Student Computer Initiative and Financial Aid

While the computer requirement for new VCU freshmen and transfer students imposes an additional one-time financial obligation, there are several solutions and means to make it affordable and practical.

Undergraduates

For all new freshmen and new transfer students who come to VCU at the freshman class level after July 2001, a one-time computer purchase allowance is built into the Cost of Education which will increase eligibility for financial aid. The allowance covers the minimum VCU computer specifications and is adjusted annually (it generally falls between $800 and $950). While the allowance increases eligibility for funds, there is no guarantee that there will be increased financial aid funds to cover the increased eligibility.

For parents of dependent students, the Federal Direct PLUS Loan is the most common type of financial aid used to meet this increased eligibility.

Adding an allowance to the student’s Cost of Education for a computer purchase does not necessarily mean that financial aid funds will be increased to cover the computer expense. Generally, financial aid is available for most students, but eligibility and the amount of financial aid offered are based on several factors. Some students may have already borrowed the maximum federal student loans available for their grade level, so they may not have any remaining loan eligibility left over to cover a computer purchase. If a student has already borrowed the maximum amount allowed by federal regulation, is not interested or eligible to borrow funds from a supplemental loan (such as the Federal Direct PLUS Loan, Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, or private loans), or does not have any remaining funding sources, there may be no financial aid source to assist with the purchase of a computer.

To determine if there are any sources of financial aid available, students should speak with a financial aid counselor at the VCU Office of Financial Aid before making computer purchase commitments. The VCU Office of Financial Aid can be contacted by telephone at (804) 828-6669 or by email (see our Contact us page for details.)

Master’s and Ph.D. Students

For master’s and Ph.D. students, the purchase of a personal computer is not necessarily required. However, depending on the student’s major, field of study, research, and other factors, some students may find that a computer purchase is required for successful completion of their program.

In today’s electronic communications age where most professors are advising students to use Web tools and the Internet in the learning/research process, the purchase of a personal computer may be required by student’s advisor, department chair, dean, or course professor.

Therefore, all Master’s and Ph.D. candidates may wish to explore options for increasing financial aid funds to allow for the purchase of a computer. Those students should go through the Professional Judgment Appeal Process detailed below.

Professional Judgment Appeal Process: Federal financial aid regulations allow only those items necessary (required) for a student’s education to be included in the Cost of Education. Therefore, all Master’s and Ph.D. students who need to purchase a computer for their program of study must provide the following documentation items to the VCU Office of Financial Aid before the costs of the computer can be included in the student’s Cost of Education.

  1. A letter from the student detailing the necessity of the computer purchase and requesting that the costs of the computer be added to their Cost of Education. The letter should include the total cost of the computer and software less any manufacturer rebate. The signed and dated letter from the student must include the student’s name, address, telephone number, and Social Security number.
  2. A photocopy of the receipt for the purchase of the computer and any required software. The purchase or lease of a required computer may be made anytime during the timeframe beginning at six months prior to enrollment at VCU and ending on the last day to add/drop courses during the student’s final semester at VCU. The purchase/lease receipt must show the student’s name, date of purchase, purchase price, name/address/phone number of the store/vendor where purchased, and a full description of the computer/software purchased. Generally, only costs for the VCU minimum required computer specifications can be considered; however, if more robust computing specifications are required by the student’s academic program, it is the responsibility of the student to produce documentation from their department of the additional computer specifications required.
  3. A memo from the student’s VCU Dean, department chair, or academic adviser indicating that the purchase of the computer is necessary (required) for the student’s educational program of study. If more robust computer specifications than the standard VCU minimum requirements are required, this should also be noted in the memorandum. The memorandum must be on university letterhead, signed and dated by a VCU official, and must include the VCU official’s title, the student’s name, Social Security number, current program of study, and estimated completion date.

Adding an allowance to the student’s Cost of Education for a computer purchase does not necessarily mean that financial aid funds will be increased to cover the computer expense. Generally, financial aid is available for most students, but eligibility and the amount of financial aid offered are based on several factors. Some students may have already borrowed the maximum federal student loans available for their grade level, so they may not have any remaining loan eligibility left over to cover a computer purchase. If a student has already borrowed the maximum amount allowed by federal regulation, is not interested or eligible to borrow funds from a supplemental loan (such as the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan or private loans), or does not have any remaining funding sources, there may be no financial aid source to assist with the purchase of a computer.

If you have any questions or would like to find our if there are any sources of financial aid available for a computer purchase, contact the VCU Office of Financial Aid by telephone at (804) 828-6669 or by email (see our Contact us page for details.)

Frequently Asked Questions

When will financial aid funds be disbursed to me so that I can purchase my computer?

Financial aid cannot be disbursed until the beginning of the semester. All federal loans are paid in two equal installments (one for each semester) and are paid to the student’s university bill. If the university bill is paid in full, a refund check or direct deposit is generated as a result of any resulting credit balance.

We suggest that if students need access to a computer before classes begin or during the first week of the semester before their computer has arrived, students may want to use the computers available in the VCU computer labs, or make alternate payment arrangements with their computer store/vendor. Check with the vendor that you are planning to purchase your computer from to see what financing options they may have available. Depending upon the computer vendor, alternative financing arrangements may include installment payment plans, low interest loans, deferred payment plans, or monthly lease to purchase options.

