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The Best Scholarships for International Students

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Posted by Christine Sarikas | Mar 1, 2021 4:00:00 PM

Financial Aid

 

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Many international students hoping to study in the United States are interested in scholarships for international students. But can international students get financial aid in the US? The truth is that it's often very difficult for international students to get substantial financial aid. However, it is possible to not only get financial aid, but to get a very generous aid package that pays for most or all of your university expenses. In this article on financial aid for international students, we go over all your options and explain where to spend the most time looking for scholarships and which routes will likely not get you the financial aid you're hoping for.

 

Who Counts as an International Student When It Comes to Scholarships and Financial Aid?

First of all, what do we mean when we talk about "international students?" It's based on your citizenship, not where you live. Universities and the federal government consider students without US citizenship, green card status, or asylum/refugee status to be international students. If you are a US citizen but lived/attended school abroad, you aren't considered an international student. If you aren't a US citizen or permanent resident, even if you live/attended school in the US, then you're considered an international student.

Note: If you're a DACA recipient (also known as "Dreamers"), different rules apply. You aren't eligible for federal financial aid, but many states and individual universities offer financial aid for DACA recipients. You can also check out our article on the best scholarships for DACA students.

 

What Types of Financial Aid Can International Students Use for US Colleges?

Now let's focus on sources of financial aid for international students. The most important thing to note here is that international students are not eligible for federal student aid. As you research financial aid, you may come across the term "FAFSA" which is an acronym for Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the form the majority of American students fill out to help the federal government and the universities they're applying to determine how much financial aid they're eligible for. However, most international students won't fill this out as they're not eligible for federal aid like Stafford loans, Plus loans, or Pell grants. (Some colleges still request international students fill the FAFSA out so they have an idea of their family contributions.)

Similarly, most private scholarships from American organizations/individuals are only for American students. Because international students are only eligible for a tiny fraction of them, you're better off looking at scholarships specifically for international students, rather than combing through dozens of private scholarships only to find that the fine print states applicants must be US citizens.

So then what types of financial aid are international students eligible for? International students typically receive financial aid from one or more of the following three sources:

  • Your university

  • Your home country

  • External lenders and scholarships

 

The University You're Attending

The American university you're going to attend is often your best source of financial aid; however, the amount each university offers international students varies widely. Some universities don't offer any financial aid to international students, while others give quite generous financial aid packages to international students based on merit and/or your family's financial situation. Before you decide to enroll at a university (and, ideally, before you even apply) it's extremely important to know about how much financial aid they offer international students if you're going to need financial aid to attend.

Check out the lists below for a starting point of the schools that offer the best financial aid for international students, but you should also read the university's resources for international students and contact the financial aid office if you need more clarification. You don't want to apply to a bunch of schools hoping for lots of scholarships only to discover they don't offer financial aid to international students.

 

Your Home Country

Many international students receive financial help from a source within their own country.  Some countries have scholarships to help local students who want to attend university abroad. These might be private or government-sponsored scholarships, and you may need to maintain a certain GPA to keep them. If you're currently attending school in your home country, talk to your academic advisor about your options. Otherwise, you can do an internet search or ask people back home if they know about scholarship opportunities.

 

External Sources

There are also external sources of financial aid for international students. "External" here means sources that aren't connected to universities or the government. The financial aid might be loans (which need to be paid back), grants, scholarships (both of which don't need to be paid back), or a combination. If you're taking out private loans, we recommend researching options in both your home country and the United States to see which gives you a better deal.

 

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Schools That Offer the Best Financial Aid for International Students

As we mentioned earlier, the best chance international students have for getting a scholarship is directly from the schools you're hoping to attend. Some can offer quite generous financial aid packages that save you tens of thousands of dollars a year. However, many colleges don't offer financial aid to international students, or the aid they offer is very limited. It can take a long time to compare the different financial aid offerings of numerous colleges, so we've done the hard work for you and found the schools that offer the best financial aid and scholarships for international students in USA schools.

In the table below are the ten universities that gave the most financial aid, on average, to international students in 2019/2020. To be included on the list, financial aid had to be given to at least 50 international students at the school. As you look at the schools in the chart, you may notice they're all well known/highly ranked. Schools with strong reputations often have larger endowments which makes it more possible for them to offer generous financial aid. 

Most of the scholarships these schools award are merit based, which means you'll need to impress them with your grades and test scores. Generally, only Ivy League or similarly top-tier schools (like Stanford) award need-based aid (financial aid given based on your family's financial circumstances) to international students. So make your application as strong as possible with high SAT/ACT scores and strong grades.

Getting into one of these schools doesn't mean you're guaranteed the amount of financial aid listed (or even any financial aid), but the list does give a good idea of universities that can be generous with financial aid and scholarships for international students at least some of the time.

School Name
State
Average Aid for International Students (2019-2020)
Number of International Students who Received Aid
New York
$71,069
299
New York
$70,250
96
Massachusetts
$69,434
133
New Hampshire
$68,998
261
Massachusetts
$68,456
108
North Carolina
$68,044
211
California
$68,000
245
Connecticut
$67,468
95
Pennsylvania
$67,165
67
Massachusetts
$66,805
605

Source: US News

 

Other Top Schools That Offer Financial Aid for International Students

Below is a list of schools that also offer substantial financial aid for international students, though, on average, not as much as the ten in the table above.

