Financial Aid for International Students

A college education is one the most important investments that a family will make in their lifetime. Because of this, an important aspect of our work is helping students find colleges or universities that are not only strong academic and social matches but good financial choices. Figuring out how to pay for college can be confusing and stressful for anyone, but particularly for international students. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get from our students:

Are international students eligible for financial aid?

Most international students are not eligible for federal financial aid such as Pell Grants, Direct Loans for students, and PLUS Loans for parents, but they are eligible for potentially large amounts of institutional aid at many public and private colleges and universities.

Who is considered an international student?

In the United States, each educational institution determines who an international student is and how their applications are read. There is no easy definition that pertains to all but many institutions draw the line according to whether or not a student will require a visa to study in the U.S. Many dual nationals will fall within the domestic applicant pool.

What is the largest source of financial aid for international students?

The largest source of financial aid for international students is institutional aid, in the form of need-based aid, merit-based aid, or both.

What are the key pieces of information that international students need to know in order to build an appropriate financial list of colleges?

The two most important things to know beforehand are the financial aid policy of each institution and whether a student will qualify for need-based aid, merit aid, both, or neither.

How can we learn which colleges give need-based aid, merit-based aid, or both?

The best way to learn about institutional financial aid policies is to look in the chart, Financial Aid for Nonresident Alien Undergraduates, that we provide on our website. You can find it here:

If a student qualifies for need-based aid, which institutions should they consider?

If a student can demonstrate financial need, any institution that offers need-based aid for international students will be an option. While data on the percentage of need met for international students is difficult to find, most institutions that offer need-based aid should be considered, particularly if the data indicates that the average per-student financial aid award is substantial.

If a student will only be eligible for merit-based aid, which institutions should they consider?

Merit-based aid is awarded to any student who fits a profile that the institution is eager to attract. This may mean they are a talented artist or athlete, strong academic student, or even simply from a desired location. Because of this, it is important to consider the strengths of each individual student and look at what they will bring to the institution. Additionally, if an institution offers generous aid packages to a large percentage of students, there is a greater chance of a student getting a good offer.

Are some colleges more generous with financial aid than others?

While there are many institutions that are generous with aid, some stand out for the amount of aid they offer or the overall percentage of international students who are receiving it. The list of schools generous with aid to international students is long. Here is a sample of fifteen such institutions:

  • Only need-based aid: Amherst College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Yale University are all need-blind for international students and meet 100% of need

  • Only merit-based aid: Furman University, Muhlenberg College, Quinnipiac University, Stetson University, and The College of Wooster are all generous with merit aid

  • Both need-based and merit-based aid: Colby College, Macalester College, Providence College, Trinity College, and Washington and Lee University all offer generous packages of combined need and merit

Other than institutional aid, which other sources of financial aid are available for international students?

International students have many sources of aid available to them. For some students, their home country may offer scholarships or loans. There are also international organizations or private sponsors who do the same, as well as scholarships specifically earmarked for international students. A good resource for these scholarships can be found at:

Also, while the majority of international students are not eligible for federal aid in the United States there are some exceptions, such as U.S. nationals, permanent residents, or students in the U.S. with the intention of becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. For a list of which non-citizen students are eligible for federal aid, use this URL:

Finally, international students are allowed to work on campus although institutions limit these hours. If your student will have a campus job, remind them to check with the international student coordinator to see if any U.S. taxes will be due on earned income at the end of the year and when the student needs to file their returns.

Is grant aid subject to U.S. tax?

Scholarships not exceeding tuition and fees are not subject to U.S. tax. But if any amount of a student’s grant aid is used for room or board it will be taxable at the federal rate of 14%. However, if a student’s home country has a tax treaty with the U.S. they may receive a refund for taxes paid on aid used for room and board during the previous calendar year.

What about loans?  Are international students able to take them out?

International students may not take out federal loans but some institutions and/or private lenders offer loans for international students. As is the case with anyone entering into a legal agreement, loans should be carefully analyzed and the terms clearly understood before borrowing money.

Which forms do international students need to submit when applying for financial aid?

The forms that need to be submitted will depend on the methodology used by each institution so students should be sure to check on each college’s website. Some students will need to submit the FAFSA, some will need to submit the CSS Profile, and some students may need to submit what is known as Proof of Financial Support or Financial Certification.

When do these forms need to be submitted?

Submission deadlines can be similar to those for domestic students applying for financial aid but will need to be individually verified. Verification is critical in the case of financial certification or proof of financial support. Some institutions will require forms to be submitted at the same time as the admission application while others will request them at the time of enrollment in order to help secure a student visa from the U.S. government. When applying for need-based aid, keep in mind that many institutions will not let an international student apply for aid if they did not apply as a freshman, regardless of a change in situation such as loss of a job or death of a parent.

Will applying for financial aid impact an admission decision?

It is important to note that an institution may be need blind for domestic students but need aware for international students.  The majority of institutions that offer financial aid to international students are need aware and thus may consider the student’s demonstrated need in the application review.

Jennie Kent, M.Ed., CEP