :D

I am wondering if any of you guys know how the fin aid office basically works. I keep arguing with them on an issue regarding extra scholarship for the medical insurance. I will post more details if anyone is interested, but I would appreciate if anyone has any tips on what I might do.

Basically, spanning 3 long emails now, I have presented several what I believe are strong, clear and factual arguments saying that I should be eligible for about ~2400$/year extra money. After each email I have only received either simple "nop, not possible" replies, without even saying whether I am wrong or not, or even completely false statements about their policies on general situations. I know of clear cases which prove that their reasoning is not correct.

So my question is, besides harassing them with even more emails, which so far I have kept very decent, is there anything else I could do? I know it is entirely up to them to decide whatever they want, but am I wrong to assume that they should follow some basic guidelines, or even common sense? If they cannot disprove what I am saying, is there no way to make them also accept what I am saying?

I mean, what does one do when ignored by their office, despite presenting clear arguments, based on their own policies? Or at least arguments which they completely refuse to discuss or acknowledge?
Post edited by negru on
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Replies to: Brown Fin Aid Office inner workings?

  • AmbitiousMind07AmbitiousMind07 Posts: 1,010Registered User Senior Member
    I called them about that medical insurance thing (which by the way, I found them to be extremely helpful and kind) and was told that many students take out some type of additional loan, which doesn't have to be paid back until after graduation, through Brown to cover this extra expense. After talking it over with my mom and calling other insurance companies for price quotes, we called back a few days later and decided that we'd actually come out cheaper (over $1200 cheaper per year) if I had my own individual insurance plan. So, we waived the fee and now we're paying another (cheaper) insurance company. I would have stayed on my mom's plan, but it's not covered in Rhode Island. So, I suggest you think about that loan option, call other insurance companies for quotes, or consider staying on a family plan (if applicable). Good luck! (And the people in the fin. aid office really are just doing their job, I suppose. I'm sure they are overwhelmed with calls and complaints around this time with the bill being due soon. Just try to maintain patiences and hang in there :))
  • modestmelodymodestmelody Posts: 4,651Registered User Senior Member
    First of all, always call, don't email. People just work with you better that way.

    Second of all, if I read your comments correctly, I think the disconnect is your failure to realize that from Brown's perspective, the $2400 for medical insurance is included in the estimated costs that they use to calculate the difference from your EFC to give you an award. They've already taken into account that it costs about $2400 a year to have insurance when they created your package. This isn't, in their mind, an extra expense that was not accounted for (although you may not have accounted for it).

    The waiver of the fee only occurs if you are covered under alternative insurance and display proof of coverage. Other than that, no additional, traditional financial aid is available because a) We've already committed that money b) Your medical ins. costs have already been accounted for in their calculation-- there essentially is no argument there to be made, difficult as your situation may be.

    You may be talking about an issue for the loan office to get that $2400 from Brown in the form of the loan, not financial aid since your award eligibility is already set and your award amount determined.
  • negrunegru Posts: 880Registered User Member
    Thanks for the comments, but here is the thing.

    My first action was to go to their office and discuss the issue directly. I was quickly brushed off after the counselor would not even attempt to understand what my request was, and told to write an email instead.

    And actually, there is extra scholarship available. As I was told by a counselor, if your parental contribution is low or zero, you get an extra 2400$/per year, which covers the insurance, and can be used to offset the need to get a job during the year. Students benefiting from this policy pay exactly what their offer was. I currently pay what I offered plus 2500$ from student employment.

    For the following, please keep in mind that for international students, parental contribution is usually offered by the parents/student based on common sense, good will and desire to increase chances, not calculated by brown.

    Now, my argument was that although my parental contribution is higher, it simply does not reflect my economic status. I chose to offer more than 100% of my family's whole life savings, while others do not offer more than 50%, and this has been interpreted as my family being richer. This interpretation is what I am trying to tell them is wrong.
    If person A has 20.000$ savings, and offers 2.000$ per year, they will get the extra 2400. If B has 40.000 savings, with similar income, and offers 12.000 per year, they do not get the extra money. This is where my confusion lies.
    If their policy was intended to help poorer families, would it not be more reasonable to base eligibility on actual conditions, and not on contribution? Is this not a waste of university funds? If they are giving the money anyway, why not give it to the lower savings/income families as calculated after paying all debts to brown?

