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Scholarships for International Students Studying in the USA

advice for students
college application
By Matt Killorin
Last updated on February 3, 2023

Scholarships aren’t just for athletes. Find international student scholarships that can help pay for your US university studies.

Two female international students hold out a piggy bank with the word COLLEGE taped on it

When you decide to study abroad in the United States, you are undertaking a big financial commitment in return for an excellent education. While getting a US university degree can be expensive, it also can open doors to professional opportunities around the world – and translate to higher earnings over the course of your career. In the short term, you also may be able to pursue financial assistance, like scholarships for international students, to help pay for your education. There are several scholarships for international students in USA-based colleges and universities. Read on to learn more about international student scholarship eligibility and where to find a variety of merit- and need-based scholarships. 

How Do Scholarships Work for International Students?

No matter who you are or where you are from, you can qualify for international scholarships to US colleges and universities – and you should apply!

Learn more about financial aid for international students studying in the USA >>

Some students receive scholarships from people or organizations in their home country. Other students get financial assistance by reaching out to the school they plan to attend in the United States, and others find funding through the government or private arrangements (like through a sponsor). 

Not all scholarships for foreign students are the same. Just as the aid from some scholarships only covers a small portion of your tuition and others may be full-ride university offers, it is important to note that some scholarship programs for international students are based on specific criteria.

Scholarship Eligibility for International Students

There are many different criteria to use when researching and applying to international scholarships. Start by thinking about the categories most scholarships fall into and ask yourself if any of them represent you. Scholarships are available for students who study in the United States and then come back home to work in STEM. There are goodwill scholarships intended to promote better foreign policy with the United States. The most common scholarships fit into the following categories:  

  • Athletic scholarships: Are you great at sports? You may be able to qualify for a scholarship based on your skills on the basketball court, baseball field, or football pitch.

  • Diversity-based scholarships: Many schools offer diversity-based scholarships to encourage people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender identities, and other communities to pursue an education.

  • Essay-based scholarships: Many private and public organizations sponsor essay writing competitions for scholarship money.

  • Merit-based scholarships: These scholarships are given out based on your high school grades and other academic metrics.

  • Need-based scholarships: Students who can demonstrate a financial need may apply for aid in the form of a scholarship.

  • Service-based scholarships: If you volunteer or make community service a regular part of your life, you may be able to turn that passion into aid.

The first and most important step is to make sure you qualify for the scholarship that interests you. Some awards are for US citizens only. Others have specific deadlines, can only be used at specific schools, or have other requirements. Start by reviewing some of the scholarship database resources below and create a list of possible scholarships for which you qualify. 

Also, once you find a scholarship to apply to, be sure you read the application instructions closely to make sure you include the essays, test scores, or other required supplemental material in order to be considered. It would be a shame to put all the work in, only to forget an essential part of your application.

Learn more about studying in the USA as an international student >> 

University Scholarships for International Students

Just about every university in the United States offers scholarships to international students. Still, the amount of money the average international student typically pays is higher than the amount domestic students pay. That means, for international students, there are fewer available scholarship dollars from universities, and sometimes they may even have additional fees and costs for students from different countries. 

But even though there may be fewer resources, you should still apply for available scholarships for foreign students. And, keep in mind, despite fewer available options for international students, 17% of those studying in the United States in 2020 said their university was the primary source of funding for their US higher education. In other words, almost one in five students from different countries receive financing that pays for the majority of their college costs. 

Start your search for college scholarships for international students by reaching out to the financial aid department at your university. Look for university-based scholarships open to every applicant, not just the ones for naturalized or US citizens. And, if you are a graduate student, don’t forget to look for grants and research stipends in addition to scholarships.

Learn how Shorelight’s academic support team can help you find and apply to colleges and universities in the United States >>

Undergraduate Student Scholarships

Merit and athletic scholarships are the most common types of scholarships for college in USA for international students. Undergraduate programs at various colleges or schools within a university may have their own scholarship opportunities. Some universities participate in international scholarship opportunities to show students that they want more diversity and more voices contributing to the development of their institution. 

Since 2019, Adelphi University’s #YouAreWelcomeHere international scholarship awards two international students renewable tuition scholarships for as much as $28,000. Many other schools participate in the international goodwill program. You can find more information at The Powell Scholarship at the University of the Pacific awards $42,000 to incoming international first-year students studying at Pacific. 

Graduate Student Scholarships

Scholarships for international students in USA-based graduate programs are not as widely available as those for undergraduate students. However, on the whole, graduate students have more money available to them because they can qualify for assistantships, fellowships, and grants. 

Learn more about the US higher education system and how to get the most out of it >>

US Government Scholarships for International Students

Most federal government funding for college and university students is reserved for American students. That said, there are still many opportunities for scholarships for international students in USA-based colleges and universities – if you know where to look. 

The most famous higher education scholarships that international students can apply for are Fulbright Scholarships and the Fulbright Program. Scholarships are specific to the level of education in most instances. Fulbright scholarships, for example, award as much as $38,000 to first-year Master’s or PhD international students studying in the United States. 

You can find more information on Fulbright awards and many other federal-level scholarships from and other affiliated resources.  

Scholarships for Foreign Students

Despite restrictive international policy from 2016 to 2020 and the impact of the pandemic on applications and travel, international student enrollment at public doctoral institutions increased 130%, and 147% at private nonprofit postgraduate institutions from 1998 to 2018.

Finding both undergraduate and graduate student scholarships for international students can be time consuming, and often, regulations regarding international applications are unclear. Many times, students end up looking for opportunities that don’t explicitly say they are for international students, but instead, they do not say that they are not for international students. 

A great example is the undergraduate merit scholarship at the David Eccles School of Business, The University of Utah. Finding these “hidden” opportunities may give you a leg up on the international competition, but remember always to reach out and confirm scholarships are not exclusively for domestic students before you go to the work of completing your application. 

Another great idea is to look for scholarships that are specific to a group that represents you. There are scholarships available for many different types of groups, and many are available to international students. These scholarships could be privately funded, through nonprofit organizations, and/or from many other sources. Conacyt, for instance, provides scholarships for Mexican students pursuing postgraduate studies in institutions abroad. The Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program is specifically for “students from developing countries who have provided support to their home country’s development and who are applying for a development-related Master’s program.”

Let’s take a look at some of the groupings of scholarships available to students from Asia and to women students. We will also go over some other great international scholarship resources that you may find helpful as you search for ways to fund your education in the United States. 

Scholarships for International Asian Students

The following list represents just a few of the available scholarships for Asian international students applying to study in the United States. Remember that more scholarships are available than those listed here, so be creative when searching for essay contests and corporate or private options. 

Scholarships for International Women Students

There are many international scholarships devoted to furthering educational opportunities for women. Let’s take a look at three examples: 

Other Scholarships for International Students

There are many other scholarships available to international students not listed here. If you are still looking for ways to start your search, several loans and scholarship databases are available online that are free to use and routinely updated. Two great examples of free scholarship listing sites are the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Funding for U.S. Study website and International Scholarships.

Don’t be afraid to apply for multiple scholarships to finance your education, and look for scholarships that continue until your studies are completed. With international scholarships, your dream of getting a US university degree can be an affordable reality.

Shorelight advisors are here to help you find scholarships to help you fund your education in the US. Speak to a counselor today >