Fighting for colleges vs fighting for scholarships

For the purpose of argument, let’s set a threshold of “half the total costs”. That is, we only consider colleges that once you’re admitted, they will give you at least half the costs for free. The same goes for scholarships.

Now, from what I’ve read, it seems that the competition for full-ride (or even full-tuition) scholarships is extreme, with some citing a rate of 1%. Meanwhile, the most competitive colleges or those which provide full-need-meet have way higher acceptance, even for RD. Does that mean, given a person’s time and resources are finite, s/he should focus on getting admitted in (somewhat higher reach) colleges than spending effort in getting into more costly, lower targets and pursuing prestigious scholarships at the same time?

Since various colleges have different tuition (sometimes significantly so), isn’t it better to determine what you can afford and then look to a range of colleges and/or scholarships that will let you meet that goal? That is, maybe you can afford your state flagship with only a 10k scholarship or need-based grant, but at a different college you need 40k to reach the same goal.


Since I’m international, it’s a bit more difficult since my only choice is OOS.

I think what you and I said are not mutual exclusive. In fact, we both emphasize on college picking. Let me phrase the original problem this way: suppose you only have 3 hours left before all the deadlines. Is it better to file for another college, or another scholarship? Given the statistics, we should always add a college.

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Financial aid for international students is difficult to obtain. Schools that meet full need and are need blind for international students are also the most competitive Unless you are one of the top students in your country, the odds are very much against you. Schools with competitive scholarships will be equally as difficult for admission if you are thinking of school like Vanderbilt.

Your best course of action is to have affordable safeties in your home country and then put in a few reach applications in the US.


I agree with momofboiler. Beyond having an affordable safety in your home country, note that a meet full needs school is only affordable if one can afford the family contribution that the school calculates (based on CSS Profile info). There are many families’ whose budget is lower than the expected financial contribution that schools calculate.


This is a parlor game, not a meaningful discussion.

Yes, as an OOS applicant you are not eligible for in-state tuition discounts- but from your other thread you already know that there is a wide range of tuition levels. 50% off a college that is $80K/year is still more than a college that won’t give you any discount but only costs $25K/year

Again, a parlor game. If you are still trying to figure out whether spending the the time to polish college application x is better than spending it to polish scholarship y you haven’t done the necessary background work or prioritizing your applications.

From your other thread you:

  • are an adult somewhere in your 30s,

  • with ~100K in savings to spend on university

  • are focused on a specialized, minority field (linguistics)

  • have a grand vision for a linguistics project that you expect will take many years to execute

  • are looking to go to college in the US partly to get a grounding in linguistics, but mostly to find and build the team of experts and get the funding to execute your project.

Bluntly, based on what you have put out on CC, I don’t see you getting one of the “prestigious” scholarships (eg, Morehead-Cain, Robertson, Johnson, BU Trusteeship, Stamps, etc), because they tend to be oriented towards HS students, and tend to be looking for strong leadership and/or public service.

So, imo you are better off finding a college program that will get you the academic grounding and qualification that you will need to achieve your larger aim, and put you in a position to meet the relevant people. In a specialized field, conventional “prestige” can be quite irrelevant. Finding researchers who are already doing work that relates to what you want to do is more relevant than the name of the university.

ps, spoiler alert: you are likely to need more than an UG degree.


The top schools mainly give need based aid, and only you know if you’ll get 1/2 or full need met because we don’t know what you’ll qualify for. If you’ve run the numbers and you won’t get 50% of your need met even if you get accepted, you are wasting your time applying to those schools. Small chance of getting in, no chance of being able to afford it. Drop it.

If you only have 3 hours left,concentrate on schools that give large merit based on stats, Arizona, ASU, Alabama, Mississippi State.

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That’s what I’ve been doing lately: sending mails to colleges asking specific questions. With the nature of my endeavor, practically all sub-field in linguistics are relevant; the main issue is whether the college is happy or not with a project in this particular direction.

That said, generally a more famous college will have more outstanding people. So in a hypothetical world where research info & policy were undisclosed, aiming for more prestigious colleges makes more sense if money is not a problem.

