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International Students and Financial Aid

Navigating the financial aid application process can be difficult. Navigating a financial aid application process in a country that’s foreign to you can seem next to impossible. That’s why we’ve come up with some basic information for international students to get you started on researching your college funding opportunities.

Your best chance to gain access to funding opportunities to attend college in the United States is to start doing your research while still in your home country. The awards that you may be specifically eligible for as an international student will most likely no longer are available to you once you arrive at your American institution, and as a student without U.S. citizenship, you won’t be eligible for a large number of U.S.-based awards. That could leave you with few options once you’re already at your new college, so start looking for funding well before you arrive, or even before you apply, to American programs.

Consider looking at schools that have a history of generous funding for international students, or locations where you’ll have more of a chance to find local sources of funding while you’re attending your American institution. The Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling offers a list of American schools that provide aid to international students. You may need to look harder for funding than a U.S. citizen, but you do have options

Federal Aid

The federally-funded financial aid programs most American students rely on to cover a large portion of their college costs – Federal Pell Grants, the Federal Work-Study Program, and the low-interest Federal Stafford and PLUS Loans – are not available to international students. International students from specific countries or with the intent to become U.S. citizens, refugees, those granted asylum and several other categories as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, however, may be eligible for the above-mentioned federal aid as "eligible non-citizens".

Outside Sources

Look into nonprofits and outside organizations that may either have international ties or goals to promote ideas like improved international relations, cultural understanding, world peace, or a global consciousness for sources of financial aid. U.S.-based professional associations and organizations may also have funds set up to bring talented international students to the United States to study or conduct research. Competition for funding from both local and international organizations that award funding to international students will be fierce, but if you meet those awards’ criteria, you follow the applications’ directions to the letter, and you apply early enough from your home country, you’ll have a better chance to land funding.

Scholarships, Grants and Fellowships

Scholarship opportunities may seem few and far between if you’re an international student, but there are awards out there that you may be eligible for regardless of your citizenship status. Below are ideas for finding funding while you’re away from your home country. Also be sure to check out our International Student Scholarships page for examples of specific awards, and try conducting a free scholarship search, as some awards won’t require that applicants are U.S. citizens, even if they don’t specifically target international students.

  • Minority Scholarships

    Scholarships open to American minority students are often also open to international students of that student population. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, for example, awards scholarships annually to Latino law school students based on financial aid, Latino community involvement and academic/professional achievements, without regard to citizenship status. Recipients of the scholarships get $7,000 to help pay for their first, second, or third year of law school.
  • College-Based Scholarships

    Some colleges may have extensive financial aid opportunities for international students looking to study there. The Illinois Institute of Technology, for example, offers merit-based scholarships of $15,000 per year for four years to United World Colleges (UWC) students. UWC has 13 colleges across five continents, with an average of 70 nationalities represented at any one time. UWC students may also be eligible for need-based aid from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Consider college-based scholarships when narrowing down the list of schools you’re interested in applying to.
  • Scholarships for Graduate Students

    Due to the possibilities for research on the graduate and advanced degree level, more scholarship and grant opportunities exist for international studies pursuing studies beyond their undergraduate degrees. The Medical Library Association, for example, offers the annual Cunningham Memorial International Fellowship for health sciences librarians and qualified students in graduate library science programs from countries outside of the United States and Canada. The award provides for attendance at the MLA Annual Meeting and observation and supervised work in one or more medical libraries in the United States and Canada. If you’re an international student pursuing a degree beyond the undergraduate level, you could be eligible for a good amount of funding opportunities.
  • The Africa-America Institute

    The Africa-America Institute offers a number of education, training, and outreach programs in Africa and the United States. The AAI is the international partner for the Southern African region for the Ford Foundation-funded International Fellowships Program. That program provides opportunities for up to three years of formal graduate-level study to fellow of the Southern African region. The Namibian Government Scholarship and Training Program, administered by the AAI in partnership with the Namibian Ministry of Higher Education, provides Namibians with scholarships for academic training at universities in the United States, Europe and South Africa. Students must undertake study in areas that have been identified as priorities for Namibia development, such as tourism, engineering, and the health fields, among several others.
  • Fulbright Foreign Student Program

    The Institute of International Education’s Fulbright Foreign Student Program brings citizens of other countries to the United States for master’s degree or Ph.D. study at American universities or other appropriate institutions. More than 1,800 Foreign Fulbright Fellows enter programs in the United States each year, and foreign students apply for the fellowships through the Fulbright Commission/Foundation or U.S. Embassy in their home country. Program eligibility and selection procedures vary widely by country, so make sure the research you do on the program is country-specific.

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