Scholarships for International Students

While US higher education can be rather expensive compared to other university systems around the world, there are numerous ways to obtain financial aid.

First, budget your financial means accurately to include tuition and fees (the cost of courses and other administrative fees), as well as your living expenses (room and board, books, daily transportation, health insurance, etc). Note that the total annual cost of a US education can vary tremendously from one institution to another. The least expensive institutions are community colleges, where the average annual cost is around $20,000. State universities will generally cost an international student between $25,000 and $35,000 per year, all expenses included, whereas private institutions can reach as high as $62,000 per year for undergraduate education, sometimes even more for graduate studies. These are official costs, however the cost you pay in reality can be much lower thanks to financial aid.

International students can contact their local EducationUSA office to learn of financial aid programs aimed at local students. EducationUSA is a network of about 400 information centers all around the world that are affiliated with the US State Department and provide information about US study opportunities for international students. One of the most important and prestigious US government sponsored scholarship programs aimed at international students heading to the US is the Fulbright program, generally for graduate students. However, the US government or your home government may offer other sources of funding to students from your particular country.

At the undergraduate and graduate level, many US universities – especially private ones- offer scholarships to international students. These scholarships can be need-based (based on your financial need, generally offered to US citizens) or merit-based (based on your academic achievement, test scores or particular talents). To apply for merit based grants, contact each admissions office directly at least one year in advance to learn if you are eligible and if there is a special application you must submit. Each institution will have its own requirements and will offer different kinds of financial support. In addition, don’t just apply to the US’s most popular institutions. Think outside the box: if you have solid academic performance and your nationality is underrepresented in a certain region of the US, your chances of acquiring a merit based scholarship rise significantly because a major goal of all US universities is to achieve student diversity.

At the undergraduate level, exceptional student-athletes can receive athletic scholarships. Athletic are very popular in the US, and athletic achievement can bring both notoriety and financial benefit to American universities. Thus, many universities are willing to pay significant sums of student-athletes’ tuition. The most competitive university teams are members of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I. At Division I universities, scholarships are the most encompassing, sometimes covering 100% of the student-athlete’s needs. NCAA Division II members are slightly less competitive, and scholarships are smaller (but can still be significant). NCAA Division III members don’t offer athletic scholarships, but often provide merit scholarships instead, considering the student’s ability to play sport as a particular talent. Importantly, within the US the competition for these scholarships is profound, and thus international students might have some difficulties acquiring athletic scholarships from NCAA Division I and II. However, students can receive athletic scholarships outside the NCAA. International students should consider applying to universities within the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) or the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association), which are less competitive, but more open to international students. Information about athletic scholarships for international students can be found here:

At the graduate level, students can receive a full or partial tuition waiver and/or a stipend (money that they receive every month) if they work as teaching/research/administrative assistants within their own department. These kinds of opportunities are particularly available for PhD students in the sciences. Assistantship positions vary from one institution to another in terms of financial benefits and tasks that the student-assistant needs to accomplish. The department chair is responsible for recruiting graduate assistants and generally knows in advance if the department has sufficient funds to hire graduate assistants. If you are interested in this option, you should contact this person immediately once you apply to the program.

Furthermore, some private US or international foundations offer merit or need-based scholarships to students corresponding to a particular profile. For example, the Rotary Foundation can fund scholarships for international education. Contact your local Rotary Club to get more information. Young international women can obtain merit scholarships for graduate studies thanks to AAUW (American Association of University Women).

A list of US institutions and private foundations offering financial aid to international students can be found at the following websites (this list can be found on the website of the EducationUSA network):