International Student’s Guide to Financial Aid

Students who attend college in a new country often benefit from intellectual growth and valuable cross-cultural experiences. The United States is one of the most popular destinations for students studying abroad, with a record number of over one million overseas students enrolled in U.S. colleges or universities in 2015. While international students take advantage of learning opportunities in all 50 states, California and New York host more learners from outside the U.S. than any other state. Upwards of 114,000 overseas students attend higher education institutions in New York and about 149,000 international students travel to California for school. No matter which state they choose to live in, however, the high tuition, room, board, and cost of living can strain overseas students’ budgets. And regardless of where international students choose to study in the U.S., finding financial aid can be a challenge.
Over one million overseas students enrolled in U.S. colleges or universities in 2015.
Nonetheless, scholarships for international students coupled with international student loans and other financial aid options can make the dream of studying in the U.S. an affordable reality. The following guide explains the federal aid process and helps students navigate the challenges and opportunities of financial aid for international students.

An Overview: International Students in the U.S.

According to a 2016 Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education, about 60% of the international student population in the U.S. comes from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Although various-sized colleges and universities in all 50 states welcome students from these, and many other countries around the world, three institutions host the largest numbers of overseas students: New York University (New York, NY) with 15,543 international students, the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA) with 13,340 overseas students, and Arizona State University – Tempe (Tempe, AZ) with 12,751 international students. About 40.9% of these aspiring scholars came to the U.S. to obtain an undergraduate education, while 36.8% pursued a graduate degree.

No matter where international students in the U.S. attend college, or at what level they study, finding ways to fund their degree program can pose a challenge. The Open Doors report found that more than half of the United States’ overseas students finance their American degrees through personal and family resources. However, many students also supplement these resources with scholarships and other international student financial aid. The following chart indicates how current overseas scholars meet their financial obligations.

Scholars planning to finance their education with a mix of international student loans and scholarships frequently find it difficult to obtain these forms of assistance. U.S.-based institutions and donors reserve most financial aid for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Thus, about 66% of the international student body in the U.S. relies on personal and family funding to pay for their schooling and expenses. However, in 2005, that number was significantly higher and stood at around 80%; thus, more of today’s overseas students are seeking out alternative sources of financial aid to help cover their educational costs.

International Students and the FAFSA

U.S. citizens and permanent residents submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal and state financial aid. International students are not eligible for most types of assistance from the U.S. government. However, many colleges and universities use the FAFSA to determine how much institutional aid an overseas student may be eligible for. Based on these findings, some schools offer financial aid packages to international students in the U.S. According to a U.S. News report, higher education institutions that offered aid to international students during the 2015-16 year averaged $51,164 in awards.

Some colleges and universities may require every student to submit the FAFSA as a simple way for the school to determine a learner’s financial need, thereby allowing all students to apply for school-based aid. If you need to complete a FAFSA and do not have a social security number, please review the information on this helpful site. Be sure to contact your prospective school’s admissions office or international student services office to learn more about financial aid options that are available to you.

Scholarships for International Students

Individual colleges and universities can offer valuable financial aid packages for select international students who are able to provide evidence of financial need. Overseas scholars studying in the U.S. may also earn merit-based scholarships by demonstrating special skills, achieving academic excellence, or earning outstanding TOEFL scores. Be aware, however, that stiff competition awaits students who seek these awards. An international student can also apply for scholarships through global organizations and through the federal government. Two of the best known government-funded scholarships, the Fulbright Foreign Student Program and the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, accept applications from international students each year. Contact your school and do your own research to learn more about which institutional financial aid and awards are available to help cover the cost of school. Below, to help you get started in you search, we’ve compiled a list of scholarships aimed specifically towards international students studying in the U.S.

School-Specific Scholarships

American University Emerging Global Leader Scholarship All billable expenses*

The American University (AU) Emerging Global Leader Scholarship promotes educational opportunities, enhances diversity, and helps fund students who are committed to positive change.

Scholarship Deadline: December 15, 2017

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Student plans to improve under-resourced or underserved communities in their country of origin
  • Comes from a diverse and underrepresented background and has prevailed over obstacles
  • 3.8 GPA (minimum) for ninth-12th grades or in the top 10% of their graduating class
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

*Billable expenses include tuition, room, and board

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Clark University Global Scholars Program Scholarships $15,000 - $25,000/year*

Scholarship Deadline: February 1

Eligibility Requirements:

  • First-year applicant to Clark University
  • Shows potential for global leadership
  • Attended school abroad for four years or is an international student
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: Students whose financial needs exceed the resources of the Global Scholars Program Scholarships may apply for an additional $5,000 of need-based aid.

