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International Students Advice on College Costs and Scholarship Opportunities for Study in the U.S.

The notion of attending college in the United States is appealing to students from many different countries—in the 2016-2017 academic year, there were 1,078,822 million international students attending U.S. colleges and universities. China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, account for just under half of all international students. But tuition rate rules and financial assistance options for international students can be confusing. If you are an international student, read on to get advice on college costs and scholarship and merit-based financial aid opportunities for studying in the U.S.

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Paying for College as an International Student:
Common Questions Answered

Paying for college can be extremely expensive for both U.S. and international students. Take a look at tuition costs at U.S. postsecondary institutions below. No matter the route you choose, as an international student there are many ways to help pay for tuition at U.S. colleges and universities. Get answers to many common questions about paying for college as an international student below.

Average U.S. Tuition Costs

According to the College Board, these are the average tuition and institutional fees at public and private U.S. colleges as of the 2017-2018 academic year:

  • Public four-year college (in-state tuition) $9,970
  • Private non-profit four year college $34,740

Adding in room and board, those costs escalate quickly. For most U.S. college students, the first step in funding their educational journey involves filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is required for every college student seeking federal grants or loans, as well as state- and institutional-based aid. However, the rules are different for international students who are not legal residents of the United States.

Q: As an international student, can I receive financial aid from the U.S. government?

No. International students are not eligible to receive financial aid from any federal-based aid programs. However, it’s important to note that some colleges and universities in the U.S. may still ask international students to fill out a FAFSA so they can determine financial need for institutional or merit-based aid opportunities.

The FAFSA is offered through the U.S. Department of Education, but international students who file a FAFSA and aren’t U.S. citizens will have their FAFSAs rejected because they won’t have a U.S. Social Security Number of Alien Registration Number. That’s okay! The information on the FAFSA can be drawn on by financial aid officers at colleges and universities to determine financial need at the institutional level. Some schools may ask international students to supply the FAFSA directly to their financial aid office rather than submit through the federal portal at www.fafsa.ed.gov. If you are an international student, contact the Admissions Office at each school you are interested in attending to determine their preferred process.

Yes. Take University of Iowa as one example. The university had a total enrollment of more than 30,000 students in 2017, including more than 3,400 international students. Undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board and additional expenses for the 2017-2018 academic year for Iowa residents totaled just under $23,000. However, tuition for the fall and spring semesters for international students studying business were $43,700. For pharmacy students, estimated tuition costs were $57,478.

At many institutions, if English is not the applicant’s first language, they may be required to take a Test of English as a Foreign Language exam, or TOEFL. Other institutions use the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to determine language proficiency.

Yes. There are many funding opportunities for international students, from private businesses and organizations, non-profit foundations scholarships and grants to merit-based aid provided directly by colleges and universities. Some institutions, such as the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, provide full funding for the limited number of international students they are able to accept each year.

Keep reading to learn more about scholarship opportunities for international students at U.S. colleges.

Scholarships and Grants for International Students

There are many different scholarship and grant opportunities available for international students. The scholarships listed below represent a handful of those available exclusively for international students, as well as those open to both U.S. and international students. Some scholarships are based on financial need, while others are purely merit-based. Keep reading to learn more about the diverse range of scholarship opportunities, and be sure to also contact the school you are interested in attending to check for additional scholarship and financial assistance programs.

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A U.S. institution with a very large population of international students, Northeastern University in Boston offers merit-based scholarships to the top 10 percent to 15 percent of international undergraduate applicants.

Amount: $10,000 to $25,000 for the first year; $5,000 to $12,500 for subsequent years.

This scholarship is but one of many available to international students at New York University, which hosted the largest number of international students of any postsecondary institution in the U.S. in the 2016-2017 academic year. The scholarship is available to students with F1 visas who are pursuing graduate degrees in global affairs.

Amount: $7,500 to $15,000 annually

This scholarship covers tuition for students pursuing advanced degrees at George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. Applicants must have graduated from a law school outside the U.S., and scholarships are awarded based on academic performance and financial need.

Amount: Varies from partial to full funding

This highly competitive scholarship is awarded to undergraduate based on academic performance – the higher the GPA, the greater the award amount. Scholarships are renewable for four years or eight consecutive terms for freshmen students, and up to four consecutive semesters for transfer students.

Amount: $4,000 to $24,000 per year for freshmen, or $5,000 per year for transfer students

This merit-based scholarship for international students can be renewed for an additional three years as long as the recipient continues to pay non-resident tuition and maintains full-time enrollment at IU with a 2.5 grade point average.

