A Step-by-Step Financial Aid Guide for International Students

Agent: A company (agency) or individual (agent) contracted and paid by high schools and universities in other countries to advise and recruit students to their institutions.

Apostille: A legalized document. The Apostille Treaty is an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law and signed on October 5, 1961. The Hague is a city in the Netherlands and is the location of the International Court of Justice. This treaty defines the ways through which a document issued in one of the countries that signed the treaty or convention can be certified for legal purposes in all the other countries that signed the treaty. In many countries, the document’s notarization is the legal evidence of its authenticity. For the signatories of the Hague Convention, certification by the country’s approved state or national office authenticates the notarized documents. Notarized official transcripts and/or notarized diplomas are often required by other countries to verify the degree’s authenticity.

Billable (Direct) Costs: This is basically an expense that an institution has incurred on the student’s behalf for performing work, offering services, or providing supplies. This is the bill the student or family will receive from an institution.

Colleges: These are often categorized as smaller institutions that emphasize undergraduate education in a broad range of academic areas, such as a liberal arts college.

Cost of Attendance (COA): This is an estimate of your educational expenses for a given period of enrollment. The COA is the cornerstone of establishing your financial need, and it sets a limit on the total aid you may receive. It consists of both direct costs, or those paid directly to the institution, and indirect costs, or those that are incidental to your attendance. Your Cost of Attendance should not be confused with your Student Account Statement (bill)*.

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs: This bureau of the U.S. Department of State works to inform both U.S. students wishing to study abroad and international students wishing to go abroad for cultural, educational, or professional exchanges.

Certificate of Finances: This form, issued by College Board, helps colleges and universities obtain accurate financial-related information about international applicants seeking to study in the United States. Because financial verification is required before a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20) can be offered to an international student, this form facilitates that end goal.

College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile: This online service provided by College Board allows students, including international students, to apply for financial aid. College Board member schools have access to the information once submitted, and students must pay a small fee to create a CSS Profile. More detailed than FAFSA and available earlier, the CSS Profile is a good option for Early Action and Early Decision applicants, as it gives the schools they are applying to a better idea of their financial aid needs early on.

Community colleges: Also known as junior college, technical or city colleges, these schools are typically two-year public institutions offering certificates, diplomas, and associate’s degrees. Once completing an associate’s degree, a student can transfer to a 4-year institution for a bachelor’s degree.

Cooperative education: A “co-op” combines classroom-based education with practical work experience, providing academic credit for structured job experience. Co-ops are focused on training students for a career in their chosen major (e.g., IT, engineering, etc.). Universities often partner with employers in various industries for internships, which are likely paying jobs (i.e., University of Toronto in Canada and University of Cincinnati).

Curricular Practical Training (CPT): This is full-time or part-time employment that is an integral part of an established curriculum, such as work study, internship, practicum, etc. CPT must relate to a student’s major and be part of their program of study. CPT can be obtained only prior to the completion of the student’s degree, and the student must already have a job offer when they apply for CPT.
Designated School Official (DSO): All SEVP-certified schools are required to have one DSO. These individuals are responsible for communicating regularly with SEVP. This individual is typically an international student’s greatest resource on campus when it comes to the visa process, maintaining student status, and following proper regulations and guidelines once in the United States.

DS-160: The DS-160 Form is submitted electronically, via the Internet, to the Department of State website. The information entered on the DS-160 is used by Consular Officers to process the visa application. A combination of the information from the form and personal interview will determine an applicant’s eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa.

DS-2019: The Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status is issued to potential J-1 visa applicants; the form is completely unique to each student as it requires its own SEVIS ID number.

EducationUSA: This U.S. Department of State network promotes U.S. higher education to international students by offering guidance about opportunities to study abroad in their home countries. EducationUSA comprises over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries.

F-1: This is the student visa form, issued to international students who are attending an academic or English language program at a U.S. college or university. Students must maintain student status while studying with this visa, which usually means maintaining a full-time course load of a minimum number of credit hours.

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE): This academically rigorous subject-specific test is generally taken by students in secondary education institutions in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland over a two-year period.

