Financial Aid for International Students

In the United States and Canada, as well as most European countries, college students enjoy significant assistance with the cost of pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees. This assistance comes in the form of government subsidized loans and grants, as well as funding from private foundations and scholarship competitions.

Even if you can qualify for tuition assistance in your own country, it can be confusing and difficult to find financial aid that you can use to pursue your college degree in North America. The United States government does not offer college funding to students from foreign countries. Likewise, immigration and travel restrictions can make it impossible to qualify for employment during your stay in the U.S.

Therefore, you must plan ahead and find resourceful ways to locate scholarships and sponsorships that can help you study abroad. Most students who successfully locate financial aid for an American degree program find it from one or a combination of these three sources:

  • They identify a generous, private sponsor.
  • They earn funding from an international scholarship program.
  • They secure financial aid within their home country by participating in a locally based foreign exchange program.

Locating a Private Sponsor

Throughout most of the world, wealthy individuals often sponsor promising students from their communities. By paying for a college student’s international learning experience, they hope that their beneficiary will contribute their talents to the world, bringing praise and satisfaction back to their hometown. Other sponsors expect students to bring the knowledge and the perspective gained from international study back home where they can help fellow citizens. Experts advise that you seek private sponsorship for your studies from friends, family members and neighbors in your home country.

Qualifying for Scholarship Programs

More frequently, international students can earn money to attend an American college by competing for prestigious scholarships. Many private foundations and charitable organizations sponsor scholarship competitions to help advance their cause or expand their profession. Family foundations extend smaller scholarships to honor the memory of deceased loved ones, some of whom may have wished to help foreign students.

A number of service organizations, like the Rotary Foundation, offer scholarships to international students who can spread goodwill on the organization’s behalf in their home countries. Trade organizations often recruit bright students who want to apply specific skills in their homeland.

Government organizations and agencies offer scholarships for a variety of reasons. Many governments subsidize international education to bridge cultural gaps between countries. Other nations hope that students can gain advanced knowledge and skills in the United States that they can put to work to improve the quality of life in their home country.

Because competition for these limited international scholarships is fierce, you should have a clear vision of the career you want to pursue. That way, you can search for scholarships in a narrower field, where you stand a better chance at earning money for your college education. You may have to wade through directories and guidebooks to locate the right scholarship programs, but your research and hard work could earn you free tuition to some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Here’s a list of potential scholarship opportunities. This is not an exhaustive list of every possible funding source, but it should get you started in your search. Depending on your intended field of study, there may be other field-specific scholarships available. Be sure to also check with your intended school about possible scholarship and grant opportunities as policies and eligibility requirements vary by school; some schools do make scholarships available to international students.

Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest
The Ayn Rand Institute awards hundreds of prizes totaling nearly $100,000 to current twelfth graders or undergraduate or graduate students around the world. Prizes range in value from $50 to $20,000. Applicants must submit an essay between 800 and 1,600 words on an assigned topic relating to the novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

RentHop College & University Scholarship
RentHop awards three scholarships of $1,000 each per year to current undergraduate students from any country. Students must be studying to earn their bachelor’s or associate degree in the United States and demonstrate ambition, diligence, leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit. To apply, email an essay from your school email account that, in under 1000 words, concisely explains where you see yourself five years after finishing school and how those goals are aligned with the RentHop values and those of your school and degree program.

Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship
Full-time students of any nationality studying in any country are eligible to apply for scholarships ranging between $1,000-10,000, provided they are studying accounting or criminal justice at a four-year accredited college or university. This scholarship is awarded by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Applicants must submit transcripts, three letters of recommendation (one must be from a Certified Fraud Examiner), and an original essay on why they deserve the award and how fraud awareness will him impact their career.

Rotary Foundation Global Grant Scholarships
This scholarship funds graduate-level coursework or research for one to four years outside of the recipient’s native country. The coursework or research must relate to one or more of Rotary’s areas of focus: peace and conflict prevention/resolution, disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy, and economic and community development. Each Rotary Club/district has its own timeline for applications, but the applicant cannot be a Rotarian or a spouse or relative of a Rotarian. The minimum budget for this scholarship is $30,000, which can fund tuition, room/board, travel expenses or passport/visa.

$2,000 Student Scholarship from Unplag
Plagiarism detection engine Unplag is offering a $2,000 scholarship to the currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate student (no restrictions on nationality) who writes an original and engaging essay on one of several assigned topics related to plagiarism. Essays must be at least 500 words long.

ExxonMobil Middle East and North African Scholars Program
This scholarship program is funded by ExxonMobil and administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The scholarship is open to citizens of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia or the UAE who will have a bachelor’s degree in geoscience, engineering, physics, chemistry, computer science, math or geography by the program start date. Candidates must have lived in the Middle East/North Africa for 15 years and be fluent in Arabic. Applicants must fill out an online application. Scholarship recipients receive full tuition for the completion of a master’s degree in geosciences. The program also provides a stipend for housing and living expenses and includes medical insurance, textbook and computer allowances, transportation to the U.S. at the inception and conclusion of the program, visa and academic support, and an intensive orientation program.

