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Financial aid for international students

    For international students, figuring out how to pay for college in the U.S. can be challenging. Generally, most international students aren’t eligible for the student aid provided by the U.S. Department of Education, like certain grants and loans. Still, there are opportunities available to international students in need of financial help wanting to attend a college or university in the U.S.

    In this article, we’ll cover the financial aid that may be available for prospective international students and the steps you can take to try and get financial assistance to attend a college or university in the U.S.

    Financial aid for international students

    There are limited federal financial aid options for international students attending school in the U.S. For the most part, only certain noncitizens may be eligible for federal student aid in the U.S.

    To find out if you’re eligible for aid, you should review the requirements laid out by the U.S. Department of Education. If you meet the eligibility requirements, your next step would be to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and include the schools you’ll be applying to on the application. If you’re an eligible noncitizen, you could have access to federal financial aid like grants, scholarships, and federal loans should you qualify.

    Even if you aren’t eligible for federal student aid, you may still want to  file the FAFSA® because you might be eligible for aid specifically from the colleges or universities that you’re applying to. In order to gain access to that aid, you’ll still need to file the FAFSA®.

    It’s important to note that colleges may have varying requirements and forms to verify international students' financial need, so you’ll need to check with each school individually. For instance, some schools might consider the International Student Financial Aid Application. Some colleges utilize this form to award financial aid to international students.

    College funding options for international students

    International students who aren’t eligible for federal financial aid may still have options when it comes to funding their studies in the U.S. Students can apply for scholarships, private loans, and possibly assistance from their home country, for instance.

    Scholarships for international students

    Many scholarships are available to international students seeking financial aid for their studies in the U.S. and are offered by entities such as nonprofits and corporations. Students can research scholarships online or contact the financial aid office at their prospective school to inquire about institutional scholarships.

    For some institutional scholarships, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA® even if you’re not eligible for federal financial aid or fill out the International Student Financial Aid Application (or both).

    Student loans for international students

    Foreign citizens can’t get student loans from the federal government unless they’re eligible noncitizens. Students not eligible for federal financial aid may be able to get private loans, though.

    Private loans with a co-signer

    International students might have the chance to get a private student loan if they satisfy the lender’s requirements, such as having a student visa and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to co-sign their loan. It’s important to remember that just having the co-signer isn’t the only requirement, and the co-signer's eligibility will also be assessed during the application process. Whether you’re issued a student loan is up to the student loan servicer you apply through.

    Private loans without a co-signer

    International students who don’t have a U.S. citizen to co-sign a loan can still apply for private student loans specifically for international students. These loans are available from various loan providers and have varying eligibility requirements.

    Common FAQs about financial aid for international students

    If you’re an international student looking for financial aid to attend a college or university in the U.S., you likely have many questions. Here are some of the most common.

    Can international students go to college for free?

    Some colleges offer free tuition to eligible international students. These programs are designed to encourage the best applicants to attend college in the U.S. To find schools that offer free tuition to international students, you’ll need to do some research or reach out to a college counselor. It’s important to note that students might be responsible for other fees (besides tuition) at some of these schools.

    Do international students have to pay fees upfront?

    While international students might need to prove they have sufficient funds to attend college in the U.S. to obtain a student visa, they, for the most part, don’t need to pay tuition and fees on a different schedule from American students. However, all colleges and universities have their own policies, and it’s important to check.

    Do international students pay more for college?

    For the most part, international students pay the same sticker price as U.S. students for tuition. An exception is the schools that offer discounts to certain in-state residents. For the most part, international students aren't eligible for in-state tuition, except in certain circumstances as eligible noncitizens. Rules on this may vary from state to state.

    Which universities offer scholarships for international students?

    A select number of colleges and universities in the U.S. offer robust financial aid to international students (including scholarships). U.S. News compiled a list of the four-year private institutions that have provided the most aid to international students for the 2021-22 academic year. The list includes:

    • Wellesley College, MA
    • Haverford College, PA
    • Washington and Lee University, VA
    • Wesleyan University, CT
    • Dartmouth College, NH
    • Duke University, NC
    • Stanford University, CA
    • Amherst College, MA
    • Vassar College, NY
    • Barnard College, NY

    Should non-U.S. citizens file the FAFSA®?

    Eligible noncitizens should file the FAFSA® to see if they qualify for federal student aid from the U.S. Similarly, its usually recommended that all students planning to attend or are already attending college in the U.S. file the FAFSA® each year they plan to attend school. In doing so, they might qualify for a range of aid, including institutional scholarships.

    Final thoughts

    Going to college in the U.S. can often have serious financial implications. However, if you do your research as an international student, you’ll find that financial aid options may be available to you. Reach out to the financial aid offices at the colleges you’re considering applying to for assistance along the way, and, if applicable, your current school in your home country for information.