Financial Aid

Hey! This information is super important. Please Read It Carefully!

Families seeking financial assistance must submit two separate applications — a student application and a parent Statement of Financial Circumstances. We ask that you please review this page before beginning an application. This will ensure that you don’t waste unnecessary time applying for aid.

Tiered Tuition

Just in case you missed it, Sustainable Summer operates on a tiered tuition model. If your family simply needs a little bit of extra help, our tuition assistance option (20% discounted tuition) is available to all families – no questions asked and “need-blind.” You don’t need to complete any additional scholarship application forms, provide tax returns, or do anything outside of our normal application process. To take advantage of this option, students should submit a completed application for admissions and then, if accepted, parents indicate the tuition assistance tier at enrollment.

That’s it.

Well, not quite. Since your family has already entered the scholarship “track” we’ll need to get you back on the regular track. Please contact us at 646-504-5046 to discuss the best option for getting you back on our regular admission track, which is a little bit different depending on your program of interest, time of year, and other factors.

Financial Assistance Application Components

If your family requires additional support to participate in a program, please review the information below that outlines the scholarship application process.

How? To apply for scholarship funding, you and a parent will need to each complete our online financial aid application. You should prepare a “extracurricular resume” and personal statement, request a school transcript, and identify two references to write a letter of recommendation, as outlined below. A parent will need to complete a detailed statement of financial status and provide documentation including tax returns. We have already sent them this information, but if necessary you can direct them here.

When? We have different scholarship application rounds. Deadlines for each round are specified here.

A complete application for financial assistance will include all of the following:

1. Submitted Sustainable Summer Preliminary Application (you’ve already done this)

2. Extracurricular Resume (submitted online here)

Please include extracurricular activities, volunteer involvements, work experience, leadership experience, etc. 3. Two Letters of Recommendation (most applicants provide one “Academic” and one “Personal” reference)

  • Academic: for example, a teacher or instructor.
  • Personal: someone who can attest to your character outside of an academic context.
  • In general, we would like to see letters of recommendation that can speak to your environmental leadership potential.
  • LORs are requested by the applicant through our online application and references submit the LOR to us directly
  • If your program of interest has a LOR requirement for general admission (for example, one of our Academies) you only need to provide one extra LOR as part of your Scholarship Application.

5. Personal statements (500 words – submitted online here) Please describe your interest in sustainability, and your involvement in environmental issues to date 6. Statement of Financial Circumstances

  • Submitted through the Parent Application here, a parent/guardian will provide a recent tax return, asset and household expense information, special financial circumstances, etc.
  • Note To Parents: In general, we require a tax return from the previous or current tax year. For example, if you are completing this application in January, you probably have not yet completed your return for the year that ended in December. So provide a tax return from the previous year, which you should have completed. We understand that every household’s financial circumstances are unique, but our committee is going to be very skeptical of an application that does not include a recent tax return. For 99.9% of heads of household, you are either legally required to file a tax return with the IRS or would miss out on a tax refund by not filing. So, if you can’t provide recent tax information to help us verify income and establish an appropriate award amount, you will need to provide a thorough explanation why this information is absent or we will be unable to evaluate your family’s application. If your financial circumstances have changed significantly since your most recent return, please clarify any changes in income or assets.
  • We only require the “first page” of your return, which includes the Adjusted Gross Income line. Please block out social security numbers before uploading your return.
  • We are sometimes willing to consider a FAFSA or financial aid determination letter from an independent school in lieu of a tax return. Please email to request an exception. This does not guarantee that we will accept such a document in lieu of a return or that we will match the amount or percentage of an award from another institution, however we will consider your request to do so.

Financial assistance is available to the public-at-large provided applicants are 15 – 18 and in high school at the time of participation (note: graduated high school seniors are not eligible); are listed as a dependent on a recent US income tax return; and can demonstrate financial need, a keen interest in sustainability, and the ability to integrate well with a group and handle the challenges associated with participation appropriately. In general, families making less than $80,000 per year (adjusted gross income) are eligible for financial assistance up to 85% of the program tuition. Families with adjusted gross incomes higher than $80,000 may be eligible for awards depending on their unique financial circumstances, but, in general, need-based eligibility will phase out around $140K AGI. (NOTE: AGI can be substantially less than gross income, and we also take regional costs of living into consideration, so families earning gross incomes in the low six figures are often still eligible for aid.)