*$15,000 to $25,000 per year for four years upon renewal plus a $2,500 taxable stipend for an internship

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East Tennessee State University's International Students
Academic Merit Scholarship 50% of out-of-state tuition + fees

Scholarship Deadline: August 14 (fall), January 2 (spring)

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled at East Tennessee State University
  • Demonstrates academic excellence with a GPA of at least 3.0
  • Has a plan to acquire an F-1 or J-1 student visa
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: Undergraduate and graduate students can qualify for this scholarship as long as they are not pursuing a second bachelor’s or master’s degree and are not enrolled in MD or PharmD programs.

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Illinois State University Redbird Academic Scholarship $1,000 - $4,000/year

Scholarship Deadline: File for admission between September 1 and November 15

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 3.4 GPA (minimum) on 4.0 scale
  • 25 or higher ACT score (or equivalent SAT)
  • New freshman
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: The school determines the amount awarded to each student from this merit-based scholarship on the strength of the competitive pool.

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Lillian Kumata Scholarship Program $2,500

These need-based, partial-tuition scholarships help ease the financial burdens of international students and their spouses.

Scholarship Deadline: Fall semester applications due the last weekday of July; spring semester applications due the last weekday of November

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Is a current, married international student at MSU OR the spouse of an international student
  • Demonstrates financial need
  • Demonstrates academic excellence
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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New York University's Global EMPA Program Pentland Scholarship Full tuition + stipend

Scholarship Deadline: May 1

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be pursuing the one-year, executive MPA for global policy leaders
  • Hails from Africa, Asia-Pacific, or Latin America
  • Possesses seven years of management-related experience
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: Students must show financial need, academic merit, and social awareness to be competitive.

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The University of Arkansas' John and Marie Lavallard
International Scholarship Tuition + room and board for one year

Scholarship Deadline: March 15

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be a citizen and permanent resident of a country other than the United States
  • No restrictions on academic major
  • Preference is given to applicants not currently residing in the United States
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: Both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students may apply for this financial award.

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The University of Arkansas' John and Marie Lavallard International Scholarship $500 - $10,000/year

Scholarship Deadline: Admission to the university by February 1

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Based on a review of all application information, high school GPA, and ACT or SAT scores
  • Renewable for three years or until bachelor’s degree is awarded
  • Must maintain continuous enrollment and a 2.75 GPA
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: Applicants do not complete a separate application for this scholarship.

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University of Minnesota's Gold Global Excellence Scholarship Tuition costs*

Scholarship Deadline: No separate scholarship application required

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Must be in the top 5 to 10% of their graduating class
  • Studying on an F-1 visa
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: The school reviews all admitted students for this award and assesses their entire application for admission when making its decision.

*Covers difference between resident tuition costs and non-resident rates

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University of Oregon's International Cultural Service Program (ICSP)
Tuition Scholarships $7,500 - $30,000/year

Scholarship Deadline: January 15

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Cultural service
  • Financial need
  • Academic merit
  • Ability to make presentations to diverse groups
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: The school awards 30 to 40 of these competitive scholarships for international students to participants of the International Cultural Services Program

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Other Scholarships

CollegeWeekLive $5,000 Scholarship $5,000

Scholarship Deadline: Monthly

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Register on the sponsor’s website
  • CollegeWeekLive virtual event participation is required
  • Must attend an accredited higher education institution that is a CollegeWeekLive member
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: This scholarship is awarded to U.S. and non-U.S. students who visit the website.

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Zeqr Scholarship $1,000

Scholarship Deadline: December 15

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Submit a 800- to 1,200-word article discussing the ways that online learning is changing the traditions of education; the future of learning should also be considered in the article
  • A panel of education professionals selects the winning applicant
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: International students must already be enrolled in a U.S. institution of learning to be considered.

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The LasikPlus $2,500

Students compete for the LasikPlus awards by completing a 500- to 700-word essay on any topic that clearly demonstrates their “desire and ability to bring their vision to life through continuing education and community involvement.”

Scholarship Deadline: Quarterly

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Open to full-time students currently enrolled at an accredited university in the U.S.
  • 2.5 GPA (minimum) on a 4.0 scale
  • International student essayists must hold a valid student visa
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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SelfScore.Com Scholarship $5,000

Scholarship Deadline: September 28

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Be among the top 15% of test-takers for the SAT, ACT, GRE, or GMAT
  • 3.0 GPA (minimum)
  • SelfScore selects recipients randomly from the pool of eligible applicants
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

Additional Info: SelfScore awards six scholarships to undergraduate students and six to graduate students each year.

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NextGen Scholarship Fund $1,000

P.E.R.K. Consulting president Andrena Sawyer founded the NextGen Scholarship after her own experiences showed her the difficulties that international students face when pursuing resources to continue their education.

Scholarship Deadline: March 31

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 3.0 GPA (minimum)
  • An international student or non-citizen
  • Currently reside in Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia OR be accepted to an institution in the Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia tri-state area
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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Annual CGTrader Scholarship $3,000

Backed by CGTrader, the largest 3D model marketplace, this scholarship challenges students to explore the positive ways that gamification can transform lives.

