Financial Aid and Scholarships for International Undergraduate Students at US Universities

The United States has the most top-rated universities in the world, such as Yale, MIT, and Harvard -- but its elite education comes with a hefty price tag. On average, a US state school charges students and their families around $20,000 for an academic year, while a bill from a private university will be over $35,000. Expenses at a top-tier school are even higher, and could exceed $70,000. For example, this year, students at Yale University will pay $53,430 in tuition, $14,000 for room and board, and $2,402 for the health insurance.


Many universities, however, offer a lot of different types of financial aid to make earning a college degree more affordable and attract the best students. Financial aid packages could range from $1000 to full tuition plus room and board. Money for aid can come from the university’s own funds or other sources including private, corporate, nonprofit, and government scholarship funds. International students can count on four types of funding to help them pay for college: need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships, athletic scholarships, and private scholarships with specific eligibility requirements.


Need-based scholarships. Top (and mostly private) schools with large endowments promise to meet the full demonstrated financial need of every student they accept. Unsurprisingly, these schools are the hardest ones to get into: Amherst College, Yale, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, and so on. But those students who do get in can receive enough funding to cover their tuition and living expenses for all four years, given that families cannot afford to pay for these expenses.


Merit-based scholarships. A lot of large state schools and some private universities offer a variety of scholarships based on applicant’s GPA, test scores, and other academic achievements. While there are only a few full tuition scholarships available at each school, a solid high school record and good SAT or ACT scores could help to secure a $10,000 to $20,000 scholarship each year. Some schools require students to maintain a certain GPA in order to receive the scholarship in the next academic year.


Athletic scholarships. If a school has a varsity team that plays in Division I or II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), then the school can give a few scholarships for the athletes on the team. These scholarships are very competitive and the rules vary by sport but if a student is a talented athlete, then this type of scholarship is the best bet.

Private scholarships with specific eligibility requirements. Sometimes private organizations or wealthy individuals establish scholarship funds that provide funding with random criteria that usually have to do with where the student is from, what he or she wants to study, or the student’s demographics. For example, there could be a scholarship for women who want to study engineering at university A or a scholarship for students from a developing county who want to go to college B.


It is hard to keep track of all of the scholarship opportunities available at US schools, but there are many databases that let prospective students search for various scholarships. In addition, each college or university has a page on its website with details of the funding opportunities that the school offers.  


(This blog was originally written by Nadya Stryuk.)


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