To be included on this list, international students had to have the opportunity to receive a scholarship that covered at least a third of tuition costs. That doesn't mean all international students receive that amount, however; or that they receive any financial aid at all. Temple University, for example, offers international students scholarships that range from $2,000 a year (which is only a small fraction of the school's cost), to full tuition, which is worth tens of thousands of dollars a year. Similarly, Johns Hopkins University only offers scholarships to about 10% of international students it admits, but for those who do get aid, the average amount is about $25,000 a year, which is roughly half the cost of tuition.

Like the list above, you may notice many of these schools are well-known private schools, but there are also smaller schools and public schools as well. Click on the school's name to be taken to its webpage for scholarships for international students resources.

School Name
State
Washington DC
Massachusetts
Minnesota
Massachusetts
Iowa
New York
Indiana
Indiana
Washington DC
Iowa
New York
California
Michigan
Illinois
Maryland
Ohio
Tennessee
Ohio
Vermont
Massachusetts
Illinois
Oregon State University
California
New Jersey
Oregon
New York
Pennsylvania
Alabama
Illinois
Iowa
Maine
Minnesota
Mississippi
California
Pennsylvania
California
Wisconsin
Missouri
North Carolina
Massachusetts
West Virginia
Connecticut



List of Independent Scholarships for International Students

When they first begin looking at financial aid options, many international students hope to find scholarships they can apply to and win that will let them use the money at any school they want. However, these scholarships are very, very rare for international students. Additionally, most independent scholarships for international students are for graduate students, so undergraduate options are particularly sparse. You can spend a lot of time searching for scholarships like these and come up with nearly nothing, which is why we recommend planning for the majority of your financial aid to come from your university. You can look for additional scholarship options at sites like International Student Scholarship Search, however, be warned that it's difficult to sort the scholarships effectively and many of them (I'd estimate at least a third) no longer exist. So you'll have to comb through a lot of unhelpful information.

Below are five independent scholarships international students can apply for. None are perfect; some have strict eligibility requirements and others don't offer much money. However, they give you a sense of the (limited) options international students have with scholarships like these. Of them, the #YouAreWelcomeHere scholarship is probably the best because of both its broad eligibility requirements and the significant amount of money it awards.

 

Ashinga Africa Initiative

  • Requirements: Must be from sub-Saharan Africa, have lost one or both of your parents, are regularly ranked in the top 10% of your class, and are committed to returning to sub-Saharan Africa after you complete your education.
  • Award Amount: Full financial support (tuition, room and board, travel costs, etc.)

For students from Africa who have lost one or both of their parents but have still managed to be at the top of their class for secondary school, this is a very generous scholarship. If you win it, all of your university costs will be covered. The first round of the application has standard requirements like submitting your school records and a letter of recommendation, and students who advance to the next round are invited to an assessment day where they'll be interviewed and take an exam.

 

Deserve Scholarship

  • Requirements: Must have an F1, J1 or M1 visa, GPA of 3.0 or its equivalent; and have scored in the top 15% of a standardized US college entrance exam.
  • Award Amount: $1,000

This scholarship doesn't award a lot of money, but its application is pretty short, and it awards scholarships to 50 students each year, so there are more chances for you to win. Make sure you meet the academic requirements before applying.

 

MPower Global Citizen Scholarship

  • Requirements: Be an international student accepted at, or enrolled in, a full-time degree program at a U.S. or Canadian school that MPOWER supports.
  • Award Amount: $1,000 to $5,000

MPower supports over 350 schools in North America, and if you're hoping to attend one of them as an international student, you can apply to this scholarship! Applicants must complete an essay, and two winners will receive $1,000, while a grand prize winner receives $5,000. It's not a huge amount of money, but the eligibility requirements are minimal, and the application process isn't very lengthy.

 

OAS Academic Scholarships Program

  • Requirements: Be a member of one of the 35 countries that make up the Organization of American States, be in final two years of university, agree to return to their sponsoring country for at least 24 months after graduating.
  • Award Amount: $10,000 a year for up to two years

This scholarship is only for students who are citizens of an OAS country (which are all located in the Americas) and who plan on returning home for at least two years after they graduate. It's also not for new college students, but students who have completed at least two years of university. Applicants have to complete an online application, submit their transcript, and submit letters of recommendation. Winners receive up to $20,000.

 

#YouAreWelcomeHere Scholarship

  • Requirements: Must demonstrate "interest and initiative in promoting intercultural learning and exchange." 
  • Award Amount: At least 50% tuition

Begun in Fall 2021, this scholarship is for international students dedicated to developing future world leaders who will promote global understanding. You don't apply to the #YouAreWelcomeHere website; instead you apply to the scholarship at the specific school(s) you want to attend. So if you apply to three schools that offer this scholarship, you'll need to apply to the scholarship three times. Over 60 schools offer the scholarship which requires them to offer at least 50% tuition to at least two international students a year. The application includes an essay or multimedia submission.

 

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Summary

Unfortunately, financial aid and scholarships for international students in USA schools can be difficult to get. Most financial aid goes to domestic students, and many universities don't offer any financial aid for international students. However, if you know which schools to apply to and have a strong application, it is possible to get substantial financial aid. We recommend students look for financial aid from the universities they're applying to, rather than independent scholarships. Many universities will award scholarships and financial aid to strong international students, and some top-tier schools will award financial aid if you can show your family is unable to afford college tuition.

 

What's Next?

How do international students apply to college in the US? Our step-by-step guide walks you through how to apply to college as an international student.

What do international students need to know about the SAT and ACT? Rules can be different for international students, so stay up to date on our guide to standardized tests for international students.

Taking the TOEFL? Get all the information you need to succeed on the test, including sample questions and strategy guides, at our TOEFL blog.

 


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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.



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