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October 6, 2021

reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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Who Is an International Student? | Financial Assistance | Grants | Scholarships | Financial Aid | FAQ

According to the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 1.1 million international students enrolled in U.S. institutions during the 2019-2020 academic year. Without access to federal financial aid, many of these learners relied on international student scholarships to fund their education.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, international student enrollment has dropped at U.S. colleges and universities. Vaccine requirements for international students and new ICE guidelines have created additional obstacles. However, international student applications have rebounded for the 2021-2022 academic year. Once again, financial aid for learners from other countries has become an important topic.

A companion to our international student college checklist, the following guide explores different financial aid opportunities and some of the top scholarships for international students.

Who Is an International Student?

According to International Education Specialists, American schools feature some of the world's best programs and support systems for international students. The flexibility of the education system and availability of financial aid contribute to international learners' desire to study in the United States. These students enjoy vibrant campus life, offer diverse perspectives, and help advance the globalization of education.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, international students are those who cross borders with the intention of studying in another country. Foreign students attend schools abroad, but may not travel purely for educational purposes.

Financial Assistance for International Students


Since international students cannot access federal loans in the U.S., many depend on loans from private lenders. These loans may offer competitive interest rates and loan forgiveness policies. Our guide to college loans provides more information on student loans, including the different types and repayment options available.


Scholarships for international students typically reward academic achievement. They do not require repayment and may be renewed over multiple years in some cases. Scholarships may come from government agencies, nonprofit, other third-party organizations, or colleges and universities.


Grants and scholarships are some of the most attractive financial aid options for international students because they do not require repayment. Unlike international student scholarships, which are typically merit-based awards, grants often support learners with financial need. Some schools run their own grant programs for international degree-seekers.


Work-study programs provide international students with employment in return for financial aid. Compared to traditional part-time jobs, work-study programs typically run on or near campus and work around the learner's study schedule. Work-study programs may also offer employment opportunities related to the student's major.


Fellowships are typically available to students at the graduate level and provide more focused work and research opportunities. International graduate students can receive a stipend in return for their services over an extended period of time. Money awarded to fellowship participants does not need to be repaid. These specialised experiences can be very meaningful and instructive.

International Student Grants

International student grants provide aid to those in need. Grant funds may cover a learner's entire tuition or a portion of it, depending on the program. The following grants are some of the most popular available to international learners.

International Student Scholarships

Scholarships for international students vary widely. They may be available for use at any school or only at specific institutions. They may reward first-time learners, undergraduate students, or graduate degree-seekers. The following sections outline some of the best international student scholarships available.

Featured International Student Scholarships

International Student Voice Scholarship Photo Contest

Who is eligible? Applicants only need to submit a photo or video that shows off their favorite holiday in a creative way. The person who submits the photo that receives the most love and interaction on Instagram wins.

Award amount: $500

Deadline: December

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MPOWER Women in STEM Scholarship

Who is eligible? Applicants must be women international students applying or accepted to a full-time STEM program in North America that is approved by MPOWER. Students must be legally permitted to attend the school.

Award amount: $1,000-$3,000

Deadline: January

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Study a Bachelor's in the USA Scholarship

Who is eligible? Applicants must have applied to a bachelor's program in the U.S. and be legally permitted to study. Ideal candidates are globally minded and engaged with their communities.

Award amount: Up to $5,000

Deadline: August

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Graduate Scholarships for International Students

International students in the U.S. enjoy many scholarship opportunities at the graduate level. The following entries provide details on some of the most popular awards. Readers can find additional application information in our graduate admissions guide.

Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship Programme

Who is eligible? Applicants from specific countries can apply for this award, which is 50% loan and 50% grant. Candidates need to demonstrate academic excellence and acceptance to a reputable graduate program. They must study a discipline relevant to the Aga Khan Development Network's focus areas. Preference is given to applicants under 30.

Award amount: Varies

Deadline: March

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ASHFoundation International Student Scholarships

Who is eligible? Applicants studying communication sciences and disorders through an approved program may qualify. Candidates must possess a strong academic record and a high GPA. They must submit letters of recommendation and respond to an essay question.

Award amount: $5,000

Deadline: TBD

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Deserve Scholarship

Who is eligible? Full-time students eligible for studying in the U.S. may apply. Winners are selected through a random draw, and all applicants must agree to join a financial literacy email program.

Award amount: $1,000

Deadline: October

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PEO International Peace Scholarship

Who is eligible? The Philanthropic Educational Organization developed this scholarship for international women studying full time at the graduate level. Applicants must demonstrate financial need.

Award amount: $12,500

Deadline: Varies

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Institution-Based International Student Scholarships

Many institutions offer international student scholarships, but the colleges with the most international students tend to offer the most opportunities. The following awards are just some of the many scholarships available.

American University - Emerging Global Leader Scholarship

Who is eligible? Students at American University who are starting their first postsecondary degree can qualify. International applicants who possess a GPA above 3.8, have overcome challenging obstacles, and demonstrate commitment to leadership and volunteerism receive preference for this award.

Award amount: $4,000

Deadline: August

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Amherst College - Financial Aid Award

Who is eligible? Amherst College offers a financial package that helps students cover the costs of their education. The award may include scholarships and other types of aid, along with employment opportunities. Candidates need to demonstrate financial need and academic achievements.

