The Hard Truth About Getting a Full Scholarship in the USA for International Students (Tips + Guide)

But hold up: I can get financial aid or a scholarship even though I’m an international student, right? 

Yes, you can! 

Let’s start with the basics:

Do you actually know what “type” of student you are? It can be confusing, we know, as each college and university in the United States has its own definition of who is considered an international student. 

Pro-tip! Make sure to consult with each college/university directly about your citizenship. 

Most international students will not be eligible for federal financial aid (such as Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Pell Grants). Check out this article from Federal Student Aid to understand your eligibility for federal student aid.

You can receive institutional aid (which is provided directly by many colleges and universities). You can also try to apply to outside scholarships often provided by governments or foundations. This website can be helpful to your search.

How likely am I to receive institutional aid?

The likelihood of getting the financial aid you need from a US school largely depends on four factors:

  1. How much aid you need

  2. How strong your application is

  3. How good a fit you are for the school, program, or scholarship

  4. How much financial aid is available and how many students are competing for it 

1. How much aid do I need? 

This can be surprisingly hard to figure out. There’s also a difference between “needing” money and “wanting” money. Your first two steps in this process are:

Task 1: Develop an amount of how much you can actually afford for college.

Have an honest conversation with your parents and/or guardians about how much they can contribute toward your college education, coming up with a total contribution including indirect costs. There are also upfront expenses, such as translations, vaccinations, mailing services, trips to the Embassy, standardized tests, notarizations, and more that are incredibly important to budget.

Task 2: Determine your “Financial Need,” an amount that a college determines you are eligible for.

You need to identify the amount a college will determine you and/or your family can contribute toward the cost of attending college. This is often referred to as an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). 

Most Net Price Calculators are tailored to domestic applicants, but you can get a rough estimate of your EFC with this calculator for international students

Ask anyone who has gone through the process. Demonstrating your financials to colleges is a tedious process, and there are typically many speed bumps along the way. Reach out—ahead of time—directly to the Financial Aid Office at your dream school if you have any questions. 

If you’ve been browsing college websites, you may have seen a handful of schools that say they will meet 100% of demonstrated need for accepted international students. This means they will use their own EFC calculator to figure out how much your family can pay and cover the difference so that you can afford college. 

Wowschools that meet 100% demonstrated need? That sounds great! 

Well, yes and no. It’s important to note that even though a school says they will meet 100% of your demonstrated need if you are accepted, you also need to ask yourself if the school is need-aware or need-blind. 

Schools that are need-blind, do not take your financial need into account when making their admissions decision. However, only seven institutions in the U.S. are need-blind for international students and they all have low acceptance rates:  Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Minerva Schools at KGI, and the Curtis Institute of Music. 

Schools that are need-aware have limited funding and will take how much you can pay into account as one of their factors for admission. This means that your chances of getting accepted to a need-aware school will go down depending on how much financial aid you need. For these schools, it is much easier to receive a smaller need-based aid award than it is to receive a full ride (all expenses covered). A full ride is extremely competitive at any university, regardless of their stated admissions rate. 

2. How strong is my application?

Most U.S. colleges and universities have a holistic application process. This means that they look at the different aspects of your application as a whole and take academic and nonacademic factors into account. Recent Class Profiles and the Common Data Set can be helpful in guiding you to this knowledge. 

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