How to Create US College List to Maximize Scholarship Chances as International Student?

The US college admission process is a complex one. However, things don’t get any simple once you get an admit. Undergraduate education in the US is not cheap. For international students, the cost can be very steep (say INR 1.5 – 2 Crore over 4 years). Hence, it’s only wise to create a balanced US college list while keeping an eye on the financial aid policies (need-blind vs need-based). In this post, we will share a few tips on creating a college list to maximize scholarship chances for international students.

College List Development and Financial Aid for International Students in the US

A majority of US colleges charge higher tuition for international students. Costs can really add up when considering spending for travel, visas, and other necessities.

International students will not have access to financial aid from the federal government, so it’s important to consider the costs associated with attending US universities and budget accordingly. 

However, such costs should not dissuade international students from applying to US colleges.

So, how should you approach the college list process?

Apart from having a mixture of the best-fit dream, reach and safe colleges, you also need to keep an eye on the category of admission & financial aid policies of the colleges. Below are the broad categories of US colleges that you need to be aware of.

Colleges with Need-Blind Admission Policies

In a need-blind admissions process, applicants are evaluated without any consideration of their families’ ability to pay tuition and fees. So, the colleges that follow a need-blind financial aid policy, do not consider applicants’ ability to pay when deciding whether to offer them a place on a program.

In such cases, if a student gets an offer, the college will offer a full scholarship (or financial aid) to the student on the basis of demonstrated financial need.

US Colleges with Need-Blind Admission Policies for Internationa Students

Currently, there are only five universities that follow a need-blind financial aid policy towards international students:

  • MIT
  • Harvard
  • Princeton
  • Amherst College
  • Yale

Colleges like Harvard or MIT (that offer full scholarships to admitted students) are also among the most prestigious institutes on the planet along with very low acceptance rates. So, getting admitted to Harvard or MIT is always going to be competitive.

Not everyone will have a stellar profile to get into the above 5 colleges. Hence, you also need to apply to other colleges – a combination of colleges with need-based policies and colleges with moderate tuition fees.

Colleges with Need-Based Admission Policies

This refers to the type of aid that is offered based on a student’s financial circumstances.

As there are more universities with need-based admissions policies, students should explore and research both need-blind and need-based (need-aware) schools to find good-fit potential options.

Even if you apply to a university with a need-based policy, if the profile is competitive, you may be admitted along with a generous financial aid package.

There are many US universities that offer generous scholarships and other forms of funding. So even if you don’t see a need-blind admission or full-need policy indicated, don’t let the high tuition fees and other costs deter you from applying.

For example, colleges like Columbia or Stanford follow a need-based financial aid policy for international students. But, they are more generous when it comes to offering financial aid to international students.

Read 85 Best US Colleges that Offer Generous Scholarships to International Students for Undergraduate Studies.

So, the bottom line is – since many need-based colleges still provide considerable aid to international students, applicants should not restrict their choices to the few need-blind colleges.

State (Public) Universities

In order to really make a diverse college list, you should also keep a few public universities on your list.

Besides quality higher education, the State or Public universities embrace international culture more freely. They welcome larger numbers of international students and, therefore, offer a multicultural environment to both local and international students.

They might not have the brand power as the Ivy League and Elite Colleges in the US. However, in terms of quality of education and placements, they are no way inferior to the top private colleges. Read Best Affordable Public Universities in USA that Offer Great ROI.

You can also consider the small liberal arts colleges. Learn about the 40 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the US that offer Generous Scholarships and ROI.

Private vs Public Universities: Admission and Scholarships

Please be advised that the public colleges do not offer any substantial scholarships. Public colleges will cost anything between INR 65 – 90 Lacs over 4 years. So, more often than not, you will have to bear the full cost.

In contrast, private colleges will cost INR 1 – 2 Crores over 4 years. But, private colleges do offer generous scholarships. So, if you have a great profile with demonstrated financial need, and present a strong application, that cost might come down to INR 50 – 80 Lacs. Read Private US Colleges are Cheaper than Public Ones for Middle-Class and Low-Income Families.

Admission at private colleges is more holistic in nature. That means the colleges will look beyond the grades and test scores. Public universities have higher acceptance rates, so admission might be comparatively easier.

But, make no mistake. Even for top public universities, the acceptance rates can be less than 20% as well. Have a look at the top public colleges with low acceptance rates in the US.

As you can see, making a balanced colleges list not just having a combination of dream (ambitious), reach (moderate), and likely (safe) universities. You need to dig in much deeper.

How to Get into the Top US Colleges with Generous Scholarship as an International Student

The most important factor in the admissions process is the student’s academic record. This means students should take the most challenging courses in high school; have good SAT or ACT scores, even if a college has a test-optional policy; and build a strong extracurricular profile. Additionally, you need to submit the best possible application (particularly personal statements, college essays, and letters of recommendation).

Read more about what do top colleges look for in international applicants.

But, a lot depends on the college list. You need to get that right upfront in order to maximize your admission and scholarship chances.

Countering Average or Low Grades & Test Scores

If by any chance, you have got average grades or low test scores, it’s not the end of the world. You can get admission at a 2nd-tier college in the first year (as a freshman) and then transfer to a better-ranked college in the 2nd year. Read more about transfer admissions.

In case you fail to get into a Tier-1 or Tier-2 college in the US, another alternative is the pathway programs. For example, you can get admits to Colorado State, Illinois State, Washington State, or Oregon State University through the INTO programs.

Need help with college list development, college essays, or any other components of US college applications? Have a look at our college admission counselling services and pricing. You can also reach out to us at

Sources: 1, 2, 3.

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