Non-US Citizens/Residents

In general, we can only provide a scholarship award to families that can provide a recent US income tax return (Form 1040 or 1040EZ). The tax return must state the applicant as a dependent. This means that most international applicants are ineligible to receive scholarship funding. We do work with third parties, such as the US State Department, to fund participation costs for international students but these financial aid programs are not available through our internal application process (you must be invited to apply through, for example, the State Department). Occasionally, we have unallocated scholarship funds that can be awarded to non-US citizens, but this is rare. We encourage international students to take advantage of our “tuition assistance” option instead.


We do our best to provide funding to all deserving candidates. In general, motivated students that can clearly articulate a passion for environmentalism and the potential to become an environmental leader will receive a funding award. We want to see nuance and an understanding of important environmental concepts communicated in your application. Most of all, we want you to draw a clear line between the Sustainable Summer program and your goals. Be specific and be sure your references can back up your ambitions and potential. If your application is solid and your financial need isn’t “extreme,” it is likely that you will receive funding for a program. We aren’t always able to place students on their first choice program, but it is rare that a strong applicant is denied a scholarship outright. We do receive many more “qualified” applications for scholarships for our Leadership Academies than for our global Leadership Expeditions. We receive lots of scholarship applications for those programs, too, but many of them are not what we would consider very strong applications because the applicant too often is interested simply in traveling to another country and does not clearly articulate a genuine interest in sustainability. However, for our Leadership Academies, we typically have a much more competitive scholarship applicant pool and have to make harder choices about scholarship awards or ask students to consider a different session instead of their top choice.

Be sure to articulate clearly and concisely how Sustainable Summer will benefit you keeping in mind that competitive candidates for scholarships will possess all of the following:

    • A demonstrated personal commitment to and interest in achieving environmental sustainability
    • Outstanding academic and extracurricular achievement (or unique experience related to environmental sustainability)
    • An application that articulates how Sustainable Summer will benefit the participant and help him or her become a future sustainability leader
    • Letters of recommendation that underscore all of the above
    • Clear financial need

Preference for our financial assistance awards is given to students with outstanding academic and extracurricular achievement, and a demonstrated commitment to achieving environmental sustainability, who have a clear financial need that can be met by the limitations of our financial assistance program. Scholarships are not granted on merit alone; only those students who could not attend a program without financial assistance will be awarded scholarship funds. (NOTE: We cannot fund requests for 100% of tuition in aid and it is expected that all financial assistance applicants will make a family contribution of 15 – 50% of the tuition, fundraise their family’s tuition responsibility, or a combination thereof.)

Award Amounts and Notifications

Notification: Families received notice of our scholarship committee decision based on this timeline.

Amounts: In general, our scholarship program is designed as a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” It is designed for “middle-income” families and is intended to bridge the gap between a family’s expected financial contribution and/or their own fundraising efforts, and that of the total cost of participation. The amount of expected family contribution is calculated using an independent metric based on each family’s unique financial circumstances. Award amounts will rarely exceed 60% of the total cost of tuition. Award amounts do not include airfare or other travel costs associated with getting to or from the program. These costs can be significant. Please budget accordingly by researching airfare costs before applying for a scholarship.

A select handful of students every summer may receive up to 85% of their tuition in scholarship funding, typically one or two per session. These grants are extremely competitive and only awarded to students of exceptional caliber.

We simply do not have the internal financial resources to support the financial need of all applicants, and have instead established relations with a number of foundations that work with families requiring significant financial assistance beyond which our internal funding can support.

We know that every family’s situation is unique and we do not have a definitive threshold on family income for the purpose of determining scholarship eligibility, although families with an adjusted gross income of less than $80,000 will generally be considered eligible whereas families with adjusted gross incomes in excess of $140,000 will generally be considered ineligible. However, we consider cost of living in your area, your financial commitments, and a number of other factors in determining eligibility.