General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (A-Level): This curriculum program, completed with a school-leaving test, is administered in the United Kingdom, but it’s also implemented and recognized in a number of other countries worldwide. The curriculum is split into two parts, studied over two years. The first part, Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS), is a qualification on its own. However, when the second part, the A2 Level, is completed as well, the two form a complete A Level qualification.

I-20: The Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status is issued to potential F-1 and M-1 visa applicants by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Students need the I-20 to apply for a nonimmigrant visa and/or to obtain entry to the United States, and they must pay the required international fees to the school they choose to attend.

I-94: This is the Arrival/Departure Record for foreign visitors. Customs officials will compile visitors’ I-94 arrival/departure information automatically from their electronic travel records for air and sea ports of entry or via paper forms for land border ports of entry. Nonimmigrant visitors who need to access their I-94 number can go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

I-17: The Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student form is required to be completed and then certified by SEVP before any school in the United States can enroll nonimmigrant students.

Independent Educational Consultant: This is a professional hired and paid only by students and their parents for personalized advice on the university search, application, and admission processes.

Indirect Costs: These are all portions of the total cost of attendance except tuition and fees. This includes books and supplies, room and board, transportation, insurance, a small entertainment allowance, and other personal expenses.

International Baccalaureate (IB): The IB is an international educational foundation offering four programs (divided by age) for children aged 3-19. Its diploma program for ages 16-19 is recognized around the world as a respected, advanced course option for high school students.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS): This test assesses the English language proficiency of people who want to study or work in regions where English is the language of communication. This exam is administered face to face with an examiner and assesses test takers on their listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. IELTS is accepted by more than 9,000 universities, schools, and organizations in over 145 countries.

J-1: This Exchange Visitor Visa is issued to individuals who are approved to participate in work- or study-based exchange visitor programs. Exchange visitors are expected to return to their home country upon completion of their program.

M-1: This student visa is issued to international students who are attending vocational or technical schools in the United States.

Merit-based financial aid: Also called merit scholarships or merit award, this financial aid is offered in recognition of student achievements, such as in academics, testing, athletics, arts, service, etc. Merit-based aid does not take into account the financial need of the student or family.

Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB):This standardized exam is for adult, intermediate to advanced non-native speakers of English. Test takers are evaluated for listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. The written, listening, and grammar/vocabulary components are required. The speaking component, in which you speak with an examiner, may not be offered at every test site and is not automatically included in the test registration. Over 550 U.S. colleges and universities accept the MELAB.

Need-based financial aid: This type of college funding is available to low-income students. Rather than taking your grades or talents into account, these scholarships, grants, and student loans are offered based on your family’s income, along with other financial factors.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): Optional Practical Training must relate to a student’s course of study/major and is typically completed after the end of their degree program. A student can apply for 12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months at the master’s level.

Principal Designated School Official (PDSO): All SEVP-certified schools are required to have at least one Principal Designated School Official; this person serves as the main point of contact for SEVP.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): This web-based system was developed by the DHS to maintain information on SEVP-certified schools and the F and M visa students who study there. SEVIS also maintains information on the exchange visitor, program sponsors, and holders of J-1 visa, which are managed through the U.S. Department of State. Through SEVIS, essential I-20 forms are issued to students looking to obtain F or M status visas, student records are transferred to other institutions, and the certification of educational institutions as SEVP-certified are approved and monitored.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP): The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is a part of the National Security Investigations Division. It connects government organizations that have an interest in information on nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): This exam is taken to measure a student’s English language proficiency. The exam evaluates test takers in four ways: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. This test can be taken over the internet or in paper format and is recognized by over 9,000 colleges, universities, and agencies in over 130 countries.

U.S. Department of State: This U.S. federal government agency sets forth and maintains the foreign policy of the United States, especially in negotiations with foreign governments and international organizations.

Universities: These schools are often larger institutions offering a variety of undergraduate and master’s/doctoral degree programs. Universities can also have divisions within such as the College of Liberal Arts or College of Science.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): This U.S. federal government agency provides comprehensive border management and control by combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection all in one department. Students will deal with employees of CBP when they enter and depart the United States.

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