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Scholarships for International Students

Scholarships for International Students

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Our students frequently ask us about the types of financial aid available to them. Unfortunately, there are very few options available to international students unless they are US citizens. This post will provide an introduction to the types of aid, and offer an overview of how to navigate merit-based scholarships.


Financial aid generally falls into two categories: need-based and merit-based. Need-based, as the name implies, refers to aid allocated to students based on a demonstrated financial need or difficulty affording college tuition. Sources of need-based aid include loans, work-study, and scholarships.

Here is a summary of these types of need-based aid:

  • A loan is money you borrow and pay back with interest. Loans for international students are hard to come by. Some US banks offer loans to international students, but they typically require a co-signer who is a US citizen or permanent resident. A cosigner guarantees and is responsible for payment to the loaning institution if for any reason you are unable to pay back the funds. Some organizations provide private loans to international students or assistance to students from specific regions or countries. Reach out to your college’s financial aid office for more information. Keep in mind that there may be restrictions on loan eligibility depending on the type of visa you are under.
  • Work study is federally supported financial aid that a student earns through employment. Only US citizens are eligible for federal work study positions, and student visas strictly limit the kind and amount of work that students can do in the US. International students on an F-1 visa can work up to 20 hours on-campus during academic terms and full-time during academic break periods. Note that students must obtain authorization to work off-campus.
  • Many colleges offer need-based scholarships to international students with a demonstrated financial need. When applying to colleges, it’s important to know how financial need plays into admissions decisions. A handful of colleges are need-blind for international students, meaning they do not consider financial ability to pay when deciding whether to accept you. These are Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Amherst and Minerva Schools at KGI. The majority of top US colleges do consider whether you indicate a financial need in your application, and it usually does hurt your chances of admittance. This is why most international students who can find a way to pay full tuition costs, do so. Note that different colleges allocate different amounts of money to international financial aid, some much more than others. Here is a list of colleges that are the most generous with their international aid.  When determining whether to indicate financial need in your application, be aware that some colleges do not let international students reapply for financial aid after their first year. This means that you should try to anticipate whether you will need aid at any point during your four years (e.g. retiring parents, a sibling starting college, etc).

Merit-Based Scholarships

Merit-based aid may come in the form of scholarships, grants, and tuition discounts which are awarded without consideration of a family’s income. Since many non-US-citizen students choose not to request financial aid (in order to boost their admissions chances), this is often the primary source of financial aid available to international students. Be sure to first verify scholarship requirements. Eligibility is based on demonstrated achievement in a particular area, such as academics, athletics, or unique skills (e.g. musical instruments, debate teams, art).  Academic scholarships are based on grades, test scores, or achievement in a particular field. Many colleges, including Ivy League universities, do not give merit scholarships. There are also many organizations that offer scholarships to students with a certain affinity or relation (e.g. parent’s employer, student group membership, personal attributes).

Finding Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are extremely competitive, and sometimes hard to find. There are a lot of places you’ll want to check, and applications are often time consuming. To mitigate these issues, we recommend students start researching scholarships during the summer after junior year. This ensures you’ll be able to manage scholarships, college applications, and other responsibilities you’ll have during your senior year. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on scholarships with deadlines early in the year (some come later — after you’ve been accepted to college, but there are many that become available early).

There are many resources for scholarship information. Here are some of the most important places to start your scholarship research:

  • School Counselors: Ask your school counselor or administrators if they have a list of scholarships available to international students who plan to study in the US. There’s a good chance they’ve compiled a list of scholarships that previous students have applied for.
  • College Financial Aid Office: If you’ve been admitted, check your college’s financial aid website. They may have a page for international student scholarships in particular, or a general resource page for scholarships. Give them a call as well. Oftentimes, administrators know more than what’s posted online.
  • College Academic Department: You should also check the website of the major you plan to declare. Several professional organizations offer scholarships to students applying who intend to pursue a particular major or field. It’s also worth giving them a call to find out about any other resources available.
  • International Student Office: While you’re looking into scholarships specific to your university, it is worthwhile to call the international student office. They may have a better sense of where to direct you for scholarship information
  • Groups and Clubs: Many international student clubs or affinity groups offer scholarships as well, so be sure to check the websites of all organizations to which you belong. This also includes any academic or professional organizations you or your parents are part of.
  • US Educational Advising Center: These are federally supported centers that are staffed by advisers who are tasked with assisting students in accessing U.S. higher education opportunities. To find your nearest center, visit this site: https://educationusa.state.gov/find-advising-center.
  • Scholarship Databases: There are many databases that compile scholarship information (e.g. IEFACollege Board Scholarship Search). Although some databases charge a fee and claim to have access to exclusive scholarships, free databases usually have the same information available and are more trustworthy.

Here are some of the scholarships offered by colleges that are available to international students:

Applying for Scholarships

The most important tip to keep in mind when looking for scholarships is to start early. Some scholarship applications are due an entire year before you start college, so you want to make sure you don’t miss out on valuable opportunities. Keep a list or spreadsheet of scholarships you are interested in, deadlines, and application requirements so that you don’t miss any important details.

Before starting your application for a scholarship, first verify your eligibility. Applications can be time-consuming, so you want to make sure you are not excluded by any restrictions in place (e.g. citizenship, GPA) and that you meet all criteria for consideration. Many scholarships require an essay response to a prompt. Take time to craft a well-written response. Pay careful attention to the types of students they are looking for by reviewing profiles of past recipients, scholarship guidelines, and essay prompts. Scholarships are usually extremely competitive and require that students demonstrate exceptional ability. If your application strategy is to apply for as many scholarships as possible, you’ll probably end up outshined by students who put time and effort into communicating their story and deservedness for a handful of scholarships. Instead, focus on identifying a small number of scholarships for which you are well-qualified and take care to develop a well-written and compelling application for each.

Avoiding Scams

Unfortunately, there are illegitimate companies that will take advantage of students seeking financial aid. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you start your scholarship search:

  • Consult the admissions or financial aid office at the university to which you are applying if you are unsure about the integrity of a scholarship.
  • Verify the websites and mailing addresses for any communication you receive regarding scholarships. If you’ve never heard of an organization, or if you receive unsolicited communications, chances are it’s a scam.
  • Don’t pay any upfront fees for any reason. No scholarship will charge you to submit an application. Some sites may claim to have access to exclusive scholarships or influence on who is awarded the scholarship, but this is indicative of a scam.
  • Don’t give out any unnecessary personal information (e.g. bank info).
  • Ignore websites that advertise ‘unclaimed money,’ guaranteed scholarships, or large amounts of funds waiting to be claimed by students.

Although there are limited scholarship opportunities available for non-citizen students, you still have some options to consider. If you plan to apply to colleges that do not offer need-based aid to non-citizens, you can still attempt to secure outside scholarships. It may seem daunting, but you have a good chance if you start early and submit thorough applications. If you want guidance or help through this process, feel free to book a consultation with us to discuss your options.