WES Advisor Blog

Trusted Advice for Academic and Professional Success

U.S. Financial Aid Options for International Students

Wednesday | January 16, 2019 | by Mohsen Alzahrani

financial aid international students

The United States is one of the most desirable destinations for international students. Many of its higher education institutions are considered the best in the world. According to the Institute of International Education, despite the more recent dip in international student numbers, the recorded number of international students in the U.S. increased from 671,616 in 2008-2009 to 1,094,792 for the school year 2018-2019—an increase of about 63 percent.

One reason that international students enroll in U.S. universities is the advanced level of English that a U.S. degree signals, especially in light of the international labor market demand for English-speaking professionals. Another reason is U.S. prestige—U.S. universities produce more Nobel Prize winners than those of any other country.

Still another reason: Having a U.S. degree often provides students with more opportunities to get higher paying, professional-class employment, experts say, especially in the government or private sector.

Despite the many advantages a U.S. degree confers, international students face numerous challenges living in the U.S.—having adequate finances may be chief among them.

Also, the cost of living in the U.S. is high compared with that of other countries. Many international students come from developing countries where life is simpler and much less expensive. They often find it hard to keep up with the demands of life in the U.S. and adjust to a new financial reality. Below, I discuss two possible solutions that can help international students achieve financial stability and consequently succeed in their academic pursuits.

First, international students can apply for financial aid at the schools they are planning to attend. Many international students do not know about financial aid—what is available to them and how to apply for it. It is true that some financial aid sources, such as federal student loans, are available only to U.S. citizens; however, international students have other aid options. Here are some of the many financial aid alternatives available to international students:

  • School loans: Some schools make loans available to international students. Students can contact their academic advisor or their school’s financial aid office to learn more. (Loans must be paid back, with interest.)
  • Private loans: Some private lenders offer loans to international students. To get more information, students can contact international student services or the office of financial aid at their school.
  • The International Education Financial Aid (IEFA) organization: IEFA has partnered with the leading provider of international student loan programs to provide students around the world with financial aid options to fund their education abroad. Students can check IEFA’s website for information about eligibility and how to apply.

In addition, international students can apply for scholarships at the schools where they hope to enroll. Many universities and departments within universities offer scholarships and grants for students regardless of their citizenship, including the following:

  • Scholarships and grants provided by the university: Each university has its own scholarships and grants. Students can contact their advisors or the financial aid and scholarship office at their school to learn about these scholarships and how to apply for them. (Scholarships and grants are not paid back.)
  • Scholarships and grants offered by departments within the university: Some departments and colleges within a university partner with various organizations to support all students, including international students. In addition, some university professors partner with organizations and centers to conduct research. These funds can be used by professors to recruit research team members. Students can contact their department and advisors to learn about these scholarships and grants.
  • Research funds or grants from the Pivot organization: Pivot offers many research funding opportunities for students in a variety of fields, such as education and technology. Students can check Pivot’s website for information about eligibility and how to apply.

Living and studying in the U.S. can be challenging. Many international students have only a vague picture of how expensive life is in the U.S. and often find it totally different from what they had imagined. When making plans to attend a U.S. university, international students should anticipate financial difficulties and explore opportunities to finance their education. By addressing their financial needs, they will be more likely to ensure their academic success as well.

Related Reading

E-Guide: Funding Your Education in the U.S.

Find and Apply for Financial Aid: A Step-by-Step Guide

Mohsen Alzahrani is a WES Ambassador and Ph.D. student at the University of Denver. He is majoring in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.