Originally Posted: Jul 7, 2011
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2020
One college admission expert's tips for starting the financial aid search
How to get started
• Do research on the Web, starting as early as possible while you are in secondary school. You may find that financial support for international students who are not U.S. citizens is very limited. You will have to search specifically for colleges and universities that offer financial support. Each will determine your eligibility in different ways; it's up to you to provide the required documents and information. Don't assume that every university will need the same information.
• Do not consider only the largest and best-known universities in the United States. Many smaller, lesser-known institutions have funding available and offer a high-quality education.
• In the United States, students and families are generally expected to pay as much of the educational cost as they are able to. This is true for both domestic and international students. Financial aid can be seen as a partnership among parents, students, and the institution.
What kind of aid can you expect?
This can be called a scholarship or an academic award. You might qualify based on test scores and your academic performance in secondary school. Make sure your transcript is submitted in English and with course definitions. In some cases you might have to be recommended by a teacher or counselor, or you might have to write an essay on an assigned subject. Merit aid varies widely in amounts and can be several hundred dollars or full tuition. Each institution has its own definition of merit award and its own guidelines for determining successful candidates. You should also consider the duration of the award; some are given for four years, and others will require yearly renewal and/or a minimum grade point average.
Although very limited, sometimes it’s possible to find funding from other sources like foundations or educational organizations that support international study. Check possible sources in your home city or schedule a visit to the EducationUSA Advising Office in your country. Locations and general information can be found on the Web at www.educationusa.state.gov.
While many families feel needy when confronting the cost of higher education, need-based aid eligibility is determined by a specific set of financial criteria. The key factor is a family’s ability to pay—not their willingness to pay. Each college and university determines its student budget: tuition, room, board, fees, books, personal expenses, and transportation. The family supplies information about income and assets. The institution then applies a formula to that information to determine what the student can afford. The difference between the family contribution and the total cost of attendance is considered the student’s need. Colleges and universities might offer aid to cover all or a part of the student’s need, depending on institutional philosophy and policy.
Although loans should be used with care, they are often the right choice for students whose families can afford most of the tuition but need a little assistance. Loans are also part of student aid packages, which might include a combination of scholarships, loans, and work-study. U.S. lenders offer competitive rates, and often educational loans do not have to be repaid until the student completes his or her education. Generally, these loans are available only to U.S. citizens or to non-citizens who obtain a U.S. cosigner. Institutional loans are somewhat rare and usually for small amounts. University financial aid officers can help students and their parents find appropriate loan information.
Student visa regulations do not permit students to work full time, but they are able to work up to 20 hours per week while attending school. On-campus jobs are convenient and a great way to meet people, and they provide income for personal expenses and books. It is not possible to earn enough for large expenses like tuition, so students should not depend on significant income from campus jobs.
How to apply for aid
Universities vary considerably in the forms needed to apply for financial aid. Some schools require only the basic application for admission, while others have supplemental institutional financial aid forms that must be submitted as well. Many schools also use the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (available at www.collegeboard.com) to determine students’ eligibility for need- and merit-based aid. The CSS/PROFILE is not free; you must pay for each school you choose to receive a report. Accordingly, you should always check before filing the CSS/PROFILE to see if the college requests its use. Most of these forms are available online and can be submitted electronically. However, if you are unsure or have any questions throughout this process, don’t be afraid to contact the financial aid office at the school(s) you’re applying to.