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Financial Aid for International Students Studying in the USA

tuition
college application
advice for students
By Matt Killorin
Last updated on November 30, 2021

From family support to private business loans, learn how to fund your US education.

Seen from behind, a group of international students with bikes walk to class past the financial aid office at their US university

Studying in the USA is expensive, and finding financial aid for international students in USA-based universities and colleges is competitive and challenging. But don’t be dismayed. With the right attitude and information, you can find financial support for international students like you. 

Read on to learn more about scholarships, grants, loans, and other financial aid for international student options that are available to fund your education in the United States. 

What Are the Different Ways for International Students to Get Financial Aid?

Can international students get financial aid in the USA? Yes, but it can be challenging because the federal government and US university-based financial aid options are often limited and/or have restrictions.

Many scholarships are dedicated to US citizens only, and the need- or merit-based scholarships available to students from different countries are in high demand, with many applicants competing for the same funds. However, even during the pandemic, more than one million international students studied in the US, and many received financial assistance. 

How do international students get financial aid in the US? Let’s take a look at some of the more popular options for financial assistance for international students in USA-based universities.

  • Look for help in your home country: Many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, offer international scholarships to students who want to attend university in the United States. Does yours offer similar financial aid programs?

  • Research international organizations that can help: You may be able to receive aid from an organization, religious group, or foundation to help fund your international education.

  • Check with US universities: It’s hard (but not impossible) to find US universities that offer financial funding to international undergraduate students, but much easier to find grants to fund international graduate study in the United States. Reach out to your university or discuss with a Shorelight advisor to find out more.

  • Don’t forget about the US government: Most options for loans or aid require citizenship, but there are a few cases in which you may qualify.

Start your search online. Research your international student loan and scholarship options starting locally and then go broader. You may find options in your community or city for which you are a great fit. Check with your school, and work with your advisors to make sure you check every opportunity you can for international student grants and loans. 

Scholarships and Grants for International Students

Several websites compile scholarship search and loan information for international students. Many of these digital databases are routinely updated and free to use. Two great examples of free scholarship and loan listing sites are the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Funding for U.S. Study website and International Scholarships.

International students can specify the award they are looking for or return a general list of awards based on demographic information. Both sites allow you to enter where you are coming from, where you want to study, and what program you are interested in pursuing, and both sites return similar results. 

For instance, a search for scholarships for computer science programs in the US for students coming from China returns 644 results from both websites. Once you click on a result, you will find more helpful information, and in some cases, you can request information directly from the organization or school that provides the aid. While our search returned the same results, you may find different results with different searches, so be diligent if you can’t find the right option for you.

Many other scholarship- and loan-related websites with listings offer partial to full financial aid for international students in USA-based schools. Be wary of any site that requires payment for the use of their aid databases. Many third-party organizations have multiple websites that share the same database, such as International Scholarships, IEFA.org, and International Student

Looking for help finding scholarship and grant information for international students? Start your search with the student resources available through Shorelight >>

Work Programs & Internships

Opportunities to intern or participate in on-campus employment are available at many schools in the United States. Some schools limit the type of work that qualifies for these programs and the number of hours you can work per week. For instance, you may only be allowed to work in the libraries, computer centers, or on-campus administrative offices, and you may be limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Your student visa may also have restrictions on the type of work you may pursue.

Employment for International Students

Other employment options for students on F-1 visas studying in the United States include curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). Complex rules govern CPT and OPT. For instance, CPT is required to graduate and must be fulfilled while taking courses at your university, and OPT is generally for students after graduation. 

Learn more about working on an F-1 visa, including how to apply for CPT and OPT >>

Financial Aid from Your Home Country

As mentioned earlier, it’s always a good idea to start as close to home as possible when looking for financial aid as an international student. Financial aid funds are dedicated to several diverse causes and programs, including bettering international relationships, promoting national causes, and building vital STEM industrial sectors back home. Another great option is reaching out to your closest US embassy for more information. 

International Student Loans

There are several private loan opportunities for international students, and many options are compiled and available through the same sites you use to find scholarships. For instance, when searching for international scholarships, you can find loans from the same results page as you would search for scholarships. 

