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Obtaining Financial Aid from Institutions

Learn more about what financial aid from institutions is available for you as an international student studying in the U.S.

Published January 29, 2013

As an international student, it may be difficult to obtain financial aid from colleges and universities in the United States. The majority of financial assistance offered by these institutions is for U.S. citizens. However, certain grants, loans, jobs, and work-study programs may be available to international students on a need or merit-based basis. Also, many institutions partner with countries throughout the world and offer more options in financial assistance to students from those countries.

One of the first steps you should take when determining whether or not you want to study at a particular college or university is contacting the institution’s financial aid office. Ask to discuss your options as an international student with a financial aid counselor. That counselor should be able to direct you to any financial aid that is available to international students. Be sure to mention the following when you contact a counselor:  

• Whether you are interested in earning an undergraduate or graduate degree
• Whether you are interested in grants, scholarships, loans, or all three
• Whether or not you’re willing to accept a job or participate in a work-study program
• Whether you plan to apply for citizenship in the U.S. or plan to apply for a temporary student visa—this may affect the types of aid available to you within the course of your studies
• The country you are from because various countries have special relationships with certain colleges and universities. There may be financial aid specifically devoted to students coming from your country. You may also consider consulting your country’s government to determine whether or not it has a special relationship with a particular college or university in the U.S.

Giving this information to a counselor will help him or her determine what types of aid are options for you.  

The majority of financial aid offered to international students will be offered to students entering a graduate degree program; less assistance will be offered to international students entering an undergraduate degree program. Keep this in mind if money is an issue and you have to choose between earning your undergraduate or graduate degree in the United States. If you plan on earning your graduate or postdoctoral degree in the United States, talk to the institution of your choice about research and teaching assistant grants available to international students. These grants are typically merit based and require a high degree of commitment to your field of study.

Merit-based aid may be offered to you as an international student if you have particular academic, athletic, artistic, or other talents, skills, or abilities; need-based aid may be offered to you if you can demonstrate that you lack the financial resources to study in the United States but show promise as an academic. Merit and need-based aid is less abundant and quite competitive. Be sure to consider all of your financing options and to not depend on these types of aid for financing your education.

Also keep in mind that the majority of institutions offering financial assistance to international students will require that you be proficient, to a certain degree, in English. You will likely need to take and receive a relatively high score on your TOEFL or IELTS exam or a similar test. Scoring well on one of these exams will make you competitive for the limited funds available to international students through institutions in the United States. Research the TOEFL and IELTS for more information. 

Studying in the United States can be an expensive but worthy endeavor. NAFSA, a non-profit organization devoted to international education, can give you a better idea of the types of expenses associated with studying in the United States. A comprehensive list of predictable expenses, funding factors and considerations are offered by NAFSA here. Other information about scholarships, grants, and loans offered to international students can be found on the International Education Financial Aid and EducationGrant.comwebsites.

There are many steps you can take to discover options for funding your education. An important step is to take advantage of college and university financial aid counselors. They are there to help you and to guide you toward the resources you’ll need to ensure a successful and well-financed experience. Also, remember that financial aid for international students from colleges and universities in the U.S. is limited. If you are someone who is dependent upon aid from a college or university, begin exploring your options now. Also, keep in mind that you will likely need to fund your education using a wide variety of resources. 

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