    Now the responses I got where completely stupefying. Disregarding the fact that they treat me like I'm trying to escape the responsability of paying the full sum I offered.
    They said that I, being an international student, have a fixed contribution upon which my admittance was based, and that they cannot take money from another student's scholarship just to give me extra cash.
    This is false for two reasons.
    -all the students I know that are receiving this scholarship, are international and have been admitted based on their contribution, and yet now they pay less
    -all the students I know that receive this scholarship had to request it. it wasn't simply given to them by the finaid office out of good will. the office knowingly hid this from them, until directly notified. so it is not like the funds they allocate are fixed and can never be changed, as I was told.

    So my question is: why is my contribution treated differently? Why am I told that their whole universe is based upon what I offered, yet other students receive the money upon simple email request? And more importantly, why could it be so hard for them to :
    a)prove me wrong
    b)apologize for their misinterpretation, but also for their procedural incapability to offer me the money although I am correct
    c)just give me the money, as giving it to me is no different than giving it to someone else, if that someone else happens to need it less
  • TheDukeofEarlTheDukeofEarl Posts: 232Registered User Junior Member
    For what it's worth, negru, I had zero luck getting any modification of my award from Brown, even after having changes made by all of the other schools on my list based on new information. But despite that, they were very professional and they explained their math to me in detail so that I could see where their numbers came from. I had the benefit of living within a reasonable driving distance so was able to do this face-to-face, which as modestmelody says, can make a lot of difference in how things go down. It sounds like you may need to escalate beyond your FA rep, negru. Maybe talk to the head of FA.

    I think if you were entitled to the $$ then they would find a way to get it to you, but you need someone to explain why that is not possible, in terms you can understand. In my case, it took some doing before I got the gist of what they were saying. What they were basically saying in my case was "Sorry, we have no money. Go elsewhere", which is what I did. But I was not offended. I thought they were pretty candid.

    Good luck.
  • negrunegru Posts: 880Registered User Member
    Perhaps it was only my bad luck to get in touch with the wrong people. But generally I have had very weird experiences with them. For example once I went to their office to ask about tax returns. Apparently some students filed a random fed tax return on scholarship and got 1000$ or more back (even though they had paid nothing to begin with). The counselor was treating me like I was trying to steal money from her own pocket! When it wasn't even brown money that I was asking about. I think if their office cared even remotely about University money, they would show at least the slightest interest as to why students are getting lots of cash back from the government out of thin air. I mean, the government surely isn't giving out free money, the students surely paid nothing so they could be taxed...only one other place where the money could come from...and they have no idea this is going on?
  • TheDukeofEarlTheDukeofEarl Posts: 232Registered User Junior Member
    It sounds like your relationship with the FA office is, at this point, hopelessly contentious. Does Brown have a student Ombudsman or a Dean of Student Affairs? That may be whom you need to discuss this with. I have to admit I have no idea what you are talking about in posting #6, so I will only make matters worse by offering you any further advice. I wish you the best. It sounds like you have some issues to work out.
  • negrunegru Posts: 880Registered User Member
    That actually sounds like a good plan, thanks for the tip. If even their following reply will completely avoid the questions I'm asking I'll certainly look for someone else to talk to. Considering that the last email was something of the type:

    "very thoughtful words but that will not change our decision. there is nothing else to discuss, because *insert obviously false statement here as well as other issues which have nothing to do with the subject*. anyway, next week i'm going on vacation, but please talk to anyone else if you need loans"
    How is this is an even semi-professional answer? So what, she's going on vacation, and that's it?

    But is it just me, or does it sound very weird how these funds are being allocated? I mean, they supposedly have this policy, of which 99% of students are unaware, and it seems to me like they give the scholarship as they please. If you are eligible for some Brown funds, why do you have to ask to get them? And ask about something...which you're not supposed to know? I am very surprised that modest here has no idea about these extra funds. What if he was eligible, and never thought to ask? What if are other people are?

    I have a feeling modest and other people also don't know that Brown offered scholarships for buying laptops, books, and other supplies to several students. When I asked them about it, they were like, *** are you talking about. When I asked them why on one of my bills I am charged for books and supplies, yet see nothing of them, and on the other no mention of this, they were like, *** are you talking about.

