In some recent interviews, admissions officers from U.S. colleges have been explaining how schools provide financial aid to international students. Their biggest message? It varies. A lot.

Here's one approach, explained by a representative from Mount Holyoke College:

Eric Furda, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, told U.S. News and World Report that international students applying for financial aid need to consider a few questions as they research universities.

First, he said, students should ask:
Will applying for aid as a non-U.S. citizen or permanent resident impact my admissions decision?

A few schools are need-blind, which means they don?t factor financial aid needs into their admissions decisions, but most are ?need-sensitive.?

Katryna A. Swartwout Ryan, associate dean of admissions at Colgate University, explained to the New York Times how financial aid gets factored into admissions decisions at a need-sensitive school:
We use the financial aid resources we have to admit and aid the strongest students from around the world, but since there is not an infinite amount of aid available we reach a point in the admission process where we are unable to admit any more students who require financial aid. Students who don?t require aid are not vying for the same limited resources.

The second question international students need to ask themselves, according to Eric Furda, is:
If admitted, what will my financial aid package look like from the perspective of grants, loans, and any potential gap to meet the full cost of attending the school?

As we?ve pointed out many times, the amount of financial aid available to international students varies widely from school to school.

[Check out some resources for finding out how much aid may be available at a school]

But what can also vary is how this aid is offered. Katrina A. Swartwout Ryan pointed out a number of elements to be aware of, including:

1. Whether the school offers merit-based aid, need-based aid, or both
2. How much of your demonstrated need they will meet
3. Whether you reapply for aid each year or keep your initial aid package

She also explained how her own university approaches each of the questions. Take a look at her full interview and compare Colgate's approach to that of Mount Holyoke to see some of the ways these differences can play out.

» For more useful tips, see our previous article: Visa Tips From Visa Officers.