Need Aware Does Not Mean No Aid

By Ebenezer Mensah ‘23

On 16th February 2019, my English teacher and I huddled up around a computer in my school’s computer laboratory in Kumasi, Ghana around 1 a.m., an hour after Pomona’s admission decisions had been released. The room was dark, and the throbbing of my heart was the only sound that could be heard in the room. The internet was slow, and the portal was taking forever to load. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself by remembering the hard work I had put in preparing my application, but the shriek of laughter from my teacher caused me to open my eyes. She hugged me tightly and said, “You did it.”

After reading and rereading the letter for only God knows how many times, I read my financial aid award letter and was shocked to find out that I was not expected to pay anything towards my college education. I had also received a health insurance grant as part of my award. It was surreal because two months earlier, I had refused to apply to Pomona through the Early Decision I program because I felt I would not receive substantial financial aid even if I was accepted because of Pomona’s need-aware policy for international students. I interpreted “need-aware” as meaning “zero aid,” a subtle way for colleges to tell poor international students like myself that, “you are not welcome here.” It was only at the urging of my English teacher, Faustina, that I decided to apply to Pomona through the Early Decision II program.

In the months that followed, the Financial Aid Office paid for my airfare and other associated costs that came with postponing my flights due to complications with my U.S visa application. On September 27, I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport and was picked up by Carolina, the International Student Advisor. She had been my greatest resource in the grueling visa application process I had encountered. We spoke at length about many things, and she shared with me her own experience when she came to the U.S. as an international student. A week after my arrival, the Financial Aid Office gave me a $500 check as startup money to help with my transition to college. Carolina helped me open a bank account with the money and also took me out on my first shopping in America at Walmart, where I was introduced to America’s consumerism.

The week after that, I had the opportunity of meeting Paola Ruiz-Beas, the Dean of first-year students. She spoke with me about her past visit to my home country, showered me with gifts she bought personally, and, above all, gave me a hug as only a mother would. With her help, I was able to borrow a laptop from the college (yes, that happens here) until I received a grant to purchase one.

As I write this, I know another international student is staring at his computer screen and is doubting whether to apply to Pomona through Early Decision because it is need aware. To that student, I can reassure you that Pomona is generous, and there are people like Paola and Carolina who are willing to help you once you get here.