Top 4 Places for Financial Aid for International Students

May 31st, 2013 by Jennifer Frankel

girl with computer146789416Funding college can be expensive, especially if you have to pay for your education overseas. Most students rely on their own personal savings and get help from family members, however this many not necessarily be enough to cover all of your costs. With most degree programs taking four years, and sometimes even longer, getting an international education can certainly add up. If you are looking to get financial aid for your education overseas, we recommended looking at the following sources:

- Institutional Help – Many colleges and universities offer some sort of financial assistance to their international students. While some schools offer more than others, get in touch with your international student advisor to see what’s available, how competitive it can be, and whether you can rely on it. You will also want to find out when you need to apply and be sure to write down any deadlines in your calendar to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.

- Private Scholarships & Grants – Universities aren’t the only organization that provides financial assistance to international students. Home country governments, host country governments, non-profit organizations, and international companies do support studying abroad through scholarships, grants, and other awards. Be sure to do your research to find out which awards are available so that you can apply and increase your likelihood of winning awards.

- Work in the US – Many visas have restrictions on the type of work you can do and in what capacity you can do it. Many schools do have openings for part-time employment opportunities that are available to international students. To find out what’s available, check out your school’s current openings and make sure that you are eligible. Remember, payment is minimal and should be expected to cover only ancillary expenses.

- International Student Loans – International students can apply for an international student loan as long as they have a US cosigner. This cosigner must be a US citizen or US permanent resident with good credit and who has lived in the US for a minimum of two years. If international students have a cosigner, they can apply for the total cost of their education minus any other financial aid they’ve received.


Taxes for International Students

April 9th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

shutterstock_131714795Tax time in the United States is here, with the IRS’s filing deadline of April 15th quickly approaching. Taxes are confusing for anyone, but taxes for international students can add another layer of difficulty given the varying classifications that international students can fall under.

The first thing for international students to determine at tax time is whether they are filing as residents or non-residents. Taxes for international students will mostly fall under nonresident filing status, but to make sure what category you fall under you should go to the Substantial Presence Test on the IRS website. Note that residency status is different from your immigration status, and depends on a number of factors revolving around the dates, length, and nature of your stay in the U.S.

If you find that you need to file as a resident, you can proceed to complete your taxes as any U.S. resident would. Remember that this includes your total worldwide income, not just money earned in the U.S.

But as most taxes for international students are filed as nonresident status, you’ll likely find yourself moving on to the next step: determining whether you’ve had a U.S. source of income. What exactly counts as a U.S. source of income is also outlined in detail on the IRS website.

All nonresidents must file Form 8843. Those without a U.S. source of income get to stop there; nonresidents with a U.S. source of income must also fill out a 1040 NR or 1040 NR-EZ. To fill out either of these latter forms you will need either a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). If you do not have one, you can apply for an ITIN at the time of your filing.

Tax time is a notoriously stressful period for anyone in the United States, and international students certainly aren’t spared. Get started navigating the process as soon as you can so you have time to sort out any snags, and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or school advisors for help! Check out our partner, International Student’s Tax Return Help, for more information.

* Tax, budget and calculator photo courtesy of Shutterstock


When Are Student Loans Disbursed?

March 28th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

student handing in application87347451 />Students going to college in the United States may be partly paying their way student loans, using them for everything from tuition and room and board to books and supplies. But the exact time for student loan disbursement, as important as it is, can be hard to pin down. So when are student loans disbursed?

Generally speaking, student loan disbursement is split between a school’s two semesters (or four quarters, three trimesters, etc.). This means that your $2,000 yearly loan won’t give you that full amount right away in the fall; you’ll get $1,000 for fall semester and $1,000 for spring semester. This splitting of the disbursement by semester is usually not a problem since tuition and fees are charged by semester as well – meaning you won’t be left with a huge bill to cover in the fall and only half of your yearly loan amount to help cover it.

When are student loans disbursed within each semester, though? The answer to that question is a little less definite because student loan disbursement ultimately depends on each school’s financial aid office and its specific policies. The loans usually show up in a student’s account sometime between the start of classes and the tuition payment due date. Before the funds actually show up, they will often be listed as “pending” so you can get a clear picture of what your financial situation will look like once the loan comes through.

There are some reasons that your student loan disbursement may be delayed, however. A delayed disbursement may be due to a failure to meet minimum enrollment or GPA standards, an unpaid fee from a previous semester which must first be settled, or various other factors. If you think your disbursement should have come through already, contact your financial aid office to see if there are any other snags like these you need to address.

