Ask a College Advisor: Do U.S. Colleges Offer Scholarships for International Students?

Hear from one of our education professionals on merit-based and need-based scholarships for international students.

portrait of Lauren Albano, M.Ed.
by Lauren Albano, M.Ed.

Published on April 28, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Ask a College Advisor: Do U.S. Colleges Offer Scholarships for International Students?
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Question: Do U.S. colleges offer scholarships for international students?

Answer: Almost all colleges in the United States offer scholarships for international students. While there may be fewer scholarship opportunities for nonresidents, international students can still use scholarships to reduce their college costs and make studying abroad more financially feasible.

Since international students are not eligible for federal financial aid, it is important to understand which forms of aid are not restricted to U.S. citizens. Most of these opportunities are available directly through the student's school, although there are other options for financial support.

Merit-Based Scholarships

The most common scholarships awarded to international students are merit-based scholarships. These funds come directly from the university and can be awarded based on an incoming student's grade point average (GPA), high test scores, or special skills such as athletic or artistic talent.

Merit-based scholarships are not awarded based on financial need, so international students are eligible for this type of funding — regardless of their economic background.

Eligibility for these scholarships often comes with stipulations, such as maintaining a minimum GPA for the award to be renewed each year.

Some colleges automatically consider all applicants for merit-based scholarships, while other schools may require additional scholarship applications. It is important for students to review each school's website or speak with the financial aid office for more information on how to apply.

Consider that private colleges often have more scholarship funds available than public colleges. Since international students typically pay out-of-state tuition rates at public schools, a private school may be comparable or even lower in cost if a student is able to obtain a substantial scholarship.

Need-Based Scholarships

In general, new international students are not eligible for most need-based college scholarships. This is because international students must prove their ability to afford studying in the U.S. to obtain a student visa — students are unable to claim financial need while simultaneously proving financial stability to their college and U.S. Embassy.

However, some international students who are already enrolled in college might find themselves in an unexpected situation where their sponsor is no longer able to afford their tuition and living expenses. Whether there is a conflict in their home country or their sponsor loses employment, there may be some emergency scholarships available from the university on a case-by-case basis if the need arises.

Independent Scholarships

Beyond each individual college, international students should also research national or state-wide scholarship opportunities. There are many searchable scholarship databases that can filter out certain criteria so students can find awards not limited to U.S. citizens.

When researching these scholarships, it is important to watch out for scams targeting international students. Scholarship applications never have fees to apply or require any upfront payment. Steer clear of anything that appears fraudulent.

Work-Study

Many colleges have two different kinds of work-study programs: federal work-study and institutional work-study. As nonresidents, international students are not eligible for federal work-study opportunities, but they may still be eligible for other on-campus jobs or work-study that is paid through institutional funding.

To be eligible for on-campus employment, international students must maintain their visa status and follow all university and immigration guidelines regarding their work eligibility. Students should also talk to their campus career center if they need assistance searching for on-campus jobs, writing a resume, or preparing for an interview.

Financial Alternatives

For international students looking to make the most out of their time in the U.S., it is important to consider other opportunities to save money on college expenses. Community colleges can be a great starting place for undergraduate international students who want to pay significantly lower tuition fees while earning college credit before transferring to a four-year institution.

Starting out at a community college can also be a great option for students who need to improve their TOEFL scores or who could benefit from more time studying English to ensure greater academic success after transferring. This can also open the door to other college scholarships that might specifically target transfer students, which can provide an additional benefit.

Summary

While studying in the U.S. as an international student can be expensive, the cost can be significantly decreased through scholarships. Most colleges offer merit-based scholarships based on an applicant's GPA or special skills, and international students are typically eligible for these types of awards.

Always check your prospective school's website for more information on available scholarships, the application process, and eligibility requirements for international students. You can also look to outside organizations for scholarship funds or find part-time employment to offset your expenses.

Have a Question About College?

In our Ask a College Advisor series, experienced advisors provide an insider look at the college experience by answering your questions about college admissions, finances, and student life.

DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.

Learn how to navigate the U.S. college system as an international student, and figure out what to pack for your first year. Got a unique talent or hobby? There may be a college scholarship for you. Check out these nine weird scholarships and see whether you qualify. Wondering how to get scholarships for college to help with tuition? Explore the best resources for college scholarship searches and databases.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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