Each year, the cost of higher education continues to rise and internationals often pay the price with tuition rates sometimes as high as three times more than an American student.
Many American students struggle to meet these costs, often relying on federal and private student loans to pick up the slack. While some Americans can acquire financial aid, international students hoping to study in the United States often feel the pain of rising college costs – with fewer solutions at hand.
With great costs and fewer ways to pay, how can students from abroad fund their education in the US? In this article, we explore popular options.
What financial aid is available for international students?
There are a considerable amount of scholarships and grants available to international students, but they are often competitive due to their benefits. But aside from scholarships, there are two predominant sources of financial aid for those coming from abroad: federal financial aid as well as private student loans from banks and lenders.
At the federal level, international students may be eligible for Pell Grants, FSEOG Grants, direct subsidized/unsubsidized student loans or Direct PLUS loans depending on their residency status. Federal financial aid comes with better benefits than private aid. For example, Pell Grants don’t require repayment. Furthermore, loan rates and terms tend to be more favorable and may come with greater protections like student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment (IDR) options.
Finally, private student loans are offered by banks and lenders who may lend to internationals. Applicants typically need to pass a credit check to qualify for these loans which can be difficult for international students with limited credit history in the U.S.
Are international students eligible for financial aid?
Qualifying for financial aid as an international student can pose a challenge in some cases. However, it’s not impossible. Here’s more information on eligibility criteria and how to qualify for scholarships, federal aid .and private student loans, respectively.
There are various private organizations, programs, and even universities that offer scholarships specifically to international students. Eligibility criteria may vary between applications. For example, one organization may specialize in scholarships to students from Russia or applicants may need to be majoring in a certain career field like engineering. These requirements vary considerably, but there are tons of opportunities out there for students from many different backgrounds.
To qualify, simply find a scholarship that fits your profile and background and fill out an application with the required credentials and proof of information.
Federal financial aid
Federal financial aid is available to international students, but there are important federal eligibility criteria regarding residency status. First, residents of American Samoa and Swains Island are eligible because they are U.S. nationals; permanent residents are also generally eligible.
Other eligible non-citizens include:
- Students with an Arrival-Departure Record showing “Refugee,” “Asylum Granted,” “Cuban-Haitian Entrant,” “Conditional Entrant” (pre-04/01/1980), or “Parolee.”
- Those who either hold or have parents who hold T nonimmigrant status, also known as a T-visa.
- Students who are considered battered immigrant-qualified aliens – victims of abuse by a citizen or permanent resident spouse.
- A citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshal Islands, or Republic of Palau (limited to Pell Grants for Marshal Islands & Micronesia citizens and Pell Grants/FSEOG Grants, and Federal Work-Study for Palau citizens.)
- If you meet the aforementioned criteria, the next step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the federal form that will take your personal and financial information into account and offer a tailored federal aid package.
Private student loans
Qualifying for private student loans can be quite challenging, and the options are limited. In general, lenders require applicants to have an established credit history and good-to-excellent credit. Many young international students lack any established credit history at all, and those who have credit in their country may find in non-transferrable to the US credit system. The combination of low- or no-credit and non-U.S. citizen status complicates the application efforts of thousands of otherwise-qualified students.
Some private lenders such as Citizens Bank and Discover Student Loans offer student loans to international students. Each private lender requires a cosigner who is a permanent resident or US citizen; furthermore, the cosigner must have at least a good credit score.
If you're from certain countries like Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, among others, you can use your international credit history to apply for loan packages from MPOWER Financing.
College can come with a high price tag, especially for students entering the US. Adding to those challenges, international students don’t have the same opportunities as Americans when it comes to financial aid. While scholarships are an option, not everyone can secure a full ride through free money. Aside from paying out of pocket, the remaining options, federal financial aid and private student loans, are limited for non-US citizens who may lack the proper credentials.
While it may be limited, not all international students are immediately barred from all financial aid. Many can still qualify, and it starts with looking into the criteria before applying for a loan or filling out the FAFSA.