Finding a way out of a tangled web of financial aid
June 5, 2007 10:05 AM   Subscribe

I've reached the end of the road for graduate school loans.

Well, I was finally accepted to a master's program at my first choice school: Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Little did I know that funding my adventure in higher education would prove so ridiculously troublesome and depressing.

My situation is easily summed up as follows: no one wants to give me a loan.

In detail, it goes something like this: I cannot receive any kind of federal loan for graduate school, as my university doesn't admit many American students and as such has no relationship with the Department of Education here in the states--this means that Stafford loans are out of the question. Also, it is an impossibility for the university to get a FAFSA number through the DOE (thus allowing for federal funds) due to the length and intensity of the process and the relatively few American students at the school. I've talked with both the university, and the DOE on that one.

I also seem to have hit a roadblock with private loans. I have found many loans that allow deferred payment and disbursement of funds directly to me, yet during the application process I always encounter the mysterious "eligibility list" of universities they approve or do not approve of--which of course Waseda is not on, excluding me from the loan. After speaking with a few financial aid officers, I realized that these lists are of universities that banks have relationships with so they can determine if the student is still enrolled at full-time (and thus still eligible for the loan). So it looks like private loans are out, too. I've checked hundreds of them, with no luck.

The university itself offers no loans to foreign students, and has no relationships with any US financial institutions.

As for scholarships, I will undoubtedly get them--and have been told as much--however they are not awarded until after matriculation and the initial tuition payments, which I would need a loan to make. I also have no way of knowing how much I'm getting yet.

So what is a foreign-enrolled US citizen to do, with no one to loan him a dollar and his dream school slipping away? That's what I'm asking you.

This has been one of the most disheartening experiences of my life: a long, detailed admissions process fraught with doubt that eventually resulted in the wonderful news of admission to my dream school, and yet now I have no way to finance it--even with the almost certain possibility of scholarship.

Are there any options I haven't tried, or haven't thought of here? Is there anything I can do?
posted by dead_ to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Defer your admission for a semester or a year and work to save up money? Not the option you are looking for, certainly, but an option nonetheless. If you don't have money for school, how are you going to afford to live in Tokyo?

Do you have another dream school? Many people who attend their second, third, or fourth choice end up doing very well. Why do you have to go to this particular university? Is there not a similar opportunity for study in the U.S.? If there is a program in the U.S. you could stand, you could enroll there, study up, make connections with the uni in Japan and apply for a Fulbright next year, which would fund your visit.

A very wise professor once told me that if you are paying for your own grad school out of pocket, you really shouldn't be in grad school at all. I'm not sure how grad school in Japan works, so this advice might not apply. Good luck!
posted by jtfowl0 at 10:14 AM on June 5, 2007

What about taking out some sort of other loan? It wouldn't be nearly as nice to pay back as an educational loan, but what about getting some business loan, on the assumption that this will help you move into your desired field?

I have no idea whether that will work, btw, but it's the first thing that came to mind. Best of luck, dude.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 10:18 AM on June 5, 2007

I think you've just been saved from yourself.

If you want to do IR*, apply to excellent US programs. There are plenty of them, and some of them have very good people who focus on Japan or Asia/Pacific. If you want, think about what attracted you to Waseda and look for places with similar things, or people trained by the same mentors, etc. Then do fieldwork in Japan or SE Asia if that's your thing, or approach people at Waseda about coauthoring articles or ask them to serve on your committee or whatnot.

Unless you have it in writing that going for an MA in IR means that you can come back with a promotion from your current employer, or you intend to springboard from a terminal MA to a top-tier PhD program that you wouldn't have been accepted by beforehand, paying money for an MA in IR is foolish. Taking out loans for an MA in IR is double secret foolish.

*From what you've written before, you don't sound like you really want to do IR. You sound like you actually want to do comparative government.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on June 5, 2007

Do you have some sort of representative or counselor you've been working with at Waseda? Unfortunately, I know that in my school's case (we're US-based), very few international students qualify for aid from either country--though we are able to award them academic scholarships. But your counselor or rep may know about options, especially for loans. They should be invested in getting you there--you are, after all, a source of revenue, so I'd lean heavily on their support and advice.
posted by hamster at 11:03 AM on June 5, 2007

Could you defer your entrance and in the meantime get a job teaching English? That way you can save enough to cover the initial fees, and then once school starts you can self-finance through part-time teaching.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:34 AM on June 5, 2007

What about a loan through Prosper?

It seems like it is designed for situations like yours. From the website: "People who need money request it, and other people bid for the privilege of lending it to them. Prosper makes sure everything is safe, fair and easy."

You'll pay higher interest than you would for gov't student loans (based on the risk to the lender), and strangers with money to invest bid on taking on the burden of a small part of your loan. It's an investment opportunity for the lenders and a great way to raise funds for folks who can't get loans through traditional routes. It seems like a good idea, especially if you are sure the scholarships will come through.
posted by paddingtonb at 1:08 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

What about getting friends/family to pledge/donate, like a walk-a-thon? Maybe that's radical, and people will shy away from paying for something that society says you should have in order, but if I was related to you and knew the insanity of the story, I'd absolutely chip into a fund (savings account?) set up at a bank, even without the promise of ever seeing my pledge money again, because I'd want you to succeed in such a unique place.

Also - how much are your initial costs? $5,000? $50,000? The size of the amount might help us give you suggestions.
posted by mdonley at 4:21 PM on June 5, 2007

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