Financial Aid for International Students in the USA

According to the Institute of International Education, the United States is the top destination for international students around the world. It can also be one of the most expensive, considering that international students will need to pay for their tuition, room & board, transportation, books, and supplies – and students may not have all that money on-hand.

If you are like many international students interested in studying in the USA, or if you are already in the US studying, you may be wondering how you can afford all of these expenses. It's not going to be easy, but with some hard work and financial aid, you can make this dream a reality.

Financial Aid from the US Government

light bulbDon't forget to check to see if you are eligible for US Government aid!

The US government is limited in the financial support it gives international students. As the US Department of Education states, “Most foreign citizens are not eligible for federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education.” But it does go on to say, “However, some instances in which non-citizens may be eligible for financial aid from the U.S. federal government.” So all is not lost for you hopefuls. If you are on an international student visa, you may be eligible for these US government-funded programs:

If you are an international student, most likely you are not eligible for financial aid from the US government. Don't lose hope, though, there are a number of other alternatives that can help you fund your education.

Financial Aid from Your Homeland

It's always a good idea to start looking at home. There's no question that if you have been an outstanding student, your own country may be so proud that they're willing to send you to an American college or university. After all, many countries send their best and brightest abroad so that they can apply their newly gained skills back home.

To give you a few examples of these programs:

  • King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) - A generous scholarship for Saudi Arabian students that covers the total university cost along with material fees, and provides full medical and dental insurance, a monthly stipend, and coverage for airfare each year.
  • Brazil Scientific Mobility Undergraduate Program (BSMP) - This scholarship is designed for Brazilian students to study at US colleges and universities in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) for one year.
  • Kuwait Cultural Office Merit Scholarship - A scholarship designed for Kuwaitis studying at specific US colleges and universities to promote the needs and interest of the Kuwaiti government.

Talk to your home country's ministry or department of education, as well as your embassy and consulate in the US and back home, to see if there are government-backed scholarship available.

US Universities & Colleges

Universities are generally more flexible when it comes to offering financial aid for international students in the USA. You can typically find information for financial aid on your school's website either with your Admissions Office or International Student Services Office. Here you can find information on budgeting, the cost of your education, and financial aid that can help you navigate the ins and outs of affording your education.

Financial Aid Through the Admissions Office

Most colleges have either need-based or merit-based financial aid packages, and this can come in many forms. For example, some schools have instituted need-blind admission policy, where you are accepted based on your merits and they do not look at your financials. It's important to talk with your Admissions Office to see what financial aid you are eligible for. There may be additional applications and due dates to be aware of so be sure to ask.

Beware of Scammers

Please do not fall victim to scammers. Make sure whichever school you apply to, it is a legitimate and accredited institution. In 2011, Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California was shut down by a federal court order for being a fake university. It promised to sponsor Indian students and get them student visa/work permits. Instead, the owner pocketed the cash to buy herself a nice house and a Mercedes. The students were cheated out of tuition and their dreams of studying in U.S. Do your research first. Check on the internet and make sure they are an accredited school. Talk with your school counselors and be careful that the school is well-known. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, watch out!

The consensus amongst reputable admissions counselors is that schools vary widely when it comes to international financial aid offered to students. If the school is well-endowed, looking to diversify it's student population, or has special interests, it might be willing to offer their international students a more generous financial aid package.

Financial Aid Through Athletic Department

A number of international students get full scholarships through their university or college to participate on their school's sport teams. Whether you are an excellent rugby player, tear up the field at track and field, or have a talent for another sport, this might be your ticket to a US school. There are a number of agencies that travel the world looking for students who have excelled in their sport, and will match you with a coach recruiting for their school. The coach will have the final say as to whether you get selected - and whether there is a financial package to go along with that.

Financial Aid Through An Academic Department

Many schools are looking to build up a specific academic department, and have the funds to do so. Whether you excel in mathematics, business, or physics, there may be a scholarship with your name on it. You will need to contact the head of the Department to see if they would be willing to help support you. Often times, these scholarships are available in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These departments are looking to put forth new research and expertise, so you will need to show your track record and that you are worth the investment.

Tuition Waivers

A tuition waiver allows students to not pay a portion or all of their tuition. While not all schools grant a tuition waiver for international students, there are a handful that do. The school will specify what requirements need to be met in order to be granted a tuition waiver. It can be based on citizenship, academic performance, or part of a fellowship or grant. Do your research, look on the school's website, and talk to your admissions counselor or an international student advisor to get more information on eligibility.

Private Scholarships, Grants and Fellowships

Many organizations around the world have created scholarships and grants to help students study abroad. While these awards can be competitive, they can offer free money to students without the obligation of having to pay back the money. There are thousands of scholarships and grants out there, but keep in mind that it's important to put the time and effort into each application to increase the likelihood of winning the award. Keep track of due dates, have your application reviewed, and submit as many as you can. You can search international scholarships and grants on IEFA.org.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) & Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Working in the U.S. to supplement your financial aid is difficult and limited for international students. F-1 students are allowed to work part-time on campus if they are in good academic standing or once they have completed their academic program. In order to get approval for OPT or CPT, your work must be directly related to your major. Be sure to check with your International Student Advisor to see whether you can work during your studies.

International Financial Aid from World Organizations

If you are pursuing higher degrees, some international organizations may be able to help you study in the U.S. including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, to name a few. Again, these scholarships are extremely competitive, but can be an amazing opportunity if you have the qualifications and skills to do so.

International Student Loans

If you still need money, there are international student loans that can cover up to the total cost of your US education, including your tuition, transportation, living and food expenses. As long as you have a US cosigner and attend an accredited school, there are a number of lenders that will work with international students. You can apply right online in most cases and get instant approval within days. Remember, international student loans allow you to borrow money - but you will need to pay back the money along with a cost of borrowing. Be sure to look over all the details and compare lenders to find the loan that's right for you.

Watch videos and learn more with our International Financial Aid Resources center

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