I totally agree! I might need at least a master’s. That’s when further calculation comes in. I figured that I probably will spend most of my money on UG, so I’ll need to find a fully-aided master’s education. I haven’t looked at this at all, but my guess is that only some top-50 universities provide such aid for MA. So I think my UG school should rank in the top 300 or so, in order for the upstream jump more likely.

You’re absolutely right. My bad: for the purpose of more general discussion, I did skip over this important notion. However, it’s also true that the more expensive the tuition, the better the quality. Customers (parents) are no fools to be tricked, especially when it comes to money. Only BYU is the glaring exception to the trend, and so far I haven’t found similar cases.

That’s my point, too! Look at it more broadly for every student, the situation is like this: every college has a lot of different scholarships (I’ve seen ones with nearly 100!). Combined with the independent fund ones, the total amount of scholarship might be in the range of multiple tens of thousands. Each scholarship, in turn, has a wildly different set of eligibility and evaluation criteria. Therefore, if someone is to delve into the jungle of scholarships, she’s more than likely to be overwhelmed and short-circuited by information. Contrast to the colleges: they almost always have well-defined and more inclusive eligibility for admission, and there are only ~1600 of them in the US (niche). Moreover, once the decision is released, you will know exactly whether you can go or not; meanwhile (I guess) most of the times students will have to stitch small scholarships together, piecemeal.

For those reasons, my course of action has been to ditch the whole notion of scholarships altogether, and focus solely on the groundwork of shortlisting the suitable colleges. Is it the right choice?

If you are looking to attend school starting this fall, you might want to give Truman State University a try. Here is what they say about their linguistics program:

Gain experience conducting research and collaborating on projects with linguistics faculty on topics such as constructed languages, translation, and linguistic criticism. Truman offers various research experiences including TruScholars, a program for summer research that can include stipends.

Here’s the link to their program:

They have rolling admissions and are still accepting applications. By US standards, they are not overly expensive – total cost per year for out-of-state applicants is about $28,000. With your ACT score, you might qualify for some merit scholarships (although if you don’t have a GPA, that might be tricky).

Truman State University may not have the prestige that you are looking for, but it is taking applications now, has what looks like a collaborative linguistics department, is close to what you can afford, and may give you some merit money. I think it’s worth your looking into it!


Note that, with respect to an applicant to be an UG student, it is not about whether they buy into your project or not- they will evaluate you in terms of your ‘fit’ with the program they are offering & the community they are building.

a false equivalency, especially in a niche field. Most regular CC posters could name examples where a leading researcher in a given field is at a university that might otherwise not be considered ‘top tier’

In general the best financial aid comes from the colleges themselves, either through need-based or merit-based ‘scholarships’. It is true that there are a lot of external scholarships, most of which are quite small (relative to the cost of university), with a handful of big, ‘prestigious’ ones.

So now I think that you are just messing with us, this is a hoax post, and I am stopping.


Just a comment that some schools do not allow scholarships to stack.

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Not necessarily.


Yep, I’d taken some looks at Truman. One thing that bothers me is they don’t include ‘miscellaneous’, ‘outside’ costs - stuff like clothes, phone subscription… Do you have an estimate about those costs for a typical student?

Noted. Well, it goes both ways. AO rule out people, and I can strike out names from my list, too. In my (not very humble enough) opinion, a project that facilitates such large-scale collaboration will strengthen any college it happens to land in.

Ah, sorry, I’m no parent and my assumption can sometimes go really wrong…

Thanks, another reason for not going the scholarship route.

Looks like I was dead wrong here. If you guys happen to know about this field, could you name some top linguistics researchers in the US?

I’m confused what route you are now taking. You are making your situation very complicated.

An international student is tied by the student visa to the school that admitted the student, so it isn’t as easy as you think to just transfer to another school. The visa and transportation are going to cost you before you even start a class. The visa may allow you to work a little at the school, but it would be one of the minimum wage jobs you don’t think are worth it. You’ll have to pay for your own clothing and other expenses. I doubt you’ll be living in a dorm, or at least in a freshman dorm, if you are in your 30s.

Have you looked at other countries? My co-worker was a linguistics major in Scotland. His tuition was cheaper because he has dual citizenship with Scotland, but he talks of many international students at the school as it was cheaper for EU citizens.