So when are student loans disbursed? It’s not an exact science, but they come through in halves toward the beginning of each semester. If you’re waiting on student loans for immediate needs like housing or food, get in touch with your school to find out exactly when you’ll be getting them.


Understanding Interest Rates on Student Loans

March 25th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

interest rate149070729Coming to college in the United States involves a lot of expenses, and you may find yourself turning to a private loan to help you meet the financial burden. While loans can be great, it is important to understand the full financial burden of repaying them. One of the most important factors in picking a loan to help you finance your college education in the United States is understanding interest rates on student loans.

Interest is a fee that a bank requires you pay on top of the base loan amount so it can make money from the loan. Interest rates on student loans are given as yearly percentages. For example, a $1,000 loan with an interest rate of 7.5% APR (annual percentage rate) will mean a total repayment of $1,075 after one year of interest.

Stretch this out across years – even decades – of repayment, and clearly interest rates on student loans can have a huge impact on how much you pay in total. So how can you make sure you lower your interest rates on student loans?

To a certain extent, interest rates on student loans are fixed. Student loan interest rates are based off parameters set by reputable American and international banks and generally vary between about 2% and 9% APR.

But your student loan interest rates will also change based on the creditworthiness of your US cosigner. A cosigner is a financially responsible person who, by cosigning a loan, agrees to cover any costs that the original borrower can’t. Find a cosigner with a solid credit history (as an international student, you’ll need a cosigner in the US anyway) and banks will be more likely to give you a favorable interest rate on the loan.

Another way to lower the overall impact of interest costs is to repay your loan more quickly – thereby accruing less total interest. This can mean anything from paying a little more than the monthly minimum when you have the spare cash to choosing an official repayment plan that features earlier or more substantial regular payments.

Understanding interest rates on student loans is very important part of your college financing, so make sure to look into your best options before you decide on a loan!


Ten Highest Paying Majors

March 18th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

A report recently released by NACE, the National Association of College Employers, has detailed the ten highest paying majors in the United States. The study measures these majors with top pay by looking at the average starting salary for a newly hired employee. Here’s the full list:

  1. Computer Engineering
  2. Chemical Engineering
  3. Computer Science
  4. Aerospace/Aeronautics/Aeronautical Engineering
  5. Mechanical Engineering
  6. Electric/Electronics and Communications Engineering
  7. Civil Engineering
  8. Finance
  9. Construction Science/Management
  10. Information Sciences Systems

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these ten highest paying majors come out of the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There are a few major reasons for this.

First off, STEM fields are many of the vital forces that drive our world today – the influx of computer and web technology in day-to-day life, for example, makes jobs in the above categories of Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Information Sciences Systems significantly more important than they were even a few short years ago.

Another main reason that most of these majors with top pay come from the STEM fields is that relatively few students choose to pursue these majors over the more popular ones in liberal arts, making the actual STEM-field graduates very hot commodities for employers desperate to hire workers with the appropriate expertise.

Does this mean that you should go into one of these fields just because it’s one of the ten highest paying majors in the United States once you snag that first job? Certainly not. But some planning ahead and honest soul-searching in your pre-college and early college years can help you consider what you’d really like to do and see if any of the above majors is in fact something that inspires you.

Also keep in mind that it’s never too late to shift gears into one of these ten highest paying majors if you decide that it is indeed the right thing for you. Even if you’re already finished with your undergraduate education, there are various ways such as grad school and community college that you can use to get you started on a major career change.

If one of the above majors sounds like a good choice for you, make the commitment, study hard, and be ready to land a great job once you join the workforce!


Who Can Be My Student Loan Cosigner

March 4th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

cosigner161002339International students who are looking to get a student loan to help pay for college will probably find themselves searching for a student loan cosigner. But finding a cosigner for your student loan can sometimes be a difficult process. Let’s break down who can be a cosigner for your student loan.

If you plan to attend college in the United States, your student loan cosigner will have to either be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident having lived in the US for the past two years, depending on the requirements of the loaning institution. How can you find this type of person if you don’t live in the United States in the first place? Try reaching out to your extended family to see if anyone has the required citizenship status. If you still can’t locate the right match, turn to trusted friends and ask if they know anyone who can help you. It can be daunting to ask someone a little less familiar to you for such a big favor as cosigning a loan, but if you’re having trouble finding the right person it may be a step you have to take.

