The federal government and academic institutions offer loans and grants that can help you pay to attend a U.S. college or university. The first step in applying for any type of financial aid—whether federal or institutional—is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
FAFSA is a comprehensive form used by all colleges and universities to determine a student’s eligibility for federal, state, and college financial aid. The application allows institutions to determine your financial need and you must report your income, debt, assets, and other information. If your family is able to assist you in paying for your studies, you may have to provide their financial information as well.
You should complete the FAFSA form soon after you file your income taxes because many of the questions will refer to information provided on your tax forms. Having the information ready will make it easier and quicker to fill out the FAFSA form.
It is free to complete and submit your FAFSA. You should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to avoid any delays in processing your financial aid request. Generally, you should begin your FAFSA form as soon after 1 January as you can.
There are many different eligibility requirements to receive federal aid. Select non-U.S. citizens are eligible for federal assistance but some forms of aid are designated for U.S. citizens only.
To qualify for federal student aid, eligible noncitizens must be able to provide evidence from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that they are in the United States with the intention of becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
You are not eligible to receive federal student aid if:
- You have only a “Notice of Approval to Apply for Permanent Residence” (I-171 or I-464),
- You are in the U.S. on an F-1 or F-2 nonimmigrant student visa, or on a J-1 or J-2 nonimmigrant Exchange Visitor Visa, or
- You hold a G series visa (pertaining to international organizations)
Even if you are not eligible for federal aid, you may qualify for state financial aid programs. Visit your state’s higher education agency for additional information.
You may also be eligible for scholarships that you can apply for before or during your studies. Although scholarships may also have eligibility requirements, many are open to international students and immigrants.
You can search for scholarships by criteria such as professional interest, area of study, religious affiliation, gender, ethnicity, or country of origin. Scholarships can be offered by any number of organizations, including private companies, non-profit organizations, and schools.
Scholarships, like grants, do not have to be repaid, but you should beware to avoid scholarship and financial aid fraud. Visit free online sources like The College Board and the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website for more information.