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How to Get Financial Aid for International Students

Attending school in the USA is a good way to get an education, but financial aid for international students is difficult to find. Here’s what you need to know.

Coming to the United States is one way to get a good education. However, it can be costly to move to another country to attend school, whether you’re working on an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree.

One way to reduce the overall cost of attending a university in the U.S. is to look for financial aid. However, financial aid for international students can be difficult to find, mainly because there’s limited aid for these scholars. 

However, there are some ways to get financial aid for international students in the USA. Here’s what you need to know.

Can international students apply for FAFSA?

First of all, it’s important to understand which international students can apply for financial aid  through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Depending on your situation, you might be eligible to get financial aid through the FAFSA. Those who can apply for U.S. financial aid through the FAFSA include permanent residents, refugees, people who have been granted asylum, certain immigrants and citizens of certain islands. For example, citizens of the Republic of Palau and the Federal States of Micronesia as well as some other island nations have access to limited federal student aid.

Many international students, however, won’t be able to use the FAFSA as a way to get federal student aid.

Scholarships for international students

While federal financial aid for international students might not be available, there are other ways to get help paying for school. Scholarships for international students can be one way to get student aid to help study in the USA.

Here are some scholarships to consider as you apply for school in the United States:

  • Fulbright scholarship: This prestigious scholarship can help you cover the costs of traveling to the U.S. to study. It can also cover your room and board. A Fulbright scholarship likely won’t pay for your tuition, but other expenses related to coming to the U.S. for school might be covered.
  • Institutional aid: Some schools provide scholarships and grants for international students. They can be difficult to get and might be few and far between, but they can help you with the cost of tuition. You might be able to get a merit-based scholarship depending on your skills and abilities or a need-based scholarship depending on your family’s financial situation.
  • Private scholarships: Some organizations offer financial aid for international students in the form of scholarships. You might be able to get some money for school from civic, nonprofit and private entities that offer help to students.

You can look online for these scholarships. Some websites, such as Abroad Planet and International Education Financial Aid, can help you search for scholarships designed for international students who want to study in the United States. There are also specialty scholarship websites like Mobility International USA that have specific funds set aside for international students that are part of underserved communities like those with disabilities.

Interest-free loans for international students

Another option for financial aid for international students is getting an interest-free loan. While an interest-free loan is not a scholarship or grant, it does help reduce costs and can make school more affordable. 

The Rowe Fund is a program run by the Organization of American States. Students from certain Caribbean and Latin American countries can use this program to get interest-free loans to study in the United States. That can be a way to pay for school without worrying about how much interest will add to the cost.

Private student loans

After you look into the possibility of financial aid for international students in the USA and whether you can apply using the FAFSA, another option is to look for private student loans.

If you have a funding shortfall to study in the United States, some lenders are willing to give you a loan. For example, you might be able to use a website such as Juno to find international student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.

You will have to pay interest, but rates can be competitive. For some loans, international students don’t need to worry about finding a co-signer. Compare lenders to see what might work for you. If you really want to study in the U.S., there are resources available.

Alternatives to financial aid for international students

If you can’t get federal financial aid or scholarships as an international student — or you still need money after receiving aid — there are some alternatives. 

  • Personal savings: Consider your personal savings as a source of funds to cover some of your college costs. Your savings can reduce the need for student loans, reducing how much you owe when you’re done.
  • Employment: Depending on your visa, you might be able to work while you study. In general, a student visa doesn’t allow for work, nor does a travel visa. Find out whether you can get a visa that allows you to work and attend school. Even with limited hours, being able to work can reduce your need for student loans.
  • Friends and family: In some cases, you might have people in your network willing to help you cover the cost of school. That can be a way to get personal financial aid as a student studying in the U.S.

Additionally, make sure you understand the tax implications of financial aid. In some cases, you might have a portion of your financial aid withheld for taxes. You might be able to get a refund of any taxes withheld if your home country has a tax treaty with the U.S., but you’ll need to check on that.

Bottom line

Attending school in the United States can be a good way to get an education and bring skills back to your home country. However, you might have a hard time getting financial aid for international students. Some aid is available, but it might not cover all your costs. To be effective, you might need to employ several strategies, including private loans and personal savings, to cover your costs.

Kat Tretina

Written By

Kat Tretina

Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, FL. She specializes in helping people finance their education and manage debt. Her work has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, MarketWatch, and many other publications.


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