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How to fill out the International Student Financial Aid Application for 2020–2023

An 11-step guide to completing the ISFAA — and what to expect after you submit it.

Attending college in the US as an international student can be challenging for multiple reasons — cost being a huge blocker. Unfortunately, international students don't qualify for federal financial aid, and can't submit the FAFSA to determine eligibility for grants and loans. But international students can still fill out the ISFAA to qualify for institutional financial aid.

What is the ISFAA?

ISFAA stands for International Student Financial Aid Application. It's a form that schools use to determine need-based eligibility for institutional aid. 

Because it's on an individual institution basis, there's no singular, standardized ISFAA. Some colleges create their own application, others use services such as the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile provided through CollegeBoard. 

The CSS profile allows students and colleges to submit and view ISFAA information electronically. But some countries don't allow access to the CSS, so you would need to fill out a paper ISFAA and return it to your college. 

How do I complete the ISFAA?

If your college utilizes the CSS profile, create an account and add your information on the CollegeBoard website. There's a $25 fee for completing your CSS profile and sending the information to your college. If you want to send the information to multiple colleges, it costs an additional $16 for each school.

If your school doesn't utilize the CSS, or you can't access it, fill out a paper ISFAA and directly submit it to your college. For the paper version, remember to fill out the ISFAA for the correct academic year.

11 steps to submit the ISFAA

The process will probably look slightly different for each college you're considering. But in general, schools will want information relating to your and your family’s financial status. Follow these steps to ensure a smooth application.

Step 1: Determine if your school uses CSS or a paper ISFAA

This is an important first step and will dictate the rest of the process. If you can use CSS, create your account. Otherwise, print out the paper form ISFAA.

Step 2: Gather your information

Regardless of how your information is processed, you want to have all your paperwork together before getting started. Make sure to gather your and your parents' financial information.

Step 3: Fill out Section A: Student’s information

This section will include information like your name, date of birth, address and marital status.

Step 4: Fill out Section B: Parents’ information

Similar information will be requested for your parents.

Step 5: Fill out Section C: Financial information

For this section you'll share your household financial information. You'll likely need tax documents and possibly letters of recommendation for anyone in your family who is employed.

Step 6: Fill out Section D: Asset information

The asset section will apply to property, businesses, land and investments that you or your family have. 

Step 7: Fill out Section E: Expenses

List any expenses such as rent, utilities, medical expenses or auto loans.

Step 8: Fill out Section F: Expected support for educational expenses

This section summarizes your income, assets and any support you might be receiving from federal agencies or foundations. 

Step 9: Fill out Section G: Explanation or special circumstances

You might not have anything to add to this section, but try to outline any circumstances your college should know about.

Step 10: Sign Section H: Certification and authorization

This section requires yours and your parent’s signature along with the date. 

Step 11: Send the form to your school

If you're filling out the CSS the information will be sent electronically to your school. If you're filling out the paper ISFAA, you must mail it in.

What happens after I submit my ISFAA? 

Check your CSS dashboard for updates once your profile information is submitted. Because this isn't a standardized application, processing time can vary from school to school.

You may need to follow up with the financial aid office at your college once you submit your application, especially if you use the paper form. 

When should I submit my ISFAA? 

A good general guideline is to follow the submission timeframe for the FAFSA, which becomes available each year on October 1st. You should try to complete the ISFAA around the same time, although deadlines can vary depending on the college.

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Bottom line 

The CSS profile and ISFAA are important resources for international students looking for financial aid. For additional information on potential funding, read our guide to student loans for international students

Frequently asked questions

How do I know if my school accepts the CSS profile or ISFAA?

The easiest place to start is by reaching out to the financial aid office at your school. They can point you in the right direction.

How much can I receive in financial aid?

Because the ISFAA is used to determine eligibility for institution-based aid, the amount available can widely vary. If you know that you'll need financial aid, research how much funding the school or schools that you're interested in allocates to aid for international students. Some schools make it clear when financial aid is only available to US citizens.

How do I qualify for a CSS fee waiver?

Unfortunately, international students aren't eligible for fee waivers provided through CollegeBoard. However, some colleges offer fee waivers to domestic and international students. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office

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