Some families also choose to borrow funds via a home equity loan that could be used to defray the cost of the computer and/or pay for other educational expenses. Families also may want to talk with various banks and lending institutions to discuss computer loans or personal loans.


What are some options for financing the cost of the computer through financial aid?

We recommend that all students file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal and state financial aid. This is the first step in the application process.

After completing the FAFSA, many parents of dependent students choose to borrow funds for a computer through the Federal Direct PLUS Loan Program, which is a low interest rate federal loan borrowed by one of the student’s parents. By filing the FAFSA, students and parents can be considered for a variety of aid programs that may help pay for a computer purchase.

Since Fall 2001, all new freshmen that apply for financial aid have a computer purchase allowance (estimated at $800-$950) built into their financial aid Cost of Education. This is done specifically because the purchase of a computer is required for all new VCU freshmen and transfer students and to increase a family’s eligibility for financial aid. While this allowance increases eligibility, there is no guarantee there will be increased financial aid funds to respond to that eligibility. The PLUS loan is the most common type of financial aid used to meet this increased eligibility.

Other financing options include:

  • Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Alternative loans
  • Employment allows a student to earn a regular income while attending college. Students who plan to use work funds to pay for their computer purchase must arrange monthly payments with the vendor or financing company.
  • VEST (Virginia Educational Savings Trust): Students or their parents who have set aside funds prior to college enrollment in the VEST or other similar 529 college savings plan may wish to contact their fund manager to determine when and how to withdraw these funds for a student computer purchase.
  • Home equity loans: This option is available to a limited number of student or parent homeowners who have a good credit history and available equity in their homes. In many cases, home equity loans offer tax advantages and low interest rates that may be as competitive as the federal educational loan programs (above). Please check with a home equity mortgage lender or tax advisor for details.
  • Computer vendor: In some cases, the vendor offering to sell you a computer is also willing to finance the purchase of the computer via monthly payments.

What if I cannot afford a computer?

No student will be denied admission to Virginia Commonwealth University based on an inability to afford a computer. The computer requirement for all new students began in Fall 2001; for students applying for financial aid, a computer allowance is automatically included in their Cost of Education. Most students will find that they can purchase a computer that meets the VCU computer specifications for $800 to $950 (special allowances have been made for sophomore students who have special computing requirements in the School of the Arts: Interior Design).

The university has identified three manufacturers (Apple, Dell and IBM) that meet the required specifications and that are available for purchase through the University’s SCI Web site as well as through commercial vendors in the community and elsewhere. The university has had good operational experience with the identified manufacturers in the past. Technical support is assured with respect to these three manufacturers that have been identified as conforming to the required specifications. Because of resource limitations, the same levels of technical support will not be readily available for computers from other manufacturers.

The decision to select three vendors is based on VCU’s ability to provide technical support to students. Current staffing and resources force us to limit the wide variety of computer hardware and software vendors and call for more rather than less standardization.


Are funds available to Scholarship Athletes?

In addition to normal financial aid options, Pell eligible student athletes receiving a full or partial scholarship may qualify to obtain a computer through the NCAA Special Assistance Fund.

The NCAA Special Assistance Fund has been established by the NCAA to assist student-athletes with special financial needs. Those eligible include:

Pell-eligible student-athletes (except nonqualifiers in their initial year of residence), including student-athletes who have exhausted their athletics eligibility or are no longer able to participate because of medical reasons.
Student-athletes who are receiving countable, athletically related financial aid, and who have demonstrated financial need as determined by an analysis conducted consistent with federal methodology or the methodology used for all students of the institution.
For a foreign student-athlete, an official foreign student-athlete advisory entity of the institution outside the athletics department must certify in writing that the student-athlete has financial need.
You may use money from the NCAA Special Assistance Fund for:

Cost of clothing and other essential expenses (not entertainment) up to $500 for Pell-eligible student-athletes and full grant-in-aid student-athletes who demonstrate financial need.
Cost of expendable academic course supplies (e.g., notebooks and pens) and rental of nonexpendable supplies (e.g. computer equipment and cameras) that are required for all students enrolled in the course.
Medical and dental costs not covered by another insurance program (e.g., premiums for optional medical insurance, hearing aids, vision therapy and off-campus psychological counseling).
Costs associated with student-athlete or family emergencies.
The funds are available for your use if you meet the qualifications; so if you think you are eligible, please speak with your athletic adviser.


What financial aid is available to international students for purchasing a computer?

It depends. If a student is a permanent resident alien, with a valid green card, the student may be able to apply for federal and state financial aid via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

If a student is in the U.S. on a student visa, F or J series, federal and state financial aid cannot be processed because Title IV financial aid regulations require a student be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien. In some cases, international students who have a credit worthy cosigner who is a US citizen or permanent resident may qualify to apply for a private alternative loan.

Some banks offer alternative loans to international students, but the international student must apply for the loan using a credit worthy cosigner who is a U.S. resident.

For more information about financial aid options for international students, please contact the VCU Office of Financial Aid by telephone at (804) 828-6669 or email.


Do I need to purchase Computer Insurance?

Students and their parents may wish to consider insurance coverage for the student’s computer. VCU recommends that students take normal safety precautions with their computers including the use of a computer lock and the use of insurance. Computer insurance can normally be incorporated as a rider on homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.