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Are International Students Eligible for Financial Aid?

Robyn Stewart

Written by Robyn Stewarton November 30th, 2017

Prior to joining College Coach, I was a financial aid officer at the College of the Holy Cross and an education advisor at two TRIO program locations. I work with the Massachusetts Education Finance Authority (MEFA) to present paying for college workshops to hundreds of families across the state. I'm a graduate of UMass Amherst and have a master in counseling from Northeastern University.
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If an international student contacts the financial aid office at a college or university in the U.S. and asks, “Is there financial aid available for international students?,” the answer will usually be a firm no. Financial aid officers are ambassadors of federal funds, and may not look beyond the money that is offered by the U.S. government to fully answer this question. A more complete answer requires students to broaden their scope. Finding money for college requires looking beyond the federal funds and even traditional first-stop college sources like the like financial aid office. After family funds, the largest source of funding for college is the college or university itself, this funding being known as institutional money. This money could be a scholarship, a grant, a fellowship, or an assistantship often awarded outside of the Financial Aid Office. International students should consider the following:
  • What is the school’s budget?
  • What is the perceived value that you would bring to this campus as a student from country X?
  • Does the school actively recruit students from your country?
  • Does the Admissions Office offer a scholarships specific to students from your part of the world?
Often private colleges have more resources for international students than public colleges do, and some awards are limited to students who are pursuing graduate degrees. Students need to know what is available at each school and research the basic application procedure. Institutional funds, and who they are awarded to, can reveal a lot about a school’s enrollment goals and priorities. The purpose of international scholarships is to increase diversity and create future ambassadors for an institution. International students who are looking for scholarships at U.S. universities should research early to see which institutions offer them. Some examples of places to search for this type of international student support on a particular campus would be to check in with any local alumni associations, international clubs, student organizations, or the immigration community in the surrounding area. Certain U.S. schools—think the most selective colleges and universities, like those in the Ivy League—will also require international students to complete the CSS Profile to be considered for institutional funding in accordance with the family’s financial situation. Keep in mind that at this set of schools, international student applications are often subject to a more rigorous admissions review because, if accepted to the university, the school is committing to award the student up to 100% of his demonstrated need. Students should review all possibilities for funding opportunities outside of the college, starting with their home government. For example, the Chinese Scholarship Council provides money to Chinese citizens and the Ministry of Education in Spain offers assistance to Spanish citizens who want to study abroad. Check in with the local US embassy or consulate in your home country to see what types of assistance are available. Private scholarships, not tied to the college’s budget, are another avenue for international students. The American Association for University Women offers project grants and fellowships to international students for graduate level work. Students interested in pursuing careers in computer science or technology may want to check out the scholarships offered through Microsoft. Consider past activities, volunteer work, future career aspirations, hobbies, ethnicity, and religion when undertaking your private scholarship search—these are just a few examples potential scholarship criteria. Finally, while international students are not able to access the federal loan programs, institutional education loans offered through the U.S. university may be available to help students cover costs. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business Loans and Yale’s International Loan Program for graduate students enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences are examples of such programs. Additionally, there are certainly private lenders that offer loan programs for international students. Students should research if they can apply in their own right, or if they need a US co-signer who has stable employment and good credit. If students are looking for this loan funding to be used as evidence of ability to pay in the student visa certification process, make sure to read the fine print on how long the initial approval will take. International students need to consider the costs associated with studying in the United States. Careful school selection and additional upfront research for resources can help prepare students for their education abroad. International-CTA


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