The other major requirement of a cosigner for your student loan is that they have solid credit themselves. Since the main purpose of a student loan cosigner is to back up the loan’s repayment if the student cannot, having an established and strong credit history is an absolute must for your cosigner. This means a current stable source of income, low amount of other debt, and very few to no bad marks on credit history.

So enough with all the limitations – let’s look at the good news. Who CAN be your student loan cosigner? Well, as long as they fit the above criteria, pretty much anyone who is willing. Your cosigner doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member or even a close friend, doesn’t have to have any previous affiliation with the lender or your prospective college, and so on. So just make sure the cosigner for your student loan meets certain citizenship and credit history requirements, and you’ll be on your way to getting your loan approved!


How to Budget for Your Spring Break Trip

February 27th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

With spring break just around the corner, now is the time for international students to be planning their budget for their upcoming spring break trip. Follow a few key tips and you’ll find you can have a great time without needing a massive spring break budget!

Book early

It’s no secret that airline fares and hotel rates rise steeply the longer you wait before you book; this is even truer for a notoriously high-traffic time like spring break. Yet with the hectic start of a new semester getting in the way of talking with friends and finalizing plans, many students wait too long and pay an arm and a leg for their trip. Get on your game a few months ahead of time and reduce your overall spring break budget.

School-sponsored trips

Many schools have organizations that will plan their own spring break trips, whether they involve the organization’s interest (an archaeology club trip to Rome, say) or whether it’s just a fun outing. These trips often come at a discount, especially when they are only open to the members of the sponsoring organization. See if you can find any enticing options like this to help you budget for spring break trip.

Get it all together

You can cut down your spring break budget a lot by booking as many parts of your trip as possible together. Get a flight paired with a hotel with a side serving of shuttle service to and from the airport, and you might save yourself a significant chunk of change.

Reduce incidental expenses

There are a lot of little costs that come with spring break that many students forget to include in their budget for spring break: meals, baggage fees, tips, and so on. Do your best to reduce these costs! Pack your things in fewer bags to avoid exorbitant baggage fees, or pay more for a hotel with a kitchenette and save on going out to eat for every meal. If you don’t include these expenses in your budget they can be an unwelcome surprise, but if you consider them you can curb your spring break spending by quite a bit.

Spring break is a time to explore and have fun, so don’t let a budget issue stop you. Follow the above tips to make sure you can do something great!


Should you get a Meal Plan at your School?

February 25th, 2013 by Bryanna Davis

As international students prepare to head to college inside the US, one of the decisions they will have to make is whether or not to enroll in a school meal plan. It’s not as simple as deciding how much you’d like to eat! Choosing a meal plan at your school will depend on a lot of different factors.

What Are Meal Plans?

A school meal plan can come in two basic forms: a plan that will allot a certain amount of meals and a plan that will allot a certain amount of money. A meal plan at your school with limited meals has the advantage of being cheaper, but is usually limited to your school’s cafeteria-style offerings and not specialty restaurants (including fast-food locations on campus). Meal plans that charge money from an account can generally be used at any restaurant on campus (and sometimes even at on-campus stores and off-campus restaurants), but you will need to keep close track of your budget so you don’t run out and wind up paying for food out of pocket!

When do I Need a Meal Plan?

Getting a meal plan at your school is almost always a good choice if you fit a certain few criteria. First, a school meal plan will be most useful if you live on or very near campus, allowing you to make it to participating cafeterias/restaurants regularly and get the full benefit of your school’s meal plan. Second, look at the lifestyle you’ll be living in the coming school year. Will you be in a tiny dorm room with just a microwave and mini-fridge? Will you be so busy that cooking your own food is out of the question? If getting a meal plan at your school would positively complement your lifestyle for the semester it can be a great option.

When Don’t I Need a Meal Plan?

If you have specific dietary restrictions, contact your school to find out if any of their participating options available are acceptable to you. Many larger schools will work to accommodate a variety of dietary choices, but if you don’t think you would be happy with what your school offers then skip the meal plan and prepare your own meals. Also, if you’re far away from campus and unable to fully benefit from a meal plan or if you would simply rather prepare your own food, a meal plan certainly isn’t a necessity!

A school meal plan can be a great way to make life easier and to manage your budget. Look into what your school offers and get ready to eat!


