Financial aid in USA for international students

For US students with traditional access to educational financing, getting money for higher education is pretty straightforward.

You either pay out of pocket or get a student loan.

For international students looking to study in the United States, though, things can be a little hazy.

This guide will bring some clarity to this important subject. You will learn how to apply for financial aid as an international student in the U.S.

You will also learn how to access loans to cover the cost of their studies.

To begin, let me take you on an overview of the sources of funding available to you as a foreign student in the U.S. Then, we will go in deeper as we consider each of these sources.

Shall we?

Sources of funding for foreign students in the US

There are five main sources of Financial aid in USA for international students studying in the United States:

1. Personal financing resources: You or your family can pay for your education outright. This is the most common form of financing among international students, as it does not come with the same level of risk as loans.

2. Scholarships and grants from international organizations: A number of organizations offer scholarships to international students. These are usually merit-based, meaning they are awarded to students with a strong academic record.

3. Financial Aid Directly from the university: Some universities in the U.S. offer financial aid for international students. In addition, most universities have graduate assistantships that are a solid funding source for research-heavy programs.

4. Government sources of funding: Many foreign governments have programs to help their citizens finance their studies abroad.

5. International student loans: While U.S. federal loans are not an option, you can consider private loans and loans from your home country’s government.

Now that we have had an overview of the funding landscape, let’s take a closer look at each of them.

1. Personal financing resources

As I mentioned, this is the most common form of financing among international students. If you or your family has the financial resources to pay for your tuition outright, this is definitely the best option.

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This can be as savings, income from campus employment, or financial support from your family.

Going this route will allow you to avoid the interest and fees associated with loans, and you will not have to worry about repayment until after you have completed your studies.

However, if you choose to support yourself with a part-time job while schooling, it is good to keep in mind the cap on the number of hours you can legally work as an international student. How much can you expect from such a limited income?

Factor in that working could have a negative impact on your studies – which is the point of having a cap. If part-time work is part of your plans to support yourself while schooling, make sure that you have a solid plan in place to make sure that you can still excel in your academics.

2. Scholarships and grants from international organizations

Several international organizations promoting international education and diplomacy provide funding and other help to students.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program, for example, allows international graduate students to come to America for study and provides 4,000 scholarships to students aspiring to study abroad.

Scholarship offers like these are usually merit-based, meaning that the awards go to students with a strong academic or community impact track record.

If that does not describe you, not to worry…

There are also need-based scholarships available, though these are much less common. To find out what scholarships you may be eligible for, you can check with your chosen school’s financial aid office or with a scholarship search engine.

3. Student Financial Aid from Universities Directly

A common way to access funding is through the university. Private institutions can sometimes discount or reduce the costs of tuition; public institutions seldom have this option.

You should request information about financial aid when you request an application form from the institution’s admissions office.

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There is much less money available for undergraduate study in the United States than there is for graduate study. Departments and faculties usually have funds tied to research projects that support international students through fellowships and teaching assistantships.

Keep in mind that while school websites are usually upfront about scholarships and discounts available, most schools rarely advertise these funding opportunities on the school websites. This is likely because their faculties have discretionary use of the research funding that they attract.

So, to get information on fellowships and assistantships, contact your desired university’s department of graduate studies. Inquire about what opportunities are available, and, if you are eligible, how to apply for them.

Even if you are already in the USA and studying, it is not too late to reach out to your school and ask about funding.

Remember that, as an international student, you may have the unique skills and experiences that faculties are looking for in a research assistant. Do not be shy about approaching professors and making them aware of your availability.

If you cannot receive funding from the university, there are various external organizations that offer scholarships for international students.

4. Government sources of financing

As an international student, you are not eligible for USA federal aid for international students such as Stafford Loan or Plus Loans. That said, depending on your country of origin and program of study, the other methods we have explored are available to you.

The first place to start is usually with your home government, as many governments have programs to finance the education of their citizens studying abroad. Consider reaching out to your country’s embassy in the United States to find out what funding is available.

For example, if you are a student of Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan or Palestinian origin, you can benefit from the United States-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). You should check with the MEPC or your country’s education ministry to see if this partnership is still active.

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Bear in mind that if you source a loan from your home country, this may come with certain preconditions. For example, you may be bonded to return home and give back to your community after completing your studies.

It will please you to learn that international students studying in the United States are eligible for specialized private education loans.

Can foreign students apply for FAFSA?

A frequent question is, can international students apply for FAFSA, since they are technically ineligible?

As we have already established, international students do not qualify for US government federal grants. However, it is important that they still complete the application as some universities and colleges depend on FAFSA details to determine eligibility for financial aid from the school itself.

I will advise you to check with your school’s financial aid office to see if it uses the FAFSA for international students.

5. International student loans

Since international students may not have a credit history, getting conventional loans can be tricky. As a last resort, an international student could consider taking out an international student loan to raise the money needed for tuition and upkeep.

Some notable providers of student loans include MPOWER Financing, Prodigy Finance, and Sallie Mae. To gain further insights into the offers of these companies, review their ratings on Nerd Wallet.

Most international lenders require a US cosigner to repay a loan. A Cosigner is generally a close relative whose financial assets or income is sufficient to pay off the debt if required.

Of course, these loan companies are running a business, so they have to make sure that they will earn enough to make their efforts worthwhile. This means that your loan will have interest charges and repayment terms that you must read and comply with.

I recommend that you review the terms and conditions of each agreement and assess the best worth you can get.

I hope this explainer has brought you greater clarity on the sources for financing as an international student studying in the USA. Go do something with it!

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