Award amount: Varies

Deadline: Varies

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Brandeis University - International Students Scholarships

Who is eligible? Brandeis University offers several scholarships for promising first-year international students who demonstrate financial need. Two of the awards are specifically for Israeli citizens. Award requirements vary, but may include demonstrating financial need and responding to interview questions.

Award amount: Varies

Deadline: Varies

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Concordia College - International Student Scholarships

Who is eligible? Concordia College offers merit scholarships for international students who demonstrate academic excellence. One of the scholarships is awarded to a student who participates and excels in a virtual interview.

Award amount: Up to $10,000

Deadline: Varies

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Dartmouth University - International Student Scholarships

Who is eligible? Eligibility requirements vary by award, but applicants may need to demonstrate strong academic performance and community involvement. All scholarships are available to U.S. and international students at Dartmouth University.

Award amount: Between $1,000 and half the full cost of tuition

Deadline: February

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Duke University - Karsh International Scholars Program

Who is eligible? Open to international undergraduate students, this scholarship is available to first-time learners at Duke University. All international applicants to the school are automatically considered for the scholarship, which is based on merit and financial need.

Award amount: Eight semesters worth of tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees

Deadline: Varies

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East Tennessee State University - International Students Academic Merit Scholarships

Who is eligible? To qualify, international students at ETSU need a visa and a minimum GPA of 3.0. They must also be pursuing their first bachelor's degree. Winners may renew the award for up to eight semesters if they maintain the eligibility requirements.

Award amount: Up to $12,500 per year

Deadline: Varies

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Illinois Wesleyan - Scholarships for International Students

Who is eligible? International applicants to Illinois Wesleyan University with strong applications and entrance exam scores may qualify for merit awards. Other scholarships recognize applicants' talents, interests, and achievements.

Award amount: $16,000-$30,000

Deadline: Varies

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Indiana University Kokomo - International Student Scholarships

Who is eligible? At IUK, the eligibility requirements for international students seeking scholarships vary by award. Students may need to demonstrate strong academic performance, participate in cultural activities, or demonstrate financial need. All accepted international students automatically qualify for financial assistance at IUK.

Award amount: Up to $20,000

Deadline: April

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Iowa State University - International Freshman Merit Scholarships

Who is eligible? International students at ISU with high grades and SAT or ACT scores may qualify for a scholarship. Full-time students who maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA may be eligible for award renewal.

Award amount: Up to $40,000

Deadline: May and December

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SUNY Plattsburgh - International Student Scholarships

Who is eligible? SUNY Plattsburgh offers several scholarships to international students based on merit and nonacademic achievements. First-year and transfer students may qualify for different awards.

Award amount: Up to 40% of the cost of attendance

Deadline: Varies

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University of Oregon - International Cultural Service Program

Who is eligible? International students may qualify for a partial tuition-waiver scholarship if they demonstrate financial need. Candidates also must have experience participating in cultural activities and must agree to complete at least 80 hours of cultural service each year.

Award amount: $9,000-$15,000

Deadline: January

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University of South Florida - International Scholarships

Who is eligible? USF's international student scholarships reward academic merit. Qualifying candidates need a minimum GPA of 3.3 and a cumulative score higher than 1180 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT. The higher an applicant's grades and test scores, the higher the potential award amounts.

Award amount: Up to $12,000 per year

Deadline: February (first-year applicants), March (transfer applicants)

View Scholarship

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Frequently Asked Questions About Scholarships for International Students

Who qualifies as an international student? true

The qualification requirements for international students depend on the institution. At some colleges and universities, students may qualify as long as they do not possess U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status. Their stay in the country should be considered temporary, and they must intend to return to their home country after graduation. Some schools require students to hold certain status, such as a non-immigrant visa. Prospective international students should look into the different statuses and determine which one they need to attend their top school.

Will international students be allowed in the U.S. for fall 2021? true

Depending on their place of residence, some international students may be restricted from traveling to or within the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, learners from places like China, Iran, and the United Kingdom may be restricted from obtaining student visas. However, these rules continue to be in flux. Those who already have visas, however, should be able to enter or return to the U.S. to start or continue their studies. For more information on student visas, consult regulations set by the U.S. Department of State.

How do international students get visas? true

According to the U.S. Department of State, international students must have an F-1 visa to study in the country. The application requirements vary depending on a student's home country. Prospective visitors can find more details through the U.S. Embassy in their country. In general, prospective international students need to complete an application and submit a photo and visa fees. They sometimes need to complete an interview at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in their home country. Applicants need to submit all school documents, a payment plan, and proof of intent to leave the country after completing their training.

Can international students earn scholarships?

Yes. International students can earn scholarships from many sources, including businesses, nonprofit organizations, and schools. International student scholarships function similarly to domestic scholarships, rewarding learners who possess academic merit and the drive to succeed at the postsecondary level. Prospective students should look at the scholarships listed in this guide and check with their school for more information. Many countries offer scholarships for students looking to study abroad, so prospective learners should research their local options, as well.

What are the best scholarships for international students?

The best scholarship depends on the individual student. While many of the biggest awards have a larger spotlight on them, they may also feature stronger competition. Prospective international students should look for scholarships that suit them best, including awards specific to their program of study or school. Some of the best scholarships offer full tuition and multi-year support, which can eliminate much of the financial burden faced by international students. These awards often require top grades, leadership potential, and community involvement, as schools and organizations wish to attract the most promising students into their ranks.

Reviewed by:

Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have to themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender-binary, nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.

Feature Image: franckreporter / E+ / Getty Images

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