Applying for Federal Financial Aid

Non-citizens of the US are only eligible for federal financial aid in certain circumstances. For instance, you are eligible if you are a U.S. permanent resident holding a green card or if you were granted asylum in the United States. Refer to the Federal Student Aid website for more specific information on non-U.S. citizen eligibility for federal aid.

If you believe you may be eligible for federal aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA for short). This is the form that qualifies you for federal student aid, and some universities use information from FAFSA for awarding need-based aid.

Here’s what you’ll need to file the FAFSA:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers if you are a dependent student
  • Your driver’s license number if you have one
  • Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information, for you (and your spouse, if you are married), and for your parents if you are a dependent student
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans’ non-education benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks, bonds and real estate; and business and farm assets for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student.

If the Department of Education does not consider you a dependent, you may qualify for higher amounts of financial aid, including larger work-study grants and private scholarships.

Tax Implications for Students and Parents

Depending on the laws of your home country, financial aid you receive from colleges, universities or private sponsors may be taxable or subject to other financial regulations. Many countries permit students to accept grants and scholarships tax-free. Some countries may limit the amount of financial aid that you can accept from foreign sources each calendar year. Consult with financial aid officials from a college or university in your home country to learn about the implications of financial aid for you and for your parents.

Making Exchange Programs Work for You

Most international students who find financial aid to attend school in the United States arrange their degree program through a local exchange program. Although this solution may seem like a compromise, it may be the only reasonable way to get outside help with your tuition expenses.

In a reputable exchange program at an accredited college or university in your home country, you can enroll in the degree program of your choice.

Working with international student exchange organizations, like the Council for International Education Exchange, you can study abroad at campuses throughout the world.

Through reciprocal exchange agreements, you will not have to pay tuition to your host campus, though you will be responsible for covering your living expenses during your stay in a foreign country. This way, you can qualify for many of the financial aid programs in your own country, while still benefiting from the quality education and the exciting cultural experience of living and studying in the United States.

In many cases, you will be permitted to take as many as half of your required courses at a college or university in the United States. During your exchange program, you can continue to research opportunities to transfer to your host school on a full time basis.

Steps to Applying for Financial Aid

  1. DECIDE on the career path you want to pursue and the degree you want to earn.
  2. SELECT a few schools in the United States that interest you. Request program materials from their international affairs office.
  3. SPEAK with an admissions counselor or an international affairs specialist at one of your local colleges or universities. They might be able to match you with subsidized scholarships for exchange programs.
  4. SPEAK to friends and family about your goals and explain your financial need. Give them a clear picture of the amount you need to raise to make your dream come true.
  5. SEARCH directories and databases for private scholarships that cater to your chosen field or to your home country. Follow the application instructions carefully and return all documents to the sponsoring organization well in advance of the deadline.

More Information on the Web

  • AAUW Education Foundation – organizes graduate fellowships for academically gifted women from around the world who want to complete their doctoral work in the United States.
  • Agency for International Development – provides learning opportunities and educational exchange programs for students who want to bring advanced skills to their home countries.
  • Council for International Educational Exchange – coordinates worldwide study abroad, work exchange and internship programs. Also operates international travel services and other student support programs.
  • EducationUSA – an outreach project of the State Department that promotes American colleges and universities to students around the world.
  • EduPass – maintains a list of specific schools that extend financial aid packages to international students, including the number of students served by each school.
  • FastWeb – maintains a comprehensive database of scholarship programs in the United States, including financial aid opportunities for international students.
  • FinAid – catalogs a variety of scholarship and fellowship opportunities, including programs available to international students.
  • Foundation Grants to Individuals Online – publishes a paid subscription service highlighting current scholarship, fellowship and grant opportunities for students, artists, researchers and others.
  • Institute of International Education – offers high academic achievers from around the world the opportunity to study for a year through programs like the Fulbright Scholarship. IIE also maintains Funding for US Study Online, a database of scholarships and grants organized by state and area of study.
  • International Education Financial Aid – provides in-depth information for international students who want to find help with their tuition expenses.
  • NAFSA: The Association of International Educators – does not extend funding to international students, but studies trends and tracks opportunities for cross-cultural education.
  • Rotary International – extends scholarships to international students who can represent the service organization as “goodwill ambassadors” in their home countries after graduation.
  • Support4Learning – publishes a newsletter for European college students who wish to study overseas.
  • United States Department of Education – provides comprehensive information about the financial aid process for United States citizens and foreign exchange students.
  • United States Department of State – offers scholarships and tracks financial aid opportunities for students of selected countries.
Article Sources


  1. Ayn Rand Foundation Scholarship,
  2. RentHop: College & University Scholarship Program,
  3. Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship,
  4. Global Grants,
  5. $2,000 Student Scholarship from Unplag,
  6. ExxonMobil Middle East and North Africa Scholars Program,
  7. Many non-U.S. citizens qualify for federal student aid,
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