The cost of college tuition in the United States has been a big debate as of late. According to The College Board, the average cost of an in-state four-year public university – including room, board and fees – for 2014-2015 was $18,943. If you’re looking at an out-of-state public university, it jumps to $32,762. If you’re interested in a private non-profit institution, you’re looking at $42,419.
This is what Americans pay for college, but what about international students who want to study in the U.S.? In their case, there is no such thing as in-state tuition, so they have to prepare to pay the same fees as a non-state resident would. If it’s a private school, then you pay whatever the tuition is for that school.
The question then becomes, how do they pay for it? Not only that, but what considerations need to be made for visas to study in the U.S.? While international students may have situations that aren’t as straightforward as those of American students, there are still plenty of ways international students can study in the U.S.
But first, it’s important to address the legalities so you can choose the appropriate school and have an easier transition.
Student visas & other requirements
In order to study in the United States, you have to actually be allowed in the country. That’s why it’s important to know what the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says about studying in the U.S.
There are certain requirements your chosen school must meet in order for your visa application to be accepted. For example, the school must be SEVP-certified, meaning they’re a part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. This a certification that is given by the Department of Homeland Security and allows the school to issue Forms I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Students” to prospective international students once they’ve been accepted.
A school is not legally allowed to accept international students unless they have this status, and a student will not get their visa application approved if their chosen school does not meet the requirement.
Not all schools opt for this certification because it’s a commitment of time and money on their part, so you’ll want to do your research before you even begin applying. You can start your search for SEVP-certified schools on the DHS website, or you can call schools directly to ensure that they have this status.
As an additional precaution, it’s wise to get all of the necessary visa documentation in order, should you get accepted into a school in the U.S. The process can be tedious, so the more organized you are, the better.
Once you’ve been accepted into an SEVP-certified school, you’ll want to follow the process of getting your visa as outlined by USCIS. There are two types of student visas for study in the United States. The most common is the F-1 Visa, which allows you to attend college, university, or a language training program, for example. The other type of visa is the M-1, which allows you attend a vocational school and other types of nonacademic institutions of learning.
English language requirements
In addition to visa requirements, schools have different requirements for international students when it comes to your level of English. The TOEFL is the most common and widely recognized test for demonstrating English language aptitude and is accepted at thousands of universities around the world.
Academic requirements & documentation
You should also contact your school to learn whether previous academic credits and/or credentials, if any, that you’ve completed count toward a degree in the US. This process may require obtaining official documentation, so give yourself plenty of time. You may also be required to submit test scores for standardized tests like the SAT or GRE, for example.
Be sure to research and consult with your school to learn about all the language and academic requirements you must meet to attend. In addition, documentation of these academic and language requirements may also be requested as part of your visa application.
Health care in the United States is very expensive and you should plan on paying for a health insurance policy. Depending on your school, you may or may not be required to purchase a mandatory health insurance plan. If the school has a mandatory insurance plan, this will often be added to the tuition bill. Though, if the school does not require health insurance, you should purchase a plan on your own to protect you in the event that you are sick or suffer an accident.
International student financial aid
You also need to begin thinking about how to pay for tuition. According to the National Association of International Educators, financial aid for international students in the U.S. is typically reserved for graduate students. To make matters more difficult, most of the financial aid available for both undergraduate and graduate education is reserved for U.S. residents. However, that doesn’t mean aid for international students doesn’t exist.
Most of the financial aid available to international students comes in the form of research and teaching assistance programs. Additionally, financial aid for international students may be funded by grants, loans or jobs and often includes merit-based and need-based awards.
The international financial aid available varies by school and sometimes even varies by major, so you’ll want to call the school and see what financial aid options are available for international students.
Applying for scholarships
Applying for scholarships is one of the best ways international students can help pay for college in the U.S. Unlike many of the other options mentioned here, scholarships aren’t as restrictive for international students, so they can provide good opportunities for international students seeking to study in the U.S.
There are several scholarship opportunities available to foreign students with a variety of criteria, including country of residence, age and academic major. You can even find some more obscure – yet still legitimate – scholarships that have no geographic restrictions.
There is certainly no lack of scholarship opportunities in the U.S., so make sure to do your research and apply for the scholarships you are most eligible for to increase your chances of receiving the award. Don’t be afraid of applying for some non-conventional scholarships as well.
Perhaps the most tedious part of applying for scholarships, and probably the reason why so many people don’t take advantage of them, is the amount of time they take to complete. Don’t let this discourage you! Even some money awarded from scholarships is better than no money at all. This is especially true for international students who may not have as many other options as U.S. residents do.
Here are some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind to increase your chances of being awarded a scholarship to attend school in the United States:
- Brush up on your English and writing skills: Nearly all scholarship applications will require you to write an essay as a part of the application process. The essays will also probably have to be in English. This means you may want to invest in brushing up on your English communication skills by getting a tutor or taking classes online. You may also want to have a native English speaker helping you through the process.