Sustainable Summer scholarships can be combined with outside grant support (from a foundation, school, etc) to reduce the total participation costs of the program. Sustainable Summer scholarship award decisions are applied after outside grants. Participants are expected to make a minimum financial contribution of at least 15% of tuition before Sustainable Summer funding will kick in.

Applying for a Scholarship AFTER Being Accepted From Our Regular Applicant Pool

If you apply to a program as a “regular” applicant and and then determine later in the admissions and enrollment process that you would like to apply for scholarship funding, that is permissible. However, in this scenario the student would be moved “fully” into the scholarship track. We will not continue to hold a place on a program for an accepted student while the student applies for scholarship funding. So, for example, if a student applies and is accepted into a program as a “regular” (aka non-scholarship) applicant and then decides to apply for a scholarship, that student must first “forfeit” his or her acceptance and re-apply as a scholarship applicant. So, please please please be sure you have discussed the financial considerations of participation BEFORE applying for scholarship funding so that you can determine, as best as possible, what the right “track” is for your financial circumstances. In general, this is a pretty clear choice for most families. Either you can afford the list tuition or you can’t. If you can’t, then apply for a scholarship.

Determining An Appropriate Family Contribution Amount and/or Re-Applying After Being Denied a Scholarship

For families that are considering applying for a scholarship “just to see what kind of award we get” we suggest the following: ask yourself what is your total budget for summer/educational enrichment. If you don’t know this number, you should figure it out before doing anything else. If you don’t currently have a budget for educational expenditures, now is as good a time as any to create one and stick to it! If you can afford to participate at the Tuition Assistance level for your program of interest, don’t apply for a scholarship. If you can’t afford to participate at the tuition assistance level, apply for a scholarship. If you don’t get a scholarship award from us or don’t get funding for your preferred program of interest, please don’t come back to us and say, for example, “You know, it turns out my child’s grandparents were able to kick in more than expected and we’d like to enroll at the ‘tuition assistance’ level.” We’re going to tell you that you should have figured that out before seeking funding from us. We can’t magically make another place on the program available and we will have already issued acceptance decisions based on the candidates in both our scholarship and regular applicant pools. Another way of putting this is that we operate from the perspective that families seeking financial assistance have a very finite budget and their ability to make a financial contribution towards the program costs is inelastic. If a family tells us in their scholarship application that they can only afford to contribute X amount of dollars towards a program, and we aren’t able to meet their remaining need through a scholarship, we are simply going to deny that student a scholarship and move on to another candidate. If that family than responds to the denial of a scholarship award and tell us that they actually can afford Y amount of dollars instead of X, we aren’t going to change our award decision even if we would have made an award had the family initially told us they could contribute Y towards the program. Consequently the parent completing the statement of financial circumstances as part of our scholarship application should be as precise as possible when considering what amount to specify as a family contribution based on your family budget. It is, of course, much more fiscally manageable for us as an organization to make a scholarship award of 40% than of 80%, so if you’re considering “low-balling” your family contribution “just to see” if you can get a more generous scholarship award from our committee, you should know that you are, in effect, decreasing your odds of receiving a scholarship award. This is particularly true if you are only interested in one specific Sustainable Summer program. We understand that this “black and white” approach does not reflect the complexities of household budgets. However, we firmly believe that every family is best served by establishing a fixed budget for a large discretionary expenditure such as a Sustainable Summer program (or any other summer enrichment experience) and sticking with it. We wish it wasn’t necessary to be so paternalistic, but experience has taught us that we must be. While there are many parents that totally “get” it and are realistic about the financial considerations of participation, there are equally as many that don’t. We’ve found that using blunt language like this helps families navigate the financial aid process.

Our Expectations

We expect that many families will rely on a variety of resources to fund their participation, including their own financial contribution and fundraising efforts, Sustainable Summer’s scholarship program, and third-party institutional support from a school or other funding source. Additionally, award recipients are expected to contribute an essay about their experience after the program.