Scholarships are the ideal way to pay for college, because you never have to pay back the money. Unfortunately, international education is expensive! Scholarships for foreign students in the USA and Canada are not as common as scholarships for US and Canadian citizens, and they can be harder to find.
But that’s why Edupass is here – to share some tips and tricks for international students, and to point you to key sites and resources. And that best part is that we’ve got you covered, whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student, and whether you’re studying for an MBA, a Master’s degree in Biology or Computer Science, or a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering!
Find and Win Scholarships and Financial Assistance to Study in the USA & Canada: Top 5 Do’s and Don’t’s
DO research the different categories of scholarship programs for international students—and know which ones you are eligible for!
The main categories include:
- Need-based: Typically includes income limit and may require supporting documentation
- Academic Merit: Based on your grade point average, class rank, etc.
- Membership in an underrepresented or specific group: Offered to women, minorities, certain nationalities or immigration statuses, etc.
- School-based eligibility: Limited to those accepted at or enrolled in a certain school
- Major/degree-based eligibility: For students accepted or enrolled in a particular major or degree program (e.g. nursing, business, engineering)
Once you are familiar with the different categories, figure out which categories are most appropriate for your personal situation.
DO start by contacting your university
The simplest, most direct way to get financial aid is through your university. Most merit-based and need-based scholarships are for domestic students, but some universities offer scholarships for international students.
Start by contacting your university’s Office of International Student Services and Office of Financial Aid. Don’t be shy about explaining your personal financial situation—and emphasizing that financial aid is a key factor in your decision about which school to attend. If you have been accepted to another school and received a scholarship award from that school, definitely mention it. Some schools will offer to match your other financial aid packages!
DO research home-country scholarships
Some national governments offer scholarships and/or low-cost loans for their most promising students to pursue higher education abroad. In some cases, the financial aid is structured as a loan, with the interest rate reduced—or some portion of the loan principal forgiven—if the student returns to his or her home country after graduation.
- ColFuturo – college scholarships for Colombian students
- Conacyt – college scholarships to Mexican students.
In other cases, private corporations offer scholarships to students from particular countries. Buddy4Study is a great resource for scholarships for Indian students, and Edukasyon is a great resource for scholarships for Filipino students.
DO leverage scholarship search engines—and get creative with your search criteria!
Search engines such as IEFA are a great way for you to identify scholarships you are eligible for. When searching, remember that you have a better chance of winning if (a) there is a small pool of potential applicants, and (b) you meet all the eligibility criteria and excel when judged against the evaluation criteria! So scour the Internet for scholarships that meet these criteria.
Start by identifying those scholarships where you meet the eligibility criteria—but few others do. If you’re a low-income woman from Brazil studying engineering, for example, search for need-based scholarships for Brazilians, women in general, women from Brazil, women in a STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering), women in engineering…and Brazilian women in engineering. Make sure to get creative with your search terms. In the example above, try both “Brazilian” and “Brazil,” as well as “women” and “female.”Also try searching the College Board’s website for scholarships for international students at your specific university.
Once you have identified scholarships where you meet the eligibility criteria, but relatively few others do, dive into the second phase of your research. Now read the details about each scholarship competition. How will winners be selected? If, for example, it’s on the basis of an essay, you’ll have a better chance of winning if you’re a good writer and can come up with a unique way of answering the essay question.
After you’ve done your research, identify the 5-10 scholarships you have the best chance of winning…and start the application process!
DO ask a friend or family member to review your work before submitting
Many scholarship providers will automatically reject an application with incomplete or missing information, or with a poorly written essay. So ask a friend or family member to review your application before submission and check to make sure you’ve met all the submission requirements.
If an essay in English is required, ask a native English speaker to review and check your spelling and grammar!
DON’T use your essay to beg for money
The scholarship provider knows you need money for school—that’s why you’re applying for a scholarship. Focus on answering the essay question to the best of your ability and highlighting how you are just the type of student they are looking for.
Not sure how to do that? Just look at the selection or evaluation criteria. If the criteria section says that the provider is looking for students who’ve demonstrated outstanding leadership potential, for example, talk about your leadership roles on campus or in your community and what you’ve accomplished. If the scholarship is for public health students, on the other hand, focus on your experience spearheading a campaign to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS or increase polio vaccination rates.
Be specific and concise—and never lie. Highlighting any awards or recognition you’ve received never hurts, either, and scholarship providers will appreciate it if you include a link!
DON’T re-use an essay you used for another purpose
Scholarship providers want to see that you’ve thought about their specific question—and you’ve answered it.
DON’T wait until the last minute to submit your application
You don’t want to find out that there’s a last-minute website glitch, that you’ve forgotten a key part of the application, or that you’ve failed to take into account any time zone difference! Apply early and, if you don’t receive a confirmation message, politely contact the scholarship provider to see if your application was received.
DON’T fall for a scam
Start by eliminating any scholarships that have an application fee, as these are probably financial aid scams.
DON’T ignore other ways to pay for school—like teaching assistantships
Many universities in the United States and Canada offer work as teaching assistants for graduate students, especially Ph.D. students, as part of a university’s financial aid package. This can be arranged even before you leave your home country and typically involves working with students in the lab, grading papers, and tutoring undergraduates. Similarly, many Ph.D. students are the opportunity to work in research lab.
If you are interested in this option, be sure to contact your university’s financial aid office, as well as the department in which you will be studying.
Even if you are unable to secure a teaching assistant position in your field, you still may be able to arrange to be a teaching assistant for classes in your native language. If, for example, you are a native Mandarin speaker, ask the professor of Mandarin Chinese if you can assist him or her in grading papers. You may also more informally arrange to tutor students.
Once you are on campus, you could also explore work on campus. This could mean working on campus in the cafeteria, library, dormitories, or various university offices; serving as a referee for sports matches at your university; or working in some other capacity. International students are legally allowed to work an average of 20 hours per week on-campus in the US.
You can also explore jobs and internships off campus. Just keep in mind that you will need to comply with any work restrictions that come with your student visa, so research this carefully.
In addition to helping defray the cost of your education, these opportunities can also help build your CV!