- Apply for as many scholarships as you can: There is no lack of scholarship opportunities in the U.S., so take advantage! You can begin your search by using GoodCall’s Scholarship Search.
- Boost your leadership skills: Americans value leadership skills, and it’s something they instill in people from a very young age. That’s also why so many scholarship funds give preference to people who possess leadership qualities.
Do what you can to boost your leadership skills, including volunteering for leadership positions in your school or local community. Becoming a coach for a community team or volunteering to spearhead a school project definitely count!
Looking for grants
General grants to attend college are not as abundant for international students as they are generally restricted to US citizens or permanent residents, but there are several options available. Once you’ve been accepted into a school’s program, you’ll want to call the financial aid office for any information on grants available for international students.
A good place to start looking for grants geared toward international students is the Institute of International Education. This is an organization dedicated to helping international students get a good education and stay on top of grant opportunities. The Overseas Association of College Admissions Counseling can also help direct international students to universities that are known for giving financial aid to foreign students.
List of grants and scholarships
You may also want to check out some of the following options for paying for college in the US as an international student:
- Fulbright grants for foreign students: The Fulbright Exchange Program is run by the U.S. Department of State and offers merit-based grants for both U.S. and non-U.S. students. Most of the grants provide round-trip transportation funding, a monthly stipend and full or partial tuition.
The organization also offers different grant programs depending on what you study. For example, the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program is available to international students who are pursuing a degree in teaching English as a foreign language. The only downsides are that these grants are extremely competitive and they are not available for all countries. You can visit the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for more information and a list of eligible countries.
- Grants from individual colleges and universities: Many American universities offer some grant programs to help international students study at their schools. Many of them even compete to get a large number of talented foreign students. One great example is the University of Cincinnati , which is known for offering grants for both undergraduate and graduate international students. What grants are available, as well as who is eligible, vary by institution, so you’ll want to call the school’s financial aid office for more information.
- Scholarships and grants from your native country: Many countries, including emerging economies or developing countries, have special scholarship and grant programs to help their citizens study in other countries. One example of this is the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP), which provides scholarships to Brazilian undergraduate and graduate students studying STEM fields.
- Grants from international organizations: Many of the large international organizations like the many branches of the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Organization of American States, to name a few, offer scholarship programs for international students from certain countries.
- Scholarships from private foundations, companies and organizations: Many private companies and foundations have scholarship funds, some of which are especially for international students. The MasterCard Foundation, for example, supports scholars from Africa to attend partner universities in the United States and Canada, among other places.
- Other non-profit organizations and associations: There are many organizations dedicated to particular causes which offer scholarships for international students. For example, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) sponsors an annual fellowship that is available for women in 116 countries worldwide. This is reserved for women who want to pursue graduate degrees in the U.S. and is a merit-based program. Recipients are chosen based on academic standing and a commitment to help the advancement of women in their home countries.
Paying with your own money
Some international students may be fortunate enough to have some help from their families when it comes to paying for college. While this certainly isn’t the case for everyone, those who have the means should discuss it with their families.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply for grants and scholarships as well. Education in the U.S. is pricey; and if you can avoid having to spend your family’s savings or even worse having to take out student loans, then you should definitely do so.
Private student loans
According to International Education Financial Aid organization, one in four American students who attend a private university takes out student loans to help pay for it. U.S. students can receive loans that are backed by the federal government, which generally offer more favorable interest rates and loan terms. Unfortunately, these types of loans are not available to international students. If international students need to use student loans, they will have to look for private ones.
Because student loans – and especially private student loans – comes with stipulations such as interest rates and other fees, it’s important that you exhaust every other option before applying for a loan. Private student loans also don’t come with as many rights and protections as government-backed loans do, so you’ll want to make sure that you can get as much of your college cost covered by other means before seeking a loan.
If you’ve exhausted every means possible and still need a private student loan, here are some things you should keep in mind:
- Interest rates: Private student loans can have variable interest rates, with some as high as 18 percent. This means you should do your due diligence and shop around for the best rates available.
- Cosigners: Because private student loans often require a credit check and international students have no credit in the U.S., a U.S. co-signer is required.
- Repayment: Some private loans have students start paying back what they owe while they are still in school, while others wait until students have completed their education. This varies entirely based on the kind of loan you get.
- Have your financials in order: Many people get private student loans from their local banks. Local banks are also very picky, so it can be difficult to secure a loan. That’s why it’s up to you to have your financials in order.
- Be aware of scams and abuse: In recent years, many loan shark operations have popped up around the world to lend money to students to attend university abroad or in the home countries. Often, these programs charge exorbitant fees and/or interest rates. Some may even make abusive demands of the student or the family.
While it may seem daunting to secure the funding needed to attend school in the U.S., international students should know that it’s not impossible. They may have to do a little extra digging and put in some extra work, but by being strategic and using all the options available, they can find ways to make an American education more cost-effective.