Illustration by Alya Al Zaabi

“I would like to not get by just barely” — partial aid students at NYUAD

The lack of a clear process to appeal one’s financial aid offer as well as general sentiments on campus that almost all students are on full-aid has led to difficult, uncomfortable, and frustrating moments for students on partial aid.

Mar 15, 2023

“Everything you see about NYUAD, and just maybe up until recently is, ‘oh, I got the 120 percent scholarship.’ Or this is what everyone gets when going to NYUAD, and I think it's also misleading, because on the student panels and during Marhaba, they speak about students on full aid. I think what I got was what I was kind of expecting… But I was hoping for the full, and also expecting that the experience was going to be the same,” shared Addie Mae Villas, Class of 2024.
Villas, given her experience growing up in the US and the relatively little financial aid offered to undergraduates there, did not expect to receive a full scholarship. However, she did expect that her financial aid package would not affect the level of care and support extended to her during her time at NYU Abu Dhabi.
With partial aid becoming more and more of a conversation on our campus, The Gazelle reached out to NYUAD students on partial aid to highlight their experiences as well as their efforts, mostly unsuccessful, in appealing their financial aid decision.
Sam Reed*, Class of 2025, shared that among the many attractive aspects of NYUAD — from its diverse student body to its rigorous academic program — the need-based financial aid package was the primary factor which motivated him to apply to the institution. Reed is from Sri Lanka and many Sri Lankan alumni had shared that they received full aid and thus, were able to fully avail all the opportunities at NYUAD. Reed applied, and received an acceptance letter and partial aid offer. Reed shared that his family members were conflicted about his attending NYUAD simply because the financial burden would be too great to bear.
The seeming indifference toward students on partial aid was also visible during the remote-plus era of NYUAD. Villas shared that with three siblings living at home in Texas, her family had to expand their Wi-Fi package and buy new technology such as web cameras to ensure that all four of them could continue their education. However, when Villas reached out to NYUAD for extra assistance during this time, the only reply she received was to use the stipend — which she was not eligible for.
As the inaugural chair of the Finance Committee, a subcommittee of Student Government which began as a Financial Task Force in 2020, Villas shared that she knew there were constraints placed on the offices of Student Finance and Financial Support:
“I will say some of the people who work in finance, they are very nice people, and they definitely want to help students. And working with admin and student finance, it was generally a very good experience, and I'm on good terms with all of them… But I mean they are generally more responsive to StuGov than individual students.”
When Reed spoke about the process he underwent when appealing his financial aid package, given a significant change in his financial circumstances. Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of an economic crisis that has led to substantial increases in inflation. In fact, before the beginning of his sophomore year, the combined total income of his family was less than the amount he was expected to pay for his undergraduate education. He appealed and kept emailing the relevant offices, providing detailed descriptions and evidence of the change in his financial situation. He was finally told that inflation is not a factor when considering financial aid appeals.
“The people in charge of this particular aspect of college, is again, very existential to college life, which is your ability to attend. They have been unresponsive, maybe they have constraints. I don't know what goes on behind the scenes. So you know, I don't feel any bitterness, it is what it is. I would like [my aid] to be increased because I think it deserves to be increased. If that's not going to happen, I can get by just barely. But I would like to not get by just barely. I would like to have the same status as most other students,” added Reed.
Reed is currently self-financing his way through NYUAD.
Maryam*, Class of 2026, is doing the same. Similar to Reed, she too had been under the impression that most students who need financial aid to attend NYUAD are offered the requisite aid package.
“I was worried about not being able to afford it… [and] I felt very betrayed. First of all, I knew I could apply to other universities where I would also be more eligible for some side scholarships but also for the information session for my country, my zone, NYUAD representatives said that they will get full ride or something like that. There was a promise of [a] full scholarship.”
