College  |  August 2, 2023  |  Mia Ichimura

Financial aid that international students can get

What you'll learn

  • The cost of attending school in the U.S.
  • What kind of financial assistance international students are eligible for
  • International student scholarships and grants
  • How to choose the right school for you

So you’re looking at attending school in the U.S., but you’re not sure how to fund it. It can be tricky to find financial aid for U.S. colleges and universities. While international students can’t receive 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 allocated for international students, as well as scholarships, grants, and even private student loans.

Cost of attendance to study in the U.S.

Paying for higher education in the U.S. has become increasingly expensive. But being an international student adds an extra layer of costs, such as student visa fees, health insurance, and travel to and from your home country. The cost of undergraduate and postgraduate studies varies between institutions. But in general, public colleges tend to charge lower tuition rates, while private universities typically have higher sticker prices. Luckily, there are tons of options out there to help you fund your higher education.

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 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 to determine where you can receive aid from. Without a U.S. Social Security number, you can’t submit the form online, but you can (and should!) print out a copy and submit it via mail. The earlier you send it in, the better, because some 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 filling out one of these forms, contact each school 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. Note that while you may not be eligible for U.S. federal aid, your home country’s government may offer aid to students looking to study abroad in the U.S.

Scholarships for international students

If federal aid is not an option, how do international students pay for college? Scholarships play a large role. They are a fantastic source of money for school that you don’t have to pay 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’ll likely have to answer some personal questions, write an essay, or even make a video, but your efforts could pay off enormously. And make sure to pay attention to smaller scholarships. Scholarships for $100 or $200 can add up and help cover your books for a semester.

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


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Grants for international graduate students

If you’re planning to attend graduate school as an international student, there are also grants available for you. One of these programs is the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, which offers generous scholarships to international graduate students 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 graduate students in the U.S.

Loans for international students

You may also 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 with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen. This is because most students have limited income and little to no credit history.

Generally, a cosigner is a relative, friend, spouse, or any creditworthy adult who is willing to share the responsibility of paying back a student loan. As an international student, finding a U.S. cosigner can be difficult. When thinking of potential cosigners, consider trusted friends or university alumni with good credit.

Attending school in the U.S. entails a number of expenses aside from tuition. These may include housing, food, textbooks, supplies, health insurance, and travel expenses. It’s always recommended to look at savings, scholarships, grants, and other “free money” to help cover these costs. If you still need more money, private student loans may be a suitable option to help cover these types of expenses.

Choose the school that’s right for you

The U.S. is home to some well-known and prestigious colleges and universities, but many 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 saving thousands of dollars. Along with financial fit, factors such as program offerings, return on investment, size, and location are equally important to consider. Maybe you’re set on studying accounting and want to attend a small business university for a specialized education. Or perhaps you’re still exploring career paths and prefer a large university with a wide array of programs. 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. Wherever you decide to go, know that your contributions are valuable, and your unique skills and perspective deserve a place on any campus.


footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.