Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Demystifying Financial Aid for International Students

So, you are considering coming to the GSB for your MBA. Maybe you have already been admitted. And suddenly you realize that it will cost you a lot of money, and you worry worry worry. Money, Visa, moving, …

Keep cool, this is totally doable, and we all overcame it so why can’t you? Here's a bit of advice and a few ideas.

First things first: MONEY.

For international students, it is indeed the primary concern. The reason is that in order to get a visa, you have to bring proof of sufficient funding to your local US Embassy or consulate. That means securing some money up front, or having the awkward discussion: “Dad, could you write a letter stating that you will give me $100,000 if the bank does not fund me?” Yikes! Well my dear friends, the GSB is always willing to help you and make your experience more enjoyable. If you are admitted, you will receive a loan guarantee from our financial services office. That’s right, you get a paper saying that the school will lend you the money without cosigner should you come to us. This is not free money, God forbid! It is just a guarantee that someone will lend you some money to pursue your MBA. What does that mean for the immediate future? You can breathe easy and actually carry forward your research for financing AND your Visa in parallel. The Chicago GSB does its best to make sure this is a hassle-free experience for you.

So back to the money part. You are sure to get a loan, but you still need to plan ahead. This means developing a budget. You can go to our webpage to see a typical budget of a student at Chicago GSB, and make your own based on this data. Careful, these are costs for one school year (Sept-June), and you have to plan for two! Then, conduct a market survey. Go and visit a few banks, and ask them the following question: "Ahem (clearing throat)… I’ve just been admitted to a top business school in the US that might guarantee me a comfortable income in the future. Would you be willing to lend me (insert your budget figure here)? If so, at what terms and conditions?" You might be incredibly surprised at how banks are receptive to this idea. They know what an MBA is, and the prospect of future regular cash flows is good for them. Next, compare the terms they offer with what the Chicago GSB can offer.

Let me state it loud and clear: the GSB does an awesome job at finding good terms for its students. However, some local specifics in your country might make it better to borrow there. For example, I borrowed in Euros at 4.5% fixed rate. It is tax free because of a French law. Finally, it was in Euros at a time where 1 Euro was 1.15 USD. Now it is about 1.3 USD, so actually the MBA will cost me less than planned, especially due to the fact that I am going back to Europe after I graduate. Get it? Think about looking close to you. The terms may be better or worse, and it's up to you to choose the best option for you.

Second obstacle: VISA.

There’s no way to escape it: if you are a foreigner, you’ve gotta get one!

For your visa application, accurately follow the GSB’s instructions. They are real pros. Follow the links they provide in your admission letter, fill in the information they need for your papers accurately and completely. Be sure to read the page they give on the difference between F-1, J-1, etc. And if you have ANY doubt, CALL THEM. They will answer your questions and help you with a diligence you have rarely seen anywhere else.

Take a diligent look at all the documents for the consulate. For that, follow the instructions on the website of your local consulate or embassy. It is long and boring, but it is necessary. Be sure to go to the embassy with ALL of your papers, having done all of the necessary online payments, with the vouchers for all of these payments. You will be fine, MBA students always are. Nobody has ever been stranded, and the Chicago GSB certainly will not allow anyone to be stranded.

Finally: CELEBRATE!!!

That’s right! For crying out loud, you made it! So go downtown and indulge yourself somewhere, you deserve it.

Want to discuss this topic some more? Head on over to the Chicago GSB Discussion Forums