Those typical costs are probably going to depend on how luxurious a lifestyle you want/plan to have. I would take a look at what other colleges budget for that amount and assume it will be about the ame.

One thing that you will need to account for at any college is health insurance. The colleges require that you either have good health insurance that covers you while you are attending their institution, or they will provide it at a pretty high price. For my sons, one college charged about $2,00 per year for health insurance and the other charged almost $4,000 a year. We had family coverage that allowed us to waive those fees, but you should know that this will probably be a cost at any college you attend. If you have your own health insurance, it is likely to be a lot less expensive, but it needs to cover you at an amount that the college considers reasonable, so I would wait to purchase it until you know where you are going and then you can work with the college to make sure that any health insurance you might purchase for yourself is acceptable to them.


Sorry… The route I’m taking is to aim for colleges that I can pay straight out from my pocket or those full-need-meet. I want to avoid ones that are just out of money reach but are in with scholarships. Because in the latter case, I’ll have to qualify for both admission and scholarship selection, which worsen the chance and double the work.

Holy cow, I didn’t know that, thank you!! More complication to account for. But I assume that once a college accept a transfer student, they will do their best with the visa change?

I’ve never lived in a college dorm, so I can’t say yes or no for sure. But I incline toward there’s no problem. What would be the issues with young people? :slight_smile:

Before this, I’d only taken a cursory glance at EU. It’s like what you said: only cheaper for EU citizens. For foreigners, it’d be UK-price, which in most cases are even higher than US.

I have a FIRE mindset and thus my lifestyle is somewhat simple (not minimal though). From what I saw, typical ‘other costs’ hover around $7500/year, so maybe I’ll settle with 7k.

Wow, another very helpful info, thanks! Is health insurance included in the “mandatory fees” colleges usually display on their sites? And do they accept insurance issued in other countries, or were you suggesting me getting 3rd-party insurance but in the US?

Usually this is a no, but frequently on the page for international admissions/students it will indicate how much their health insurance costs. In your other thread when I offered some college suggestions I included the price with insurance, if the school had listed it on the page where I was looking for costs.

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The cost of attendance usually budgets around $1,500 for personal expenses, so $7,000 is definitely on the high end, but then you are likely to have expenses that a typical 18 year old wouldn’t. I think you can plan for around $2000-$3000 a year maximum for health insurance and hopefully less.

As for living in the dorms, I think it is highly unlikely that a university will allow you to do so, based on your being so much older than the rest of the students. You will likely have to find an apartment near campus. However, if they allocate $6,000 towards dorm expenses in their cost of attendance then they will allocate that same amount to apartment rental, but an apartment may cost more. Of course, you will likely be able to waive any dining hall charges and cook for yourself, which usually saves money.

But…with all this…I really don’t think you are going to find what you are looking for at an undergraduate college in the US. I think you will spend a lot of time, and all of your savings, getting a degree that does not create the contacts and excitement about your project that you are hoping for. I hope I am wrong, and would like to know if other experience posters on this forum share my concern.


Well, yeah. I don’t quite understand the amount of push-back here. Highly-rejective colleges (a phrase coined here on the CC forum) are what they are for a reason. Americans love buying luxury goods at a discount and if I had only three hours to create a college list that would game out to ~$35K a year in out-of-pocket expenses, I’d certainly start with my in-state flagship and then branch out to the 30 or 40 colleges and universities that offer the most generous need-based aid packages in the country:

Consortium on Financing Higher Education (

Unfortunately, none of this would make the same sense for an international student already attending a U.S. college. I haven’t read any of your other threads. I have no idea why you are interested in this subject.


To give credit where credit is due, Akil Bello coined the term ‘highly-rejective’ as pertaining to college admissions.

I have a new favorite college admissions-themed adjective – “highly rejective,” as in “highly rejective colleges.” I was first introduced to the term by friend and “ECA” reader Mike Oligmueller several weeks ago, and it was apparently first coined by Akil Bello on Twitter back on March 12. Last month a post by Jon Boeckenstedt for his excellent Higher Ed Data Stories blog was titled “The Highly Rejective Colleges.”^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author