Consultant shares how Trinidad and Tobago students can find financial aid, overseas scholarships

Form six students of St Mary’s College revise for exams. With scholarships reduced to 100, an education consultant advises ways students can find other sources to pursue higher learning. File photo -
Form six students of St Mary’s College revise for exams. With scholarships reduced to 100, an education consultant advises ways students can find other sources to pursue higher learning. File photo -

With the reduction in the number of government scholarships from 400 to 100, parents and students are encouraged to search out other sources of scholarships and financial aid.

According to Sandra Salloum, independent education consultant at Salloum University Advising, funding could come from many sources but a lot of research was necessary to find and access them.

She explained there are two basic types of financial aid – need-based and merit-based.

With need-based aid, the admissions department takes the student’s family’s ability to pay into consideration.

“Of course if you’re really gifted, the school really wants you, and they have the resources to fund your education or part of it, then they will.”

Merit-based aid depends on the student’s academic superiority.

“In the US specifically, if you’re looking for help, look at applying to universities where your profile is above the 50th percentile of applicants.”

At some schools, merit-based aid does not require any additional applications but instead, aid is automatically awarded to academically strong students.

“However, I think it’s very important, when an applicant is applying to a university in the US, read the website very carefully because many schools offer additional scholarships. Even if you have to write an extra essay, apply for the scholarship.”

She added that only five schools in the US were “need-blind” for international students. They are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Amherst College. There, the ability to pay is not factored into the admissions decision.

However, she said they are some of the most competitive schools in the US so of course, students should only apply if they are very high achieving with lots of extra curricular and leadership activities, as well as high standardised test scores.

Although, due to the pandemic, many schools have gone “test optional” on a trial basis so students do not have to submit SAT or ACT scores for August/September 2021 admission and, in some cases, 2022 because there was no access to test centres.

While the UK also offers need-based and merit-based financial aid to international students, different schools offer scholarships of different amounts and they are set on a case-by-case basis.

In Canada, financial aid is not generous and is more difficult to get since the tuition fees and expenses are a lot less than in the US. If a student qualifies, it would most likely be similar to a discount where they would get some money off the tuition.

In addition, the governments of several embassies in TT also offer scholarships to study in their countries. For example, for graduate studies, the US Embassy has Fulbright Scholarships, and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea has the Global Korea Scholarship. Japan has the MEXT scholarship programme for postgraduate and research students, while the High Commission of India has a scholarship programme for diaspora children to study for a bachelor’s degree.

There are also scholarships for athletic and artistic abilities. Again, students have to research financial aid school by school.

For sports, however, she said the first thing students need to do is create an account with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. They need to determine which division matches their skill set and then start researching schools in that division that might be of interest.

She advised that they create a video that shows their skills, preferably during matches or games. They should also create an athletic resume with the student’s statistics, academic transcripts, and standardised test scores before reaching out to college coaches.

Salloum offered several suggestions to increase a student’s competitiveness and ways to look for education financing.

First, she advised students to do their Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination. Not only would good marks make the student more competitive, but the two years of studies would allow the student to develop mentally, academically and otherwise.

In addition, the more competitive universities will want it and most UK universities will not even bother to evaluate a student who did not sit the exam.

One positive thing about the pandemic, she said, is there are several free or low-cost online courses available. She encouraged students to take advantage of them over the August holidays.

Also, develop extra curricular interests. Get involved in any type of community – family, school, church, neighbourhood – and do things for others.

“Initiate or get involved in a project, even if it’s online, because universities look for students who are very involved in a couple activities. Previously, universities paid attention to how many activities you did but these days it’s more about the depth of your involvement rather than the breadth.”

While doing well academically and doing the SAT exam may be an obvious suggestion, ensuring social media accounts have no inappropriate content is important. She said coaches and admission counsellors look at applicants’ social media accounts and take them into consideration.

She also suggested students reach out to local businesses and NGOs to see if they provide scholarships or grants. Although it is unlikely because of the financial strain of the pandemic, she encouraged people to “explore every avenue.”

If a student has a specific school in mind, examine the website or email the school to see if there are any scholarships available. Find out who is the regional counsellor of the school of interest and start developing a relationship with them. She said a student should introduce themselves, let the counsellor know their interests, ask if there is more information or opportunities other than what is on the website, and show interest in the school. It would all help determine if the school is a good academic and financial fit for the student.

Do not apply to only one or two schools. Apply to several schools, apply for financial aid at all, and compare aid packages if multiple officers are received.

At some universities, there are on-campus jobs for which they could apply.

“It’s not going to offset a great deal but it can, at least, bring some money in for small expenses.”

Students can also lower costs by attending a community college up to the associate degree level and then apply to universities for the third and fourth year of their bachelors programme. They could also complete a bachelor's programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and do their master's abroad.

Most importantly, said Salloum, if a student does not immediately get financial aid, or not enough aid, do not give up, try other schools, and apply again next semester.

“The key word here is research. It does take a long time because you may have to have a combination of grants, scholarships and loans to finance the education. You probably won’t be able to finance it fully from just one source.”

Suggested resources:

* Mark Moody’s Quick and Dirty College List Builder – a great resource for students and parents based on standardised tests, academic profiles, and Grade Point Averages.

* The Organization of American States has a Rowe Fund to assist members states with interest-free loans of up to US$15,000 and deferred repayment while in school.

* Students and families can access a Google sheet with financial aid for non-resident alien undergraduates at

* UWI has partnerships with many universities around the world and offers study abroad programmes for their students for one or two semesters.

* UWI also offers scholarships and the information is on UWI's website.




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