The aid offer she received came as a shock to her, since she had promised her parents that her college education would not be a burden to them. When she received her acceptance letter and scholarship offer, Maryam shared that she spent the whole night crying. She wrote an email to the Office of Student Finance, outlining aspects of her financial situation she didn’t believe they had accounted for and went to great lengths to provide the requested documents, which had to be translated and paid for within a week. She shared that her family underwent a lot of distress during this time, and ultimately, her appeal was unsuccessful. Currently, she is working on campus and also has a paid internship off campus to help pay for her undergraduate degree.
While her financial commitment has remained the same since first enrolling at NYUAD, Maryam elaborated that her concern now is less about the aid she received and more about how she was treated during the appeal process.
“It is like basically the same financial commitment that I would make if I chose to study at any other American or western university but I felt bad emotionally, at the whole situation and the way they were treating us. As if they were indifferent to the whole situation, to our presence in this university. And that didn’t feel good.”
The lack of a clear process to appeal one’s financial aid offer as well as general sentiments on campus that almost all students are on full-aid has led to difficult, uncomfortable, and frustrating moments for students on partial aid.
“I filled out the form and heard crickets for the appeal process, when I reached out to student finance via service link my ticket was closed multiple times without response until I called the NYU NY office or Abu Dhabi Student Finance, and should in short be grateful that I received 75 percent... I was so frustrated and stressed that I felt locked in to go to a school that hadn’t really made the process transparent at all,” shared James, an Early Decision I applicant.
Wajd Ashira, Class of 2026, shared that when he received his aid offer, which was significantly lower than expected, he called the relevant office and only received surface-level answers.
“I literally got an email that was automated and that I think every single person that appealed for aid got it. It was like an automated response. But then I applied again, now for the spring appeal. But I got rejected. So I would say it was very vague. There wasn't any guidance for the appeal for when you first get… but now there is a form you can [appeal].”
As a result of this opaque decision-making process, students are sometimes placed into situations of uncertainty regarding how much they have to pay and when.
“It's nearly impossible to plan financially for me and my family at this university. Luckily, things are a little bit more normal now, but it's always an uphill battle with finance in terms of trying to get information from them. Or if there are problems with your scholarship amount that you're getting,” added Villas.
Many times, this lack of transparency has led to students considering transferring. Villas shared that after her first semester at NYUAD, when she was based in the US, her family seriously considered a transfer because they felt that there weren’t enough mechanisms, support and sometimes, even acknowledgement, extended towards students on partial aid. Villas did not transfer and is happy with her NYUAD experience, yet wishes that more people spoke about this.
Reed too is currently considering a transfer.
“The entire point of needless financial aid is to allow students who otherwise will not be able to attend college to attend college… If the claim is that this covers what you need, then you have to account for inflation because that is fairly existential threat for most families’ income,” added Reed, regarding his last attempt to repeal his aid package. “It's not just currency inflation… There's food inflation that doubles your cost of living, which they clearly care about already. The CSS Profile already kind of accounts for these things, right. So they ask you to put your expenditure, they ask you, do you have siblings so that they can account for the fact that your family has to spend on but then if they don't consider all that what is the point?”
Students on partial aid also shared that it is at times frustrating that the concerns of partial aid students are marginalized in campus discourse and how it impacts their NYUAD experience is not understood by the larger student body. Maryam wishes students understood what it meant to be on partial aid, because her need to work multiple jobs to finance her education has led to uncomfortable moments where students assume that she is able to travel frequently or can easily purchase items from the bookstore.
“Because I’m working to pay for my education now and also for later when I graduate, I have less time actually [spent] receiving the education. So full-ride [students] can actually afford to study, to participate in SIGs and stuff. For me, all the time I have beyond studying to get normal grades, I don’t even care about getting an A now… every time beyond that basically goes to work. Which I feel is leading to burnout.”
The Gazelle reached out to the Office of Financial Support for comments. We are still awaiting a response.
*Some names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of students.
Githmi Rabel is Editor-in-Chief. Email her at
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