How Do International Students Pay For College In the U.S.

December 22nd, 2020 by IEFA

Financial assistance for International Undergraduate Students

This article is primarily for higher education students with a non-immigrant student visa (F-1, J-1, etc.). Information for permanent residents of the United States is also included below. See the International Student Loan Terms Dictionary if you are unfamiliar with any terms used in this article. The Institute for International Education (IIE) reports that around 80 per cent of foreign students rely primarily on personal savings and family to cover the cost of their education in the USA. Very little federal student aid is available to international students. U.S. institutions generally offer little, if any, discount on school fees, although both private and public institutions may waive application fees in certain situations. In fact, foreign students tend to pay higher fees than domestic students – this is usually the case in the US, Canada and most other countries.

Calculating your cost of attendance

“Cost of attendance” is the calculation of the total cost of attending any given institution, and is used to determine the level of financial need of the student. It includes tuition, compulsory fees, room, board and an estimated cost of books and living expenses for students at each school or college.

If you will be living in private, off-campus housing, you should also expect to pay for electricity, heating, water and other utility costs.

Location will have a significant impact on your expenses due to different living costs around the country. A number of online calculators are available that show the cost of living in different locations. These can help you compare costs between cities. You should create a budget to keep track of the expenses you already know about, and talk to your university to find dout about any available support or fee waivers. 

Institutional aid

Many public and private universities provide financial incentives for students. At menay, the majority of the support available to foreign students is primarily for graduate level studies, such as assistantships and fellowships.

Because it is rare for US colleges to offer support for international undergraduate students, scholarships can be very competitive when they are available. Both private and public institutions may waive application fees in certain situations, so consult your financial aid office advisor to take advantage of anyopportunities they offer.

Merit-based scholarships are awarded on the basis of your skills, talents and abilities. Your chosen university may have scholarships to offer based on your academic record, artistic ability, music, or sports. These scholarships are very competitive, so to be considered, you will need to demonstrate exceptional capacity in the specific area.

Need-based scholarships are awarded on the basis of a student’s financial situation. Students who can demonstrate a need for support may be eligible.

Specific academic departments within the university may have funds set aside for their international students with exceptional prospects.

Consult your university financial aid office and/or your department of study to see if there are any special funding opportunities that they offer.

Scholarships and grants

Many local scholarships are only available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, there are free scholarship databases as well as private, corporate, non-profit and government scholarship funds that do help foreign students. Some scholarship databases charge a fee to users and other databases provide their services at no cost. In general, the same information is available from both types of database services, so no fee is required. Ask in advance, and choose a free database service.

Although they are rare, there have been some dishonest scholarships in the past: do not send money, bank account numbers or credit card numbers to anyone that promises a scholarship in return. If you are at all concerned about any scholarship source, consult the admissions office, financial aid office or international student office at the university to which you apply.

Web sites with other scholarship resources

There are specialist websites that collect information on financial aid and scholarships for study abroad.

Both and are free to use for foreign students to search for grant programs to cover tuition costs, room and board and living expenses at an american school – or for international students around the world.

Private Student Loans

International student loans are available to individuals who meet certain criteria. In many cases you will require a cosigner (someone who guarantees the laon and is responsible for making the repayments if you are unable to repay the loan for any reason). Student loans without a cosigner are available at certain schools and for eligible students.

Interest-free Student Loans

The Organization of American States has a scheme of interest-free loans to students from Latin American and Caribbean countries. The program is called The Rowe Fund. For more information please see

Family and personal funds 

According to the Institute of International Education, the vast majority of international students  rely heavily on their own personal and family sources of funding.


Non-immigrant students are not eligible to be employed in federal work-study positions, and the regulations that cover the F, M, and J non-immigrant categories strictly limit both the type and amount of work that students can do while they are in the United States.

Working without authorisation in the United States is a very serious matter and is considered to be a violation of your immigration status.

The rules that deal with student employment for those with a visa are complex – you should discuss any issues about eligibility for employment with your International Student Services Advisor on campus before starting any work.

Working on or off campus, even if it is allowed under the conditions of your student visa, cannot be your sole source of funding. Most jobs will provide only enough money to cover some of your personal expenses – or additional “fun money”.


Many of the financial suport for international students are considered taxable. In some cases, you may be exempt from paying taxes on certain forms of financial assistance. Any exemptions depend on the type of visa you are on, the duration of your stay in the United States and the type or types of financial aid you have been awarded.

If your home country is in a “tax treaty” with the United States, you may be able to claim a full refund of any taxes that is withheld from your financial aid. To do this you must file a non-resident tax return (1040NR) including a letter stating that your home country has a tax treaty with the United States. Consult your International Student Advisor, Financial Aid Office or on-campus tax office to learn more.

Foreign students are more likely to be exempt from tax if the financial assistance they recieve is designated as an educational award and not work-related.

Information for permanent residents

US citizens and nationals, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylum seekers are eligible for federal financial assistance in the form of federal student loans, grants and work-study opportunities.

Students in the non-immigrant visa category are generally not eligible for such aid.

If you are a permanent resident, you can apply for federal financial assistance by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

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