Amount: Between $500 and $10,000 per year

University of Miami offers several different scholarships for first-year international students. The President’s Scholarship is a merit-based scholarship ranging from $18,000 to $28,000 that’s awarded to the top tier of international applicants. A number of other scholarships award full tuition.

Amount: Varies

The University of Southern California hosted more than 14,000 international students in the 2016-2017 academic year. This extremely competitive scholarship is awarded to approximately 10 students annually. Applicants must submit a common application and USC writing supplement with their application. Finalists will be interviewed in person.

Amount: Fully funded

International undergraduate freshmen students interested in attending the University of Wyoming in Laramie can get a portion of their tuition paid for through this scholarship program, which is awarded based on incoming cumulative grade point average. Students also must submit TEOFL or IELTS scores.

Amount: $3,000 to $5,000 annually

Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan has seven scholarships available to first-year international students. The Founder’s Scholarship pays up to $12,180 per year or $48,720 for four years, while the Ferris Crimson Scholarship pays $1,500 per year or $6,000 for four years. The International Transfer Scholarship pays $5,500 per year up to $16,500 for three years. Students must submit GPA, SAT and other accepted tests (TOEFL, IELTS) to be considered.

Amount: Varies

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AAUW provides up to five international scholarships to women who are not U.S. citizens to pursue full-time graduate-level or doctoral degrees at U.S. colleges. Degrees are renewable for a second year of study.

Amount: $18,000 for graduate students; $20,000 for doctoral students

This scholarship is awarded annual to 10 high school students in Bahrain to study at an international institution of their choice in order to gain exposure to international cultures. Scholarships are awarded based on academic merit, SAT scores, GPA and other criteria.

Amount: Fully funded

This program that allows foreign graduate students to study at colleges and universities in the U.S. is available in more than 155 countries. Since applications deadlines and eligibility requirements vary by country, students should check with the program’s administrative offices for application guidelines.

Amount: Varies by country

Available to undergraduate students living in Tunisia to attend year-long academic programs at U.S. colleges and universities. Scholarship winners also complete part-time internships at American businesses.

Amount: Varies

These grants are available to women from developing countries who are studying at accredited U.S. postsecondary institutions. Applicants must be at least 25 years old and be from a country on the MMEG Eligibility List.

Amount: Up to $15,000

This scholarship from the Philanthropic Educational Organization is for women to conduct graduate-level study at an accredited college in the U.S. or Canada. The scholarship is based upon financial need.

Amount: Up to $12,500

This merit-based scholarship is open to U.S. and international students pursuing degrees in applied geophysics.

Amount: $500 to $10,000

Open to international undergraduate or graduate-level students already in the U.S. under valid F1 visas. Students must have and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.7. The scholarship is open to students in any field of study.

Amount: $2,000 per semester

This scholarship is open to female students of any age who are pursuing graduate degrees in business and who are members of Zonta International.

Amount: $8,000

International Scholarship Hints &
Advice from a College Advisor

Kristen Moon is an independent college counselor and founder of MoonPrep.com. She provides one-on-one tutoring services catered to university admissions and guides students through the entire application process, including completing applications, personal statements, supplemental essays, student resumes, scholarships and financial aid.

What are the best scholarships to pursue for international students interested in attending U.S. colleges?

Colleges want to attract the best and brightest international students, and they do that by offering scholarships – it is another word for merit aid. Typically, the most money comes directly from the university – that’s how they attract the best students. Many colleges offer need-based aid, but merit-based scholarships are pretty much open to anyone. A lot of times, just by applying to the university students are in the running for a merit-based scholarship.

What’s the best resource for international students to find information about scholarships at U.S. colleges?

The best place is on each college’s web site. When you use third-party sources, they are not always up to date. With the schools, you can go directly to their web sites for the most up-to-date information about the scholarship.

Which schools offer the most scholarship money for international students?

The most generous universities tend to be private universities, and to be more specific, small private universities since they are competing with the big-name schools. International students shouldn’t rule out small, private liberal arts colleges.

Also, the big-name state schools have to accept a certain number of in-state students to receive their state funding, so the bar is raised higher for international students. Private universities don’t have to worry about that, so they can accept more international students.

Is the college application process different for international students than for domestic students?

It’s very similar. Once international students are accepted, their school issues an F-1 visa for them. That is just the additional step, since the school is essentially sponsoring them to be here.

Any tips or suggestions for submitting compelling essays?

You want to tell a compelling narrative about your life. You want the school to feel it is your top choice. Tell them why you really want to attend school there, which classes you want to take, which clubs and organizations you want to join – essentially how you will be active and participate on campus. Show them you have done your research and have really looked into the college and that it’s a good fit. Tailor your essay to the specific college.