    The fin aid office does not own any Brown money. All the people there are PAID to correctly and thoughtfully administer university funds. Financial aid is not given out of personal mercy of the people there. It is their job to answer any questions and address issues. If they are incapable of doing so they'd better be damn be sure I'll keep bugging them and other people about this.
  • modestmelodymodestmelody Posts: 4,651Registered User Senior Member
    I did know about laptops and book funds, but thought it was something that if you're below a certain EFC kicks in. For undergraduate here I had a very straightforward package that always matched my expectations (it sounds like there is a lot more "stuff" to be mindful of as an international student at Brown) so I didn't deal with them much except the occasional phone call to say that "Yes, I did fill out this form," and once I told that to the right person things were always fine.

    As a graduate student I've been dealing with them much more, but they basically have one or two people at FA who full-time deal with graduate students and their issues and they've been very helpful and that has been mostly straightforward as well so far. I would definitely head to the deans office or somewhere else if they're not answering your questions to a satisfactory degree.

    It would seem that you have a misunderstanding of something or they do. If it's your misunderstanding, it should be very simple to clear up, they just have to articulate the policy, how an when it applies, clearly. If they have a misunderstanding, well then, you have to move up the chain.
  • chsowlflax17chsowlflax17 Posts: 941Registered User Member
    OK, I understand how contentious this is, and how much even $1,000 means to someone on F.A. (I'm a US student on it, so I sort of understand your stress). But one thing to remember about FA is that really, you're not ENTITLED to any of it (except maybe government grants/loans). Every penny they give you is a gift. My package didn't come close to my Federal EFC, but the office was willing to explain their policies, and I had to accept getting less than I hoped for, which means my parents are taking out loans that I'll be responsible for paying back.

    Yes, you should keep bothering them until you get a clear and coherent answer. But I know people get defensive when you take an angry tone (not that you HAVE been in your e-mails... just that you seem to be venting in your posts), which makes them less likely to give you a clear explanation. Good luck though, and I hope everything gets resolved well.
  • negrunegru Posts: 880Registered User Member
    Oh yeah I'm venting here so I don't get angry when talking to them..though it does get difficult when they are obviously trying so hard to talk non-sense. I'm sure they can do better.

    You are right about the gift as well, but you see, like I said, financial aid is not a gift of the financial aid office. It is a gift from the university. If the university had a rule that said: "no students whose first name starts with "B" shall get any money" I would be perfectly ok with that. It's their money, they should give it to whomever you want. However, even in this situation, if they applied this rule to me, though my name started with "C", I believe I would be entitled to getting some answers about what I perceive to have been a mistake. Sure, if afterwards they decide to include the letter C in the rule, it's perfectly ok for them to do so. As long as they make it a clear rule that everyone can read on their own...not in their crystal ball.

    But regardless, I think everyone should see how potentially dangerous having these kind of hidden policies is. If the university has a rule which says: "students with blabla are entitled to this", but the fin aid office only gives this money AFTER students directly inquire, this creates some very serious imbalance. It turns FA into luck-based, not need-based. Or sorry, not luck based...inside-information-based, anyone?

    I mean, I see only two possibilities of what happened:
    a)they allocate these funds as questions/issues arise - this means they completely lied in their reply
    b)they allocate these funds from the beginning, as they told me - but then how come not all eligible students receive this money from the start? and only from their 3rd or 4th year? If the money is allocated, and cannot be changed..well...why isn't it there from the start? is the fin aid office holding out on some students? where does that already allocated money actually end up?

    b) would be very bad...almost too bad to be true, so it's probably a). Or am I missing something?
  • topaz4topaz4 Posts: 34Registered User Junior Member
    For the record I am VERY happy with my financial aid, but I do have some misgivings with how health insurance was handled. Modestmelody, were you only referring to international students when you wrote that health insurance is taken into account when calculating financial aid? I don't see how that could apply to me.

    They calculated my total expenses WITHOUT health insurance as about 53,000, and the money I'm receiving plus my family contribution as about 53,000. If health insurance were taken into account then my award plus my family contribution should have been about 55,000.

    The problem is, every statement I've received lists my parent contribution as 0, when in reality they owe 2,400 a year for my insurance. Why isn't health insurance included in total expenses when it's required for attendance? $2,400 is enough to cause problems for some families, and the little note on the financial aid website indicating that it's not included in total expenses, yet required, is easily overlooked. All my official award information seems deceptive; I feel my mom was given false hope.

    But, besides this oddity, I have only positive experiences with the financial aid office.

