Because sources of financial aid to study in the USA are extremely limited, you will have to be resourceful and explore every possibility. In addition to the sources listed below, we recommend searching the FastWeb database, because it is free and has good coverage of the awards available for international students.
Aid from Your Home Country
One of the best sources of financial aid to study in the USA is organizations in your own country. The nearest educational advising center may have information about local sources of support.
Your own government may have financial aid available. (Usually this support requires that you return home after your education is complete.) Contact the cultural section of your embassy or your ministry of education for more information, since there are many awards which require you to be nominated by your government.
There may also be private organizations in your home country that provide support for study in the US. Businesses, foundations, and religious groups might have funds available.
Aid from International Organizations
Of the few private scholarships for international students, most require that you apply from your home country. If you are already in the USA you might not be eligible. So you should search for financial aid before you arrive in the US.
Some international organizations offer funding for graduate students to study in the US. These include the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), AMIDEAST, the International Maritime Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, the League of Red Cross Societies, the Soros Foundation, the World Health Organization, and the World Council of Churches. These awards are extremely competitive.
Fulbright scholarships are awarded to approximately 4,700 graduate students worldwide each year. Applicants are required to take the TOEFL and GRE or GMAT exams. Professional education, such as medical studies, is not eligible. Fulbright students are required to be on J-1 visas for the duration of their sponsorship. For information about applying to the Fulbright Program in your country, contact the nearest USA embassy or consulate, Fulbright Commission office, or educational advising center. EducationUSA, operated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the USA Department of State, maintains information about studying in the USA and the Fulbright program, including Fulbright Commission contact information for most countries. For more information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aid from the USA Government
Please note that the USA government student assistance programs, including the Pell Grant, Stafford and PLUS loans, and work-study programs, are not available to international students.
There may, however, be aid available from the USA government for students from specific countries. Your best bet for finding out if there is any financial aid from the USA for students from your country is to contact your embassy, the US Department of State, and EducationUSA. You should also write to the Agency for International Development, Office of International Training, Washington, DC 20523.
Aid from USA Educational Institutions
Financial aid for international undergraduate students is extremely rare. Foreign graduate students have significantly more opportunities for financial aid than foreign undergraduate students. The amount of financial aid for foreign graduate students is nevertheless limited.
for more information, please see the list of schools with financial aid for international undergraduate students.
Some USA schools have direct exchange programs with their counterparts in foreign countries. Such exchange programs often include financial aid for the international student. To find out about these programs, ask your local university.
International students who intend to enroll in a graduate or postdoctoral program at a USA university should contact the schools that interest them. Ask both the relevant department(s) and the university’s Financial Aid Office about financial aid for international students. Most support for graduate study in the USA by international students is provided by the schools themselves in the form of teaching assistantships and research assistantships. These assistantships are based on academic merit, not financial need. The school will probably require you to pass the Test of Spoken English (TSE) to qualify for a teaching assistantship.
Financial aid is not available for English as a Second Language courses, so you should have a TOEFL score of at least 550 to qualify for financial aid. If all else is equal, the candidate with the better English skills will get the financial aid.
International students who are already enrolled in a USA university should visit the International Student Advisor, Financial Aid Office, and Career Planning & Placement Office for information about financial aid for international students. The campus library may also have some relevant books.
Aid from Private USA Organizations and Sponsors
There is very little financial aid for international students available from private sources, such as foundations and individual sponsors.
The FastWeb database, in particular, has good coverage of the awards available for international students. (Be aware that fee-based scholarship matching services often do not have any listings of awards for international students. Most awards listed in these databases are restricted to USA citizens and permanent residents. The databases may claim otherwise, but that’s often because they find it easy to exploit international students. Don’t waste your money.)
Another suggestion is to read some of the ethnic newspapers that are published in the US. Some sources of financial aid are publicized only in such foreign language newspapers. If there isn’t anything listed, try calling the editor of the newspaper to see if they know of any possibilities, such as a member of the community who might be willing to sponsor your education.
Although you might be able to find a generous benefactor who will offer to sponsor your USA education, the chances of this are less than 1 in 10,000. Sponsorship of this sort is much more common abroad than it is in the US. You’re more likely to find a sponsor in your home country than in the US. (US sponsors are as generous as their international counterparts. They are just overwhelmed by the relatively large numbers of international students seeking financial assistance and the higher cost of education in the USA.)
According to NAFSA (Association of International Educators), more than two-thirds of international students in the USA finance their education using their own resources and the resources of their family. According to a 1995 study by the IIE (Institute of International Education), 81% of international undergraduate students (48% of international graduate students) relied exclusively on their own resources and their family’s resources to finance their education in the US. The IIE study also found that 7% of undergraduate international students received funding from the school, 5% from their home governments, and 5% from private organizations. Less than 20% of the financial aid comes from USA sources.
So you are most likely going to have to rely on your own assets, your parent’s money, and contributions from relatives.