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Types of financial aid for international students

College • July 7, 2020 • Alanna Smith


What you’ll learn

  • The types of financial assistance international students are eligible for
  • International student scholarships and grants


Are you an international student looking to attend school in the United States? It can be difficult at first to know where to look for financial assistance for U.S. colleges and universities. It’s important to know that while international students can’t apply for U.S. federal student aid like federal loans or work-study, there are still options available to help pay for higher education. You might be eligible for financial aid specifically allocated for international students from specific colleges, as well as scholarships, grants, and even some private student loans.

FAFSA® for international students

Can international students apply for FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is intended for U.S. citizens and certain eligible noncitizens in order to determine what financial aid they can receive from the federal government or schools. While international students are not eligible for federal aid from the FAFSA, it’s still important to file the form. Why? Some schools may require it in order to determine if you could receive aid directly from the school or from the state where the school is located. As an international student without a U.S. Social Security number, you can’t submit the form online, but you can print out a copy and submit it via mail. The earlier you send it in, the better, because some financial aid is distributed on a first come, first-served basis.

Some schools may require forms other than the FAFSA, such as the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA), or school-specific forms. Before taking the time to fill out one of these forms, contact the individual schools you’re interested in to find out which form they prefer. Keep in mind that not all schools offer international financial assistance, which might be an important factor in where to apply. In addition, while you may not be eligible for U.S. federal aid, your home country’s government may offer financial aid to students looking to study abroad.

Scholarships for international students

If federal aid is not an option, how do international students pay for college? Scholarships play a large role, specifically those for international students. Scholarships are a fantastic source of free money for school—meaning you don’t have to pay them back. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of international student scholarships available, including those for specific fields of study, sports, hobbies, volunteerism, heritage, and more. To apply for a scholarship, you may have to answer some personal questions, write an essay, or even make a video, but your efforts could pay off. And make sure to pay attention to smaller scholarships. Scholarships for $100 or $200 USD can add up, and even a few could help pay for your books for a semester.

Be sure to keep an eye out for scholarship scams. You should never, ever have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship.

Grants for international graduate students

If you’re planning to attend graduate school, there are also grants available to help international students. One of these programs is the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, which offers generous scholarships to help international students attend graduate school in the U.S. These scholarships will cover almost all expenses associated with your program, including airfare to the U.S. from your home country. Another funding opportunity comes from the AAUW International Fellowships, which grants scholarships to female international students looking to pursue graduate studies in the United States.

Loans for international students

While you may not be eligible for federal loans, there are still international student loans available. You may want to consider applying for international private student loans to help cover college costs. You will need a little help to do this, though. Most private student loan lenders require that you apply for your loan with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen. This cosigner could be a relative, friend, spouse, or any creditworthy individual who is willing to support you in the responsibility of taking on a student loan.

Attending schools in the United States entails a number of expenses aside from tuition. You might have to pay for housing, food, books, supplies, health insurance, and even international travel to and from school. It’s always recommended to look at savings, scholarships, grants, and other “free money” to help cover these costs, but if you still need more money after checking those options, private student loans are able to help cover these types of school-certified expenses.

Choose the school that’s right for you

The U.S. is home to some very famous and prestigious colleges and universities, but many of these can be both competitive and expensive. Don’t rule out smaller colleges or state universities that have similarly amazing academic programs - you could end up paying thousands of dollars less in tuition. With over 5,000 schools in the U.S. to choose from, chances are you’ll be able to find one that fits both your academic pursuits and your financial needs.


Alanna Smith is a copywriter at Sallie Mae by day and a grad student by night. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, practicing the harp, and playing D&D.


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