Financial aid for international students

Pro tip: Get your applications in early since funds are often offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Finding funding as an international student in the US can be tricky — a lot of popular choices like federal student aid are off the table. But there are several options available exclusively to international students, from scholarships to grants. Getting your application in before the deadline can increase your chances of approval, since funds are often offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Can I get financial aid as an international student?

Yes, you can get a wide range of financial aid as an international student, from scholarships to student loans. However, you might not be eligible for the same types of aid as your classmates who are US citizens and permanent residents, such as federal student loans and some private student loans.

Got a relative or friend who is a US citizen or permanent resident? You’re in luck. You generally have more options if you know someone who can cosign your student loan. But it’s still possible to find scholarships, grants and loans even without a cosigner.

What types of aid am I eligible for as an international student?

You can qualify for the following types of financial aid as an international student:

  • Scholarships. Money to pay for school that you don’t have to pay back, usually based on your grades, test scores and other indicators of academic merit.
  • Grants. Money that you don’t need to repay based on your family’s financial situation.
  • Fellowships. Money that you don’t need to pay back for graduate programs or academic research.
  • Work-study programs. Work in exchange for tuition or wages that you can use to pay for your cost of attendance (COA). Students on an F-1 visa can legally work on campus and even off campus in some cases.
  • No-interest student loans. Money that you borrow and repay without any interest, usually for a low fee.
  • Private student loans. Money that you borrow and repay plus interest and fees, with more flexible repayment options than personal loans. Full repayments typically begin after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment.
  • Personal loans. Money you repay plus interest and fees to cover personal expenses while you’re in school.

Scholarships, grants and fellowships for international students

Scholarships, grants and fellowships are all types of “gift aid” you can use to cover all or part of your COA or fund a research project. Gift aid means you don’t have to pay back the money you receive. This type of funding can range from a few hundred dollars to covering your full COA — which includes room and board, books, transportation and other personal expenses.

Where to find scholarships, grants and fellowships

International students can find scholarships, grants and fellowships from a few different sources. You might want to start by looking at funding available through your school, checking out connection services for outside opportunities and even looking into your country’s government programs.

Interest-free loans for international students

Another option available to international students are interest-free student loans. These work like scholarships and grants that you have to pay back in installments, usually around five years. Unlike other types of student loans, you don’t have to pay interest or need to meet credit requirements to qualify. Like grants, these are typically based on how much your school thinks your family can put toward your education.

Compare interest-free student loans

Work-study programs for international students

The US Department of Education (DoE)’s Federal Work-Study Program isn’t open to international students. However, some schools have their own work-study programs that you might be able participate in, which puts the hours you work toward your COA.

Another option is to find a job on your own. International students are legally allowed to work in the US as long as they’re on campus or their job is related to their academic studies. You also might be allowed to work other jobs if you face severe financial need.

Student loans for international students

International students can’t qualify for federal student loans from the US DoE. But you can sometimes qualify for private student loans. Generally, you have two choices: getting a student loan with a cosigner or borrowing from a lender that specializes in international student loans, like Mpower.

Apply with a cosigner if you can — you’ll be able to borrow more, get more competitive rates and have more options to choose from. However, your cosigner must be a US citizen or permanent resident and meet the minimum income and credit score requirements to qualify.

Student loan providers that work specifically with international students look at your grades and major rather than your credit score and income when deciding if you’re eligible.

Compare student loans for international students

Personal loans for international students

A handful of lenders like Stilt and Boro offer personal loans that international students can qualify for. Like student loans for international students, these lenders consider factors like your grades, test scores and major when you apply. You don’t need a credit score, though some might require you to be employed.

Since these aren’t technically student loans, full repayments might start immediately. And you won’t have the same flexibility you get with student loans — like the ability to pause repayments if you can’t find a job right away.

Compare personal loans for nonresidents

Schools that offer financial aid to international students

As many as 815 US schools offer financial aid to international students, according to the College Board. Here are a few you might want to apply to:

  • Amherst
  • Bard
  • Bates
  • Bucknell
  • Colgate
  • Columbia
  • Dartmouth
  • Denison
  • Dickinson
  • Duke
  • Elmira College

How to apply for financial aid to study in the US in 9 steps

Follow these steps to get help paying for college in the US:

  1. Research and apply to free aid that doesn’t require a visa. Some scholarships require a visa, while others don’t. Applying for the scholarships that don’t require a visa first can help you provide proof of funding for your stay in the US.
  2. Fill out the CSS Profile and ISFAA. Many schools require international students to complete the CSS Profile or International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA) to be considered for institutional scholarships, grants and loans.
  3. Review your financial aid award letter. This tells you how much you’ll receive in scholarships, grants, work-study and loans through your school. If you still need money, you might want to apply for outside aid.
  4. Apply for your visa. You need to have a valid student visa for some grant, scholarship and loan programs — and to attend your school.
  5. Apply to scholarships and grants that require a visa. Apply to these as soon as possible to ensure your application gets seen by the committee.
  6. Compare interest-free loans. These tend to have applications that are similar to scholarships and grants — they often require recommendation letters and a short essay.
  7. Compare private student loans. Comparing lenders can help you find the best deal out there that you can qualify for.
  8. Compare personal loans. Personal loans should be a last resort, but they can help when you’re in a pinch.
  9. Do it all over again. More often than not, you need to apply for financial aid each year — unless you’re lucky enough to get a four-year scholarship or grant that automatically renews.

6 tips for getting financial aid as an international student

From looking locally to getting your applications in early, below are a few pointers for getting aid:

  1. Know the deadlines. Organize deadlines for all of the scholarship, grant and other financial aid applications you’re looking to submit to make sure you don’t miss any key dates.
  2. Use connection services. Databases like FastWeb and Cappex can help you find scholarships, grants and other aid you might not have otherwise found. Many also offer tips for applying as an international student.
  3. Get your applications in early. Some scholarship and grant programs are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to have your application seen.
  4. Look locally. Some governments have scholarship programs for their citizens to study in the US — which might be less competitive than US scholarships for international students.
  5. Apply for free aid first. This reduces the amount you’ll have to pay in interest and fees for student loans, which can be expensive for international students.
  6. Plan for repayments. Repaying any loan from another country can be complicated and expensive — especially if you make money in a different currency. Talk to your lender about the process for making repayments from abroad before you borrow.

Bottom line

Financial aid as an international student works a little differently than it does for US citizens and permanent residents. You might not receive institutional funding from your school, and federal aid from the US DoE is off the table. But there are many scholarships, grants and other programs specifically for international students.

You can learn more about how paying for school works with our guide to student loans.

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