College in the U.S.: How to afford it

Source: St. Lawrence University

Studying in the U.S. has always been a dream of mine. I grew up knowing that an education from the U.S. will provide me with opportunities that I wouldn’t have had with a degree from my home country. (No offense, home country…) However, there was one question that always brought me back from my dream to reality: How am I going to afford it?

Let’s put it this way: there was no way for me to study in the U.S. unless I received a good financial aid package. I knew people were doing it somehow, but no one really shared how they received that full-ride scholarship or that on-campus job. Or when they did, they would leave out rather significant details (like having a rich uncle who sponsored their studies).

I decided to break down some major sources of funding for your education in the U.S. I’ve used them extensively and I hope you find them helpful, too.

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This is a long conversation, and I’d love to share everything I know about this topic with you. But in short, I believe it’s all about researching your options thoroughly and ahead of time. You need to look at different things:

1) Internal sources: these are university-specific resources and although it’s a pretty obvious source of funding, I still have to mention it. American colleges/universities have varying amounts of financial aid they can allocate towards funding for international students. This depends on many factors, such as whether it is a public or private institution, whether they can award need-based and/or merit based aid, whether they have particular donors who created scholarship funds for international students, and so on.

My point is that you can find real gems at schools you’ve never heard of before or that may not have a huge name recognition. Everyone knows about Harvard and their need-blind admissions process. But did you know there is a small, 4-year liberal arts college in the middle of Kentucky that guarantees to fund every international student accepted there? Look it up. It’s called Berea College. Or, when I was applying to college, I stumbled upon Grinnell College in Iowa. Have you heard of Grinnell? Neither have I (until that day). It turns out that they have a special scholarship for students from Nepal and for native speakers of Russian. Who would have thought?

Another example: University of New Mexico offers a special scholarship for international students, called Amigo Scholarship. Both undergraduate and graduate students can apply for it. When you get this scholarship, you only have to pay in-state tuition fees, as opposed to out-of-state fees. Although it doesn’t cover the entire cost of tuition, it still helps lower the overall cost down. Not bad.

Keep searching for colleges that can offer you some aid. Once you’ve narrowed a couple decent scholarships down at those schools, you can look for additional ways to fund your education from them. For example, some places allow international students to work at their library or in their cafeteria. That’s something to consider since it will bring that tuition bill down.

Note: When you’re researching a college, familiarize yourself with their financial aid webpage for internationals. Email the international student advisor at that college and ask them. Call the financial aid office. If you don’t ask, no one will tell you. I even used to watch interviews with international students on YouTube, because they might have mentioned a scholarship that was not listed on the school’s website.

2) External sources: I’m referring to organizations or programs not affiliated with any institution of higher education. You’d be surprised how many people disregard these resources. Do not leave that free money on the table!

For instance, organizations like the Rotary Foundation provide funding for graduate school through their Peace Fellowships. Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust can offer scholarships to international students enrolled at a university located in the U.S. regardless of their field of study. For a good aggregate list of these resources, visit this website:

Exchange programs organized by your home country’s government and/or the United States can also be a major source of funding. I’m thinking of programs like Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD), Fulbright, and Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship. Although they may only fund up to one or two years of studies, you are at least setting your foot in the door. I know people who participated in the UGRAD program as an undergrad, returned to their home country, completed their degree, and then returned to the same university in the U.S. for their master’s.

Note: Sometimes funding from these places comes with strings attached, so be sure to know what you’re signing up for (e.g.: you might have to undertake a special project in your home country upon the completion of your studies; or you might not be allowed to return to the U.S. for two years after the completion of your studies). In short, read the contract before you sign it.

In closing, here are couple of other general resources that will be helpful. They are great starting points for beginning your search for funding:

- Educational Advising Centers (EducationUSA) — these are centers sponsored by U.S. Embassies abroad that provide resources to students from those countries about studying in the U.S. They have general information about scholarships for studying in the U.S., but also certain opportunities specific to your country. These centers also usually have study materials for standardized tests like TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, and the like. I used these centers relentlessly back when I was in my home country.

- Scholarship Positions — a pretty cool website with lots of scholarships worldwide. I signed up to receive weekly updates from them and they send me some cool opportunities.

Bottom line: I think this process is all about research. You never know where it will lead you and what cool opportunity you might learn about in your search. Keep a spreadsheet with everything that you find useful throughout this process, so it’s all organized for future reference.

Although this is far from a comprehensive guide, I hope this post gives you some pointers about how to go about your research.

Now go and find yourself that scholarship!