Living and studying in the U.S. can be challenging. Many international students have only a vague picture of how expensive life is in the U.S. They often find it totally different from what they had imagined. When making plans to attend university in the United States, international students should anticipate high costs. They should explore opportunities to finance their education. By addressing their financial needs, they will be more likely to ensure their academic success as well.
Mohsen Alzahrani is a WES Ambassador and Ph.D. student at the University of Denver. He is majoring in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).
Pursuing a degree in the United States is expensive. That is well known if you already live in the country-but the steep costs of higher education can be especially prohibitive for international students.
WES Advisor spoke with Maureen Klovers, Director of Social Impact at MPOWER Financing, about some of the financial challenges that international students face. Below, she offers advice that can help international students overcome financial barriers to make their dreams a reality.
Do You Need to Be a U.S. Citizen to Receive Financial Aid?
Maureen: Only permanent residents qualify for federal Sallie Mae loans in the United States. The interest rate on a Sallie Mae loan is quite low, so if you and your parent(s) are permanent residents, you should definitely explore this option. Unfortunately, this option is not available for immigrants or international students.
International students are also unable to qualify for most need-based financial aid programs. However, some universities will award merit-based scholarships to international students. In addition, many universities will allow international students, particularly graduate students, to serve as research or teaching assistants. These positions often cover tuition and award participants with a small stipend to help cover basic living expenses.
Finally, both undergraduate and graduate students may work up to 20 hours a week. These hours are typically completed as on-campus “work-study” jobs. Assistantships and on-campus jobs are great ways to reduce the costs of attending college in the United States. Plus, the experience will be a great addition to your CV!
Do International Student Scholarships Exist-and How Can I Get One?
Maureen: There are several scholarships available to international students. You will have to put forth a little extra effort, though, as they are relatively rare and hard to find. MPOWER offers several scholarships exclusively for international students. In addition to our company’s options, I also highly recommend IEFA and FastWeb, which provide access to 1.5 million scholarships worth $3.4 billion USD. Try entering your school, your degree/major, and your country of origin as search terms.
- First, seek scholarships for which you will be a competitive candidate. Look for opportunities with very narrow eligibility criteria; if you qualify, you will find yourself competing against a much smaller pool.
- Next, write an amazing essay! If English is not your primary language, have a native English speaker proofread your essay before you submit it. As a scholarship provider, I cannot tell you how many poorly written essays we receive (along with many terrific ones, of course). Great work really does stand out from the rest!
Many Banks and Private Lenders Will Not Work with International Students. Why?
Maureen: Traditional banks and private lenders see international students as too risky for their business model. That’s because nearly all international students (and most immigrants) do not possess the three things that banks use to assess their risk.