Thursday, January 24, 2013

Financial aid: many game plans

How do SAIS Bologna students pay for their studies?

There are as many answers to that question as there are students. Just as each student is unique, so are their financial strategies.

Still, there is a common thread: Students invariably mix different sources of funds to make ends meet.

That was certainly my case when I attended SAIS. I can hear our readers mutter: "But that was the dinosaur age. When you went to SAIS, it cost a lot less."

True, it did cost less. But taking into account inflation, SAIS was a financial challenge even in my day and age. (As my grandfather used to say, a year at a U.S. university has historically cost about the same as a top-of-the-line automobile. Up to you whether a euro is better spent on your education or on a car.)

I'll risk sounding trite by saying I can't remember exactly how I paid for SAIS. Yes, there was some financial aid -- just enough to take the sting out of tuition. I had worked for 4 years after my undergraduate studies and so had saved a modest amount. I had to borrow a bit. I worked part-time while studying in both Bologna and DC to help make ends meet. And while in Italy I took almost all of my meals at the University of Bologna mensa (cafeteria), paying 450 lire per pasto (about 50 U.S. cents) and never setting foot in a ristorante.

Many SAIS graduates will tell you this: With time, the memories of the financial challenge of SAIS fade into oblivion. That's little solace to a current or prospective student but something to look forward to.

True, many of today's temptations to spend did not exist in the early 1980s. No monthly smart phone bill -- they did not exist. (To call my fiancée in Paris, I had to wait in line at the nationalized phone company for a cabin and then, once my call was finally put through, watch as a spinning counter ticked off the lire I was spending for 2 minutes on the phone.)

What do these ancient realities have to do with today's students? This: there will always be an element of sacrifice in taking a U.S. graduate school degree. The most resourceful students do it with grace.

Those who appreciate the value of the investment and who start thinking early on about ways to make ends meet tend to find a way to their objective.

Many of our students receive financial aid from SAIS. Many tap other sources of grants for aid. (Here is a partial list.) An increasing number take out loans. Savings and part-time jobs help. And of course it's worth looking for a rich uncle.

There is no one game plan. But hundreds of SAIS students do it each year and then catapult themselves into  rewarding careers. It can be done.

Nelson Graves

For more posts on financing your investment in a graduate education:
Financial Aid: The Student Mosaic
- The cost of graduate school: Investing in your future
- Spending wisely
- Financial aid

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