Students Express Mixed Feelings on OCS Funding Lottery

With the increasing popularity of Harvard summer study abroad programs, some students have expressed concerns regarding the process by which financial aid funds are awarded, arguing that funding may not go to students who most need it.

The most prevalent form of summer funding is provided by the Office of Career Services—which uses a lottery-based process with a preference towards juniors who have not received prior funding—to select gift recipients for Harvard-sponsored study abroad programs.

OCS does not consider a student’s degree of financial need when awarding such gifts, according to OCS director Robin Mount. Students who are not on financial aid can receive $1,500 awards, while OCS awards for students on financial aid can cover the program’s cost and airfare, according to the OCS’ website.

Mount said the office uses a lottery process for several reasons. OCS does not have sufficient funds to offer financial aid to all study abroad applicants and all OCS funds are sourced from donors, some of whom have specific academic concentration or residential house constraints, she said.

Additionally, awarding study abroad gifts based on need could automatically label recipients as financial aid students, Mount said. “Not everybody wants others to know that they are on financial aid,” she said.

For some students who apply to secure funding, the results of the lottery can serve as an influential factor in the decision over whether to participate in certain programs.

“I definitely won’t go if I don’t get funding,” said Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19, who is still awaiting notification of her funding award. Madhavi L. Narayanan ’17, who has studied abroad in the past said she would not have traveled abroad if she had not received funding.

OCS plans to release all funding awards by March, according to the office’s website.

According to Itzel L. Vasquez-Rodriguez ’17, waiting for the March funding decision can be stressful for some students who rely on financial aid. Some apply for several other programs as backup plans in case they do not receive funding.

“It’s frustrating not to have control,” Goldberg said.

Some students argued that the OCS funding award process should consider financial need. Narayanan stressed the importance of striking a balance between need and student desire.

“I think both the need and the desire [to travel] are important,” Narayanan said.

Other students said they were not disheartened by the process. Award preference is given to college juniors, meaning that underclassman have a greater chance at receiving funding in the future, Mount said.

“There is a 50 percent chance of receiving funding. It’s not that bad,” Goldberg said. “It’s difficult to have criteria for what makes a person most qualified for funding.”

Other undergraduates praised the OCS funding program, which could potentially cover both tuition and airfare.

Vasquez-Rodriguez said the OCS funding she received was extremely generous.

“When we know that the school has so much money, it’s easy to be like ‘Why can’t they spare a few extra thousand dollars for me?’ But I think it’s important to realize that this is somebody else’s money,” Narayanan said.

—Staff writer Jiwon Joung can be reached at joung@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @YunaJoung.

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