Studying in the U.S. is way too expensive… What financial aid options are there?

You’re thinking of studying in the U.S. but there’s one big challenge that makes you pause: the price tag. As U.S. higher education has become famously expensive in recent years, news about the student debt crisis has probably made you hesitant about whether you’ll be able to afford 4 years of college tuition.

There’s good news though: going to college doesn’t have to mean working two part-time jobs or saddling yourself with the burden of debt. You can consider applying for the many financial aid options available for international students.

The first step is the (in)famous FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

A standard form used to determine eligibility for grants, work-study and loans, the FAFSA is still useful to fill out even though international students do not qualify for aid through the U.S. government. Some colleges use it to see if you're eligible for need-based aid from the school itself. As international students do not have a Social Security Number, you won’t be able to fill out the FAFSA online. Instead, you'll have to print out the form and mail it to the Federal Student Aid office.

You may also have to fill out the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA) to determine your aid eligibility. As with any application for financial aid, work closely with your school's financial aid office to see which form it requires.

The best place to start looking for aid is institutional aid from your school.

To begin with, many colleges acknowledge that some students will be unable to pay the full cost of tuition, and thus these colleges sometimes offer need-based aid. This type of aid is awarded strictly based on your financial profile, with no consideration of the student’s academic merit. Colleges consider how much aid you’re eligible for through your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), calculated through the financial information provided through your FAFSA.

In addition, some colleges may offer merit-based aid. Instead of evaluating financial need, merit scholarship sponsors evaluate you based on merit-based factors. This can include a range of qualities, including academic record, TOEFL scores, or even artistic, musical, or athletic ability.

Why would schools offer me money to come to their school?

The answer: it isn’t just you that wants to go to a particular school, schools often want you to bring something special to them. Better GPA, SAT scores, and varsity sports results amongst the student body all improve the image of the college.

If you do have the option to decide between admission acceptances from two or more universities, be sure to negotiate with both. Some institutions may be willing to match a merit grant that another university offered you.

Going big: Scholarships and grants

A final option to explore is competitive scholarships. The U.S. has a wealth of foundations that are willing to help international students with specific circumstances. Students from developing countries, in civil leadership, or studying specific majors are all possible categories you might fit in. All that’s required is going through a scholarship directory website and applying. Although many are competitive and have an application process that requires additional work (e.g., the Foreign Fulbright Student Program), the prestige and connections that these programs offer can be well worth it.

We hope this article has helped you explore options to finance your time in the U.S.! Keep reading our other articles to learn more about managing your finances as a college student.


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