Scholarship Deadline: January 15, 2018

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Submit a 500- to 1,000-word essay on “using games for social good and playful learning”
  • 2.5 GPA (minimum)
  • High school senior, undergraduate, or graduate student
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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Fulbright Foreign Student Program Tuition, airfare, stipend, and health insurance

U.S. embassies around the world administer the Fulbright Foreign Student Program application process.

Scholarship Deadline: Varies depending on a student’s country of origin

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Available to graduate students, young professionals, and artists
  • Eligibility and selection varies by a student’s country of origin
  • Operates in 155 countries around the globe
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program Tuition, travel, and other costs

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program provides a year of enrichment for degreed professionals from countries in transition.

Scholarship Deadline: October 1

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Possess an undergraduate degree
  • Demonstrate full-time professional experience covering a five-year period
  • Limited or no prior experience in the U.S.
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship $1,000 - $10,000

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners named this scholarship after two of its members who died during a terrorist attack in Karachi, Pakistan.

Scholarship Deadline: February 5

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Be enrolled full-time in a four-year college or university
  • Pursuing an accounting or criminal justice major
  • Demonstrate an interest in anti-fraud career fields
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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The Keith Williams Law Group Semi-Annual Scholarship $1,500

The Keith Williams Law Group offers this scholarship in the spring and fall semesters. Their website features a photo and write up about the winners.

Scholarship Deadline: December 10 (spring), June 10 (fall)

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Accepted to or currently enrolled in a college or university
  • Student has overcome adversity in their life and difficulties in school
  • Submit an essay of 800 words or fewer that details the adversity and difficulties faced by the applicant and describes how these struggles were overcome
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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Wiit Trust Scholarships Up to $1,500

Women in International Trade raises money each year to support this scholarship program.

Scholarship Deadline: July 31

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Open to female students who are currently enrolled in a college or university
  • Demonstrate an interest in international trade
  • Submit a three- to five-page essay on the assigned trade-related topic
  • See scholarship website for additional requirements

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Scholarship Tips for International Students

  • Start early: Apply for scholarships early. Many financial aid packages have both a priority deadline and an absolute deadline. Submitting an application by the priority deadline can increase your chances for success. Furthermore, writing essays and compiling documentation may take longer than anticipated.
  • Use all resources available: The cost of higher education can seem overwhelming. For this reason, it’s important to take advantage of all resources, including those offered in your home country, at your current school, by U.S. entities, and through your prospective U.S. college or university. Online scholarship databases such as can provide additional financial aid information.
  • Apply to as many scholarships as possible: To secure as much funding as possible, apply to as many scholarships as you can. Read the eligibility requirements carefully and reach out to the scholarship host if you have questions about applying as an international student. This helps you avoid wasting your time and prevents you from applying for awards you aren’t eligible for.
  • Have a native English speaker look over your application: Since scholarships for international students are often hyper-competitive, be sure to have a native English speaker review your application. They can make suggestions to improve sentence structure, grammar, argumentation, and spelling. If you don’t have access to a native speaker, consider using an online app such as Hemingway or After the Deadline for editorial assistance.

Loans for International Students

While 71% of U.S. citizens fund a portion of their college costs through loans, the number of student loans for international students is relatively small; most of these international individuals are not eligible for federal aid, including loans from the U.S. government. However, some schools, such as St. Olaf College in Minnesota, do offer small loans to international students. Other non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations also provide interest-free loans. The Organization of American State’s Rowe Fund, for instance, offers loans of up to $15,000 to help citizens from Latin America and the Caribbean fund their U.S. education.

Eligible international students can also take advantage of private loans, such as those from Citizens Bank, Sallie Mae Bank, Discover, and UFPSL funded by SunTrust Bank. None of these loan options require a social security number from the student borrower. However, they all require a cosigner who is either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, making this option helpful to students with family members living in the United States.

If you can’t secure a U.S. cosigner it may be helpful to consider other private organizations, like the Global Student Loan Corporation and MPOWER Financing, which also offer loans to international students. Be aware, however, that taking out a private loan should be the last option for any scholar. Before obtaining a private loan, it is important to exhaust every financial aid option from your own government and pursue any grants or scholarships provided by schools or other organizations. Private loans tend to have high interest rates and are not subsidized.

Additional Resources for International Students

  • International Education Financial Aid (IEFA): Part of the International Student Network, IEFA offers searchable databases of loans and scholarships for international students in the U.S.
  • eduPass: Referred to as The SmartStudentTM Guide to Studying in the U.S., eduPass provides information about financial aid, admissions, English, American culture, and life in the U.S.
  • United States Department of State’s EducationUSA: This U.S. government-sponsored site has tips on studying in the U.S., a helpful guide to student visas, and a calendar of events.
  • Peterson’s: This higher education resource offers online databases where students can search for a range of academic programs, from associate degrees to PhD options.
  • Magoosh: This educational site helps students prepare for college, graduate school, and professional school admissions tests. It also provides free, helpful guides for international students.