Finding a Job During School

February 11th, 2013 by Ben Cohen

working on campusFor international students who don’t receive significant financial aid and need some extra help funding their education in the USA, finding a job is one of the best ways to make ends meet. But, just like with financial aid, on-campus jobs can be hard to come by for international students due to legal red tape. Here are a couple tips to help you go about finding a job to facilitate your education:

  • Know your student visa limitations

Student visas, such as the F-1 visa, restrict international students’ legal right to work in the United States, even if they need a financial boost during college. Students on a F-1 visa can only work in certain capacities, the most freely offered one is on-campus employment. For on-campus work, an F-1 student is subject to the following rules:

  1. You must maintain valid F-1 status
  2. You can work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session
  3. You can work full-time on campus during holidays and vacation periods if you intend to register for the next academic semester.
  4. The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident

Some exceptions can be made such as if a student is approved for severe financial hardship or an off-campus job on OPT or CPT status. Make sure you check the specific details of your own student visa so you know if you are eligible to work in the United States.

  • Check for jobs off campus

Part of the federal aid that is unavailable to international students is work study, which helps US citizens get on-campus jobs to fund their education. Plenty of on-campus jobs are not officially limited to work study applicants, but work study employees are legally allowed to be paid with federal funds. If you’re an international student worried about finding a job on-campus, check with your advisor to see what options are available and try widening your search to unaffiliated employers in the immediate area where your ineligibility for work study won’t be a disadvantage.

  • Start early

With all the obstacles international students face in finding a job, don’t add getting a late start to your personal list of difficulties! If you are eligible to work in the U.S., start your job hunt before you actually need the money from a job. It may be hard to focus on the job hunt while adjusting to college life, but keep in mind that it is for other students too – so starting on it right away will give you a big head start!

* Photo of paying money courtesy of Shutterstock


5 Financial Considerations When Choosing a School

February 5th, 2013 by Jennifer Frankel

student in libraryOne of the most important decisions international students will face is what school they choose to pursue their degree program. This is one of the most critical decisions since it will financially determine the costs over the next few years. The school you choose can determine whether you are set up for financial success – or failure.

Think about it. If you are an international student planning to study in the US, there are over 2,000 universities that you can go to that accept international students. Your primary purpose is to enroll, get an education, and translate that into the opportunity to have a good job that will allow you to earn even more money (not to mention, a rewarding career!). College costs money, especially for international students, and the costs can vary greatly. You don’t just have to worry about tuition, but there is the cost of textbooks, housing, food, other educational fees, health insurance, electronics and more.

To help you out, here are 5 financial considerations when choosing a school:

  • Evaluate the tuition costs

If you’ve done your research, then you know that US public colleges tend to be more affordable than private universities. Even though international students can expect to pay the out-of-state tuition at a public institution, this tends to still be more affordable than a private school. If you have a list of schools you plan to apply to, create a cost comparison chart and see what makes financial sense to you!

  • Find out what financial assistance is available

No matter if you are looking at private or public university, financial aid for international students is limited. That being said, however, schools have different budgets allowing some schools to provide more financial assistance to international students than others. Check with your potential schools to see what financial aid is available. Ask questions like, do they offer need based aid? Is there an opportunity to get on-campus employment (and if so, what’s the likelihood of being able to do so?)? What is the likelihood of getting financial aid, even if it is not need base? If so, how much can be expected?

  • Check to see what employment opportunities exist

Some colleges and universities have a budget that allows them to hire international students part time. US students have what’s called “work study” which allows federal funds to pay for student employees. While this is not available for international students, some schools allocate funds to allow their international students to work in compliance with their visa employment restrictions. Check with your school(s) to see whether this is an option, but keep in mind that the amount you’ll make will be small and only cover miscellaneous expenses.

  • Consider the cost of living in the area

New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC are some of the key cities international students dream of living. Did you also know that these are some of the most expensive cities to live in as well? New York City is ranked #1, San Francisco #2, and DC is ranked #7 as the most expensive cities to live in throughout the US, according to Kiplinger. If you are looking for a high quality education but don’t have a lot of funds to support your education, be sure to consider the cost of living of the town in which your school is located. This will also affect what you’ll be able to do off campus, because the less expensive the town, the farther your money will go.

  • Compare your projected income to your total degree cost

If you have your heart set on a top, ivy-league school, do a cost-benefit analysis to see what the costs will be – and then see how it compares to your projected income According to Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid.org, “if your total student loan debt is less than your annual income, you’ll be able to repay that debt in about 10 years.” While it may be difficult to forecast your projected income, it’s worth the research to ensure a good investment. Check out Salary.com to see what your projected income would be if you land a job in the US after graduation. It would also be advantageous to evaluate your projected income in your home country as you will still be responsible for paying back any money borrowed.

* Photo of girl in library courtesy of Shutterstock