Most international loan providers require a US cosigner (e.g., a citizen of the United States who is willing to agree to pay back your loan if you cannot). A cosigner is typically a close relative, such as a parent or guardian, who can demonstrate they have the assets and/or income to repay your loan if needed. 

There are still loans available for students who do not have a US cosigner, but you can expect to pay more interest in these cases because US lenders will consider your loan to be a greater risk.

Consider the following search results from International Scholarships. Keep in mind that the rates published below are meant to demonstrate the difference between cosigned loans and those without a US cosigner only. 

Type of student: International  

US cosigner? No

Degree: Bachelor’s

Graduation date: 2024

School: American University 

Loan availability: Yes, through MPower (Note: MPower is owned by the same group that runs International Scholarships)

Loan interest: Fixed interest rates from 11.99% to 13.99%

Loan term: 10-year loans with no penalty for early payoff

Loan amount: Up to $50,000, over two academic periods

Now compare rates with those if you have a cosigner from the United States. 

Type of student: International  

US co-signer? Yes

Degree: Bachelor’s

Graduation date: 2024

School: American University 

Loan availability: Yes, multiple options, including MPower, as well as others from Earnest, Sallie Mae, College Ave, and Discover 

Loan interest: Fixed and variable interest rates are available. Fixed rates start at approximately 3.34%, and variable loans start at 1.04% (College Ave with the lowest in both cases). 

Loan term: Many flexible options 

Loan amount: You can borrow up to the total cost of your school’s certified cost of attendance 

As you can see, you will save a lot of money in interest and have much more flexibility if you can find a cosigner, but there are options if you cannot. It’s also worth noting that you can get a loan without a cosigner to start and then refinance later in your education if you find one with lower rates than those on your first loan. 

Financial Aid from Universities Directly

If you are a student looking at undergraduate programs in the United States, it will be more challenging to find funding than if you are planning to enroll in graduate programs. Financial aid for international students, graduate school-level, is easier to find because most of the available money is delivered in assistantships or fellowships that students obtain while working on dissertations or other higher-level research or study. 

Merit- or need-based financial aid for international students in USA-based universities is hard to obtain because, often, there is less money allocated and more competition. But there are funds available – and you should pursue them! According to NAFSA.org, merit-based scholarships are granted based on TOEFL scores, academic record, artistic ability, musical ability, or athletic ability. 

Looking for college application assistance or need help from student visa services? Reach out to Shorelight today >>

International Organizations

There are several international organizations that promote international education and diplomacy that also offer grants, scholarships, and other forms of aid to students. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program, for instance, enables international graduate students to come to the United States to study and conduct research and provides approximately 4,000 scholarships a year to students like you who wish to study in the United States. 

According to WES.org, obtaining a degree from a US university often provides students with more opportunities to get higher-paying, professional-class employment. If you are committed to studying in the United States, do your research, find the international organizations that may be able to help you with grants, scholarships, or other forms of financial aid. 

Get Financial Aid from the US Government

In most cases, you can only get a federal student loan from the United States government, such as a Stafford Loan, if you are a naturalized citizen or meet the few outlier cases listed above.

How Does FAFSA Work for International Students?

Can international students apply for FAFSA? The answer is they cannot. For international students, there are very few United States federal aid options available. It’s best to pursue loans, scholarships, and grants from your home country, private or nonprofit organizations, or from your university. 

Other Resources for Financial Aid

Paying for your international education is more than just paying for your courses. You must also consider your living expenses such as room and board, medical expenses, and travel costs, among other often unforeseen expenditures. It’s best to have some money set aside to cover your day-to-day expenses. 

Many universities issue scholarships or tuition waivers for students for just about any area of interest or need, from athletics to academic merit. Remember to check to see if any courses you took back home have transferable credits, and don’t forget to ask your advisors about on-campus employment options once you arrive. 

And finally, if appropriate, you may want to ask grandma and grandpa if they can help. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 56% of international students received most of their education funding personally or from their families in the 2019-20 school year. 

If you rely on full financial aid for international students in USA-based universities, you will have very limited opportunities to study abroad. But if you are resourceful, diligent, and have good grades or other talents, there are many options for you through international organizations, your home country, private lenders, and even family members. 

Shorelight can help you find funding for your education in the US. Speak to a counselor today >>