    Negru: is the 2,400 dollar health insurance scholarship only for internationals? Are you referring to the Sidney Frank Scholarship, in which the most financially disadvantaged students receive 2,500 dollars their freshman year to offset the need for a job?
  • negrunegru Posts: 880Registered User Member
    I don't think it has a name, and I don't know if it's only for intls. It would be weird if it were, I don't think they would give money only to intls. I mean, not even their new imba policy of "you poor - it's free" applies to us. If it's still up anyway.

    In the fin aid award page, this scholarship simply appears as "medical insurance schol." or smth like that. Paid in the first semester, worth 2400. Also, for the students I know at least, their insurance was ALREADY covered by fin aid. The fin aid office had NO IDEA about this fact. In fact, they thought I was paying my own insurance with loans. When I said uh, no I'm not, check my bill, they were like, of course, ***?
    These students only had to pay 2500 from students employment, on top of the parental contribution. With this scholarship, they now pay only parental contribution. If they're lucky, they can also get that mysterious extra 1000$ from tax returns.
    And from what I understand, you pay BOTH the insurance, AND student employment (after freshman year)? Now that would be completely ridiculous. Fin aid office is complaining they don't have any money and they're poor and sick and helpless, and allow all this total waste of funds?

    And I thought everyone gets an extra 2500 freshman year?

    Anyway, their policies are completely messed up. Not even when I presented them with direct quotes from their own website, they would not admit I was right. But I'm over that stage now. This, however, is at a whole different level.
  • topaz4topaz4 Posts: 34Registered User Junior Member
    It is ridiculous that, when calculating the total amount a student will require to attend Brown, the financial aid office excludes the $2,500 health insurance the student will require to attend Brown. I trust the financial aid office enough to assume this inconsistency is due to a lack of financial aid funds, rather than an oversight or a deliberate attempt to take money from us.

    Promising "full scholarship for 100% of financial need" to prospective students, though, is completely dishonest. Straight from the Facts about Brown website: "Brown provides 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need for all aided students who matriculate." Unless I'm missing something (like the availability of a medical insurance scholarship), that should read: Brown provides 100 percent minus $2,500 of the demonstrated financial need for all aided students who matriculate.

    Here is a more specific example from the financial aid FAQ: "Families with total parent earnings less than $60,000 and assets less than $100,000 are not required to make a contribution toward the cost of education." Wrong. The requirement applies to my family, but, even though all my statements lists my parental contribution officially as 0, the fine print says they must contribute $2,500 a year.

    I am too happy with the money I was given to complain to the office. My family wasn't expecting a parental contribution of 0 and can actually afford the extra $2,500 a year. While we are at the more fortunate end of those with "0 parental contribution", the office's dishonesty could cause trouble for those at the other end.

    So, the Brown financial aid office is lying; I am not affected, but I can imagine families that could be.

    If they aren't lying, and a medical health insurance scholarship is available, I really hope they have made its existence clear to those who need it. I am skeptical because I am officially grouped with those requiring the most financial assistance (with a PC of 0), and I've heard nothing.

    Please point out some obvious fact I've missed.

    Negru: Is there any information about the medical insurance scholarship on the brown website? Yes, without that scholarship, I would have to pay both student employment and insurance after freshman year. And what's this $1000 from tax returns?
  • franglishfranglish Posts: 2,308Registered User Senior Member
    I think saying that the office is lying is a pretty strong indictment. You might be annoyed, understandable, but you might have missed reading something. Below is quoted from the Brown Financial Aid package that is available online (because that's how I got it!), so it is something that is pretty important for everyone to read. If you missed it, it is fine, but it doesn't mean Brown is lying:
    student health insurance
    All students are required to carry health insurance while
    matriculating at Brown. Those students not already covered by
    a comparable health plan will be required to purchase coverage
    through Brown University. The cost for 2008–2009 is $2,512. You
    will receive information from the Office of Insurance and Risk in
    June regarding the specifics of the Health Insurance Plan.

    Your financial aid package does not include the cost of Health
    Insurance.

    Additional aid (in most cases loan) may be available
    to assist with this expense. If you decide to borrow funds to
    cover this cost, please contact our office upon receipt of your
    first billing statement.
  • TheDukeofEarlTheDukeofEarl Posts: 232Registered User Junior Member
    ^ end of thread ^
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