Financial Aid for U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

by
Vice President for Enrollment Management, Lynn University

Returning to the States for university? Not only will you bring a unique international perspective, but as a U.S. citizen living abroad, you are eligible for federal financial aid.

How to get started

  • Start your research on the Web, and when you contact colleges and universities, be sure to indicate that you’re a U.S. citizen. They may assume that your international address indicates that you are not a citizen. Ask questions and be very clear and specific if you have unusual expenses or circumstances related to living abroad.
  • Your family might have official residency in a specific state; if so, you could be eligible for state financial aid or in-state tuition at a public university.
  • Remember that you will have higher transportation costs than your stateside classmates. Some institutions consider this cost and some do not.
  • Be sure your family’s financial report includes taxes paid, whether they are U.S. taxes or those of the country in which you reside.
  • There are several financial aid opportunities provided by the federal government, including grants, low-interest loans, and work-study. The key to obtaining these is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It can be completed online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

What kind of aid can you expect?

Merit aid
Some students may be offered merit aid based upon academic performance in the classroom and on standardized tests. If you are enrolled in a non-American-style school, make sure that your high school transcripts include an explanation of the courses and grades so that the quality of your academic performance is clear. If necessary, your grade report should be translated into English. It is also important to be sure that official transcripts and test scores reach the colleges and universities in a timely manner.

Talent awards 
Competition for special talent and athletic awards is usually very challenging. When you apply from a great distance, you might have difficulty appearing in person for an audition or a tryout. Sending a video can be very helpful, and keeping in touch with coaches or performing arts instructors is essential. If you travel to the United States during the application process, be sure to arrange auditions and interviews in advance.

Need-based aid 
When applying for need-based aid, you and your family will have to demonstrate eligibility for federal aid programs. These might be grants, loans, or work-study; a financial aid package will probably include all three. Remember that grants don’t have to be repaid, making them the most desirable part of the aid offer. Low interest, government-subsidized loans are appealing and helpful but will eventually have to be repaid. College work-study is an excellent way to earn money for personal or educational expenses and generally does not take time away from studying or social activities.

Loans  
Loans are available to both students and parents. Many do not require repament or accrue interest while you are enrolled in your college or university. Financial aid officers can help you qualify for and select the right loan program.

How to apply for aid

Although many colleges and universities have institutional forms, all use the FAFSA to determine students’ eligibility for need-based federal aid. This should be your starting place. Again, you can find instructions and an online form at www.fafsa.ed.gov. It is important to review this website early in your last year of secondary school so that you will be prepared with the information you will need. The form cannot be submitted until after January 1 of the year you wish to enroll. You fill out the FAFSA only once and submit the information to all institutions where you have applied for admission. You will need to file a FAFSA each year to continue receiving federal aid.

A valid Social Security number is required to file the FAFSA. In order to receive federal student aid, you must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen (permanent resident or refugee). It is not necessary for your parents to be U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens. FAFSA data is compared with many federal databases, so it is important to have appropriate citizenship documents, especially if you were born abroad to parents who are citizens. If you are concerned about proof of citizenship, contact the U.S. Department of State prior to applying for aid.

Some institutions will require additional forms that gather specific information important to their financial aid process. One such form is the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. Like the FAFSA, it can be filed for several colleges at one time; however, it is not free. You will find it online at www.collegeboard.org. Check institutional websites carefully to be sure that you don’t miss any other required documents.

Financial aid forms have comment sections where you can explain unusual circumstances or unexpected expenses. Financial aid officers are not under any obligation to consider these variables, but they often do. Remember that financial information is gathered from the prior tax year; if circumstances have changed since then, you should explain how so. 

The FAFSA, the PROFILE, and other institutional forms provide the income and asset information that will generate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is an estimate of your family’s ability to pay all or some portion of the total cost of attending the institution for one year. Your family’s need is determined by subtracting the EFC from the total cost. If the college or university is less expensive, you might not have any need at all; but if it is expensive, your need could be significant. Your entire need, or some portion of it, will be met by a combination of grants, loans, and work-study.

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