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Can international students get financial aid at U.S. colleges and universities?

Can international students get financial aid at U.S. colleges and universities?

The college search process is not easy. To find the one right university in the United States from the more than 4,500 accredited schools is no easy task. What can be even more difficult is finding one that can offer scholarships or grants (often referred to as financial aid) to pay for even a part of the total cost. Budgets to attend university can range anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 per year. Very few students and their families can pay for these costs themselves.

Yet more than one million international students now study in the United States. Are all these students paying the full cost themselves? No. According to the IIE Open Doors Annual Report for 2017, 67% of international students had personal, family or overseas sources (including home country government scholarships) as the primary (not only) way of paying their expenses. 32% had U.S. funding sources.

Primary Source of Funding graphic for international student financial aid article

Primary Source of Funding (source IIE)

In real dollar terms, this means international students received nearly $10 billion in financial support from U.S. sources. This kind of help includes merit scholarships (for academic, athletic, artistic ability), financial need–based grants primarily for undergraduates, and assistantships and fellowships mostly for graduate/postgraduate students. Typically, international graduate students receive more money from U.S. institutions (32%) than undergraduates do (<8%). Graduate students might not receive scholarships or assistantships in the first year, but once they get to know their professors and other departments on campus, they may learn of other opportunities for scholarship awards or salaried teaching, research or graduate assistantships. A bit of good news for international students looking to study for master’s or doctoral degrees in the United States is that it may be possible to find assistantships on campus in other offices, like the international student’s office, admissions office or foreign language departments.

Resources for International Students

EducationUSA, a U.S. Department of State network, has tracked undergraduate scholarships and aid for many years. It has found that more than 900 colleges offer financial assistance of at least $10,000 to international students. So, for those hoping to get a bachelor’s degree, there are many colleges that give aid, mostly in the form of merit scholarships. Many of the schools on our International-friendly list offer some form of student aid. However, international students needing much more than $10,000 to cover their costs each year will have to look to a much smaller number of institutions. Though the numbers change from year to year, fewer than 100 colleges can provide enough aid to cover all expenses per year. These colleges are also some of the hardest institutions to be admitted to, with many of these schools accepting fewer than 15 to 20% of their applicants.

U.S. News & World Report recently published an article with a list of the ten colleges that offered the highest amounts of aid (to a minimum of 50 international students in the past year). On that list are colleges in the top rankings of either national universities or national liberal arts colleges. Keep in mind that other colleges and universities may offer full aid to international students, but these may have only a small number of these awards available each year. You can also review our Resources for Paying for School section where we provide links to reputable sites and organizations that can help you find scholarships or loans to help reduce the cost of your education.

The search for financial aid to help pay for college as an international student in the United States is not easy, but with the right advising, hard work and research, students may find the university or college that is both affordable and right for them.

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