Op-eds, Opinions

Soria ’19: It’s time for a timeline for international need-blind admission

Op-Ed Contributor
Friday, October 12, 2018

Back in 2013, President Christina Paxson P’19 outlined need-blind admission for all undergraduate students as one of her goals in the University’s strategic plan. Five years have passed since then, and both domestic transfer applicants and international students are still excluded from this promise. As stated by Patrick Wu ’19 in his Oct. 1 Herald op-ed, President Emerita Ruth Simmons referred to the implementation of need-blind financial aid for all students as a moral obligation. Yet the University has so far failed to extend this moral responsibility to international students. As an international student myself and as someone who has advocated on behalf of the international community in my time here, I consider this an issue that is particularly relevant. If the University is serious about its commitment to ensuring need-blind admission for all students, including international students, it is time to release a public timeline for when the international student community can expect to see these reforms.

The University’s mission statement of serving “the world” requires the implementation of need-blind admission policies for international students, that is, those who are not American citizens. Peer schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Amherst College already implement need-blind international admission and commit to meeting 100 percent of every applicant’s demonstrated need. It must be said that Brown does meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for all applicants, which is a commendable step. But current admission practices privilege a small portion of applicants, undermining Brown’s commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion on campus. Since admission is currently need-aware for international students, the policies in place favor the wealthy and discourage middle- and low-income students from seeking University support to fund their education. For the most part, wealthy international students attend international or American private high schools, which — like Brown — can also be prohibitively expensive for middle- and low-income students. This near-homogeneity in schooling and socioeconomic class limits Brown’s ability to deliver on its promise of fostering a truly diverse international student body. If we take a moment to imagine what an international student body admitted through need-blind policies might look like, it becomes clear that there are perspectives that are currently missing on our campus. For instance, need-blind policies might increase the number and diversity of students from underrepresented geographic regions such as Latin America and Africa.

That isn’t to say that Brown is solely populated with wealthy international students — the University has made strides in the expansion of financial aid available to international students in recent years. But admission policy can still adversely affect students’ time at Brown. Admitted international students also have their college experiences jeopardized by Brown’s need-aware policy, as those who did not apply for financial aid originally cannot be granted aid at any other point in their Brown undergraduate education. That leads to significant financial insecurity for those students. Eventual changes in circumstances, such as unexpected unemployment in students’ families or economic crises that impact their home countries, may compromise their ability to afford Brown. At the very least, if need-blind admission for international students is currently a distant dream, the University should work to allow admitted international students to receive financial assistance from the University if needed.     

When Paxson was approved to a second term in 2017, she did not commit to guaranteeing need-blind admission for international students in the following five years, citing financial constraints, The Herald previously reported. Implementing need-blind admission for international students will indeed be a hefty financial task, but in many ways the University is in a good position to act now. Brown is currently in the midst of a historic $3 billion fundraising campaign known as BrownTogether, which surpassed its halfway point last January. Among other initiatives, the campaign fundraises for key Presidential initiatives like the diversity and inclusion action plans and Brown Promise, the University’s commitment to eliminating loans from undergraduate financial aid packages. A public timeline and an awareness campaign on the scale of the aforementioned initiatives that targets international alums keen to give back to their home countries would help drive fundraising efforts for need-blind international admission, which technically also falls under the campaign’s purview. According to the President’s Financial Report for FY17, “$27 million (has been) raised for undergraduate financial aid to meet increased need throughout the student population (and) Brown’s financial aid budget climbed to more than $120 million for the 2016-17 academic year. This amount encompasses aid for approximately 43 percent of undergraduates, including more than 180 international students.” Think of the impact a public and specific commitment from the University could have on these numbers and the futures of incoming international students.

The University has already taken a moral position on this issue. What it needs now is a plan to execute its vision.

José Soria ’19 is on the International Student Advisory Board and can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to

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  1. Sounds laudable and would certainly enhance Brown’s global reputation, however, how practical is this? Only five schools (out of 5300 US colleges) in the entire US do this, all with substantial endowments. Why should Brown, or any other school for that matter, pay for international students to come for free, then go back home? What would Brown get out of spending millions of dollars per year on this? Why not seek an international donor or foundation to sponsor these students.

    • Why?
      A) many of those students don’t go back home
      B) so Brown can be a driving force behind global change and the advancement of humanity
      C) believing that where you are born/how much money your parents have shouldn’t be a major factor in determining what kind of education you can have if you have the intellectual capacity to do better

      That being said, I agree that I don’t think Brown can afford it, especially since our domestic financial aid lags behind the aforementioned 5 schools. Maybe after we can go toe to toe with them over American students with our financial aid can we try to compete for internationals w/ out financial aid.

      • James Lobsenz says:


        I don’t see the math the way you do. Amherst’s endowment is $2.25 billion, spread over 1900 students, or about $1.3 million/student, while Brown’s endowment is $3.8 billion spread over 6600 undergrads (plus almost 2500 grad students) — less than $600,000 per student even if the grad students are ignored. Likewise, Amherst’s total financial aid per student (funded by its huge endowment) dwarfs Brown’s financial aid per student — $28,150 to $20,450. The money would have to come from somewhere, but where?

        • You should probably reply to Jose’s comment instead of mine to make sure he sees it. Thank you for including the data.

        • José Soria says:

          Interesting point @jameslobsenz:disqus and @tobycohenphd:disqus . Sorry, I first missed the comment. I know what you mean, we presented the school administration with an outline that explained the need to get in contact with different scholar organizations that exist in different countries, similarly, we also outlined the need to get in touch with certain international alumni to attract more funding so that we could start getting this initiative in motion. We even proposed to start doing this ourselves. However, as of now we have not been given any data on alumni, we have not been encouraged to continue with the plan we outlined in our last meeting with the school administration. I think that this is all about priorities, the University is willing to make big statements regarding certain policies but their priorities do not align with those of the student population, I feel that our petitions are still being ignored. This is the reason why I wrote this article in the first place.

    • José Soria says:

      Thank you for your comment @disqus_Ynt1Hh2O7j:disqus and thanks for your response @tobycohenphd:disqus.

      I agree with the response written by MudPhud, most of the international students who come to Brown want to stay here in America and contribute to American society. However, I disagree with the last fact stated, Brown University has $135M budgeted for need-based financial aid for the year 2018-2019 (, compared to Amherst’s $53M awarded ( At the same time, Brown has been increasing its budget for financial aid year after year. I believe that the University is capable of affording this. This would not only benefit the school’s reputation, but it would also lower its acceptance rate, making admission more competitive for international students.

      The reason why we have been strongly advocating for this is because even after stating its commitment to “meeting 100% of an undergraduate student’s financial aid eligibility” is because after years of negotiation with the administration we still have not been able to receive a clear answer from the University. Similarly, the school has made no effort to contact international donors or foundations and we are still waiting, we would be willing to help out, if possible, but we need a clear answer.

      • Hey Jose,

        Just in case he doesn’t ever reply it directly to you, check out the reply to me by James Lobsenz. You can’t use raw numbers when comparing institutions, you have to go per student. Amherst’s raw FA dollars are 40% of ours, but their aid/student is 140% of ours.

        We are only 15 years out from going need blind for domestic students.

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