[UPDATED with Good News!] Hey, MIT: Venezuela's Official Exchange Rate is Fake!

A young math prodigy from Maracaibo beat the odds to get accepted to MIT. But without financial aid, she can't go. And she can't get financial aid, because at the official exchange rate, she's a millionaire!

Update [February 16th]

Good news!

Thanks to all your letters, emails and retweets, MIT is reassessing their decision.

They’re now vowing to work closely with Amanda to provide proper financial support to make sure she can attend. We will keep you up-to-date as Amanda makes her way to Cambridge!


Photo: Courtesy of Amanda

Last October, I interviewed Amanda, an undergraduate applicant from Maracaibo, as part of the standard MIT admissions process. I’ve reviewed the applications of most Venezuelans who seek to enter MIT, and Amanda is by far the most qualified applicant I’ve come across.

For starters, Amanda is the first Venezuelan woman to earn a medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad, the most prestigious of such competitions worldwide. She’s also represented our country at other international venues, winning Silver at the Hispanic American level. Academically, she’s an ace.

But just having outstanding grades and representing your country internationally doesn’t fully cut it for getting into MIT. Amanda knows this. She has cultivated a well-rounded skill set and a wholesome personality. She’s an avid swimmer, an aspiring artist, and volunteers to teach children who can’t afford swimming lessons. Seriously, she’s a top-percentile candidate, I can tell you that after interviewing folks for the past 13 years.

In December, we happily learned she had gotten a place. It’s been many years since a Venezuelan high school senior goes straight to MIT, so this is an achievement on its own. This maracucha had a dream, she had been training hard to achieve it, and got in.

We’re calling on the MIT Financial Aid office to launch a serious investigation.

This month, however, Amanda hit a roadblock. While MIT is committed to fully funding a candidate once she gets in, their Financial Aid office looked at Venezuela’s official exchange rate of VEF 10 per dollar, instead of the 23,000-times-higher, market-based rate. 

At the official exchange rate, Venezuela’s hunger wages look like a king’s ransom. Looking at her documentation, MIT’s financial aid people reasoned she didn’t need any financial aid: her family’s rich! (Fact check: they’re not). 

Amanda started an appeals process, but Financial Aid came back with bad news: they asked FlyWire, a company they routinely use, if Amanda could wire them Venezuelan funds at the VEF 10 rate. FlyWire wants MIT’s business, and they rushed to say yes. They later privately acknowledged that they’ve had trouble processing Venezuelan transactions, but have not updated their website to reflect this information.

So, caught as we are between a hyperinflationary government’s “official rate” statements and a company that misrepresents its ability to help, we’re calling on the MIT Financial Aid office to launch a serious investigation. The fact that some regime-connected individuals can get approval to use the extremely low rate doesn’t mean Amanda, or the average Venezuelan, could.

MIT, let’s do our due diligence. Check the recent media articles on the final dismantling of the VEF 10 rate. Call me and other fellow alumni: we will all testify that dollars at the official rate are long gone for the nonenchufado university students. Have someone call Cencoex directly: even they will back this up. Addressing this is the right thing to do, as Amanda risks missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime, while MIT risks missing out on a future graduate who could very well shape the future of mathematics.