How to Get Financial Aid for Undergrad Courses in USA

The application process for undergraduate programs in the US is a complex one. On top of that, getting financial aid as an international student is even more complicated. In this post, we will provide an overview of what does it take for an international student to get financial aid for undergrad courses in the US!

How Difficult is it to Get Financial Aid for Undergrad Programs in the US?

I must warn you right at the start, it’s difficult to get a full scholarship to an American institution if you are a foreign student. According to the NAFSA, Institute for International Education (IIE) reports in Open Doors 2005 that of the paid tuition and fees to attend a US undergraduate institution in the 2004-05 academic year, 80.9% of payments came from personal and family sources.

Money is tight, and everyone is doing their best. It’s hard! However, many of you already know this.

The US education system simply fascinates me. Having studied in and lived in the US firsthand, I had realized early on that the education system is unlike any other in the world. Three words define the system – FREEDOM, DIVERSITY, and OPPORTUNITY.

Now, after a decade of guiding candidates with admissions at their dream colleges alongside gaining cumulative scholarships amounting to $10 million+, I’ve set aside the time here to write about some of the things that I’ve learned, which could help an international student secure that ‘elusive funding’.

Where Do We Start?

Imagine this – you’re going to study abroad in the United States. There’s a growing conception that you’re the “black swan” of the international student world—you have scholarships worth more than $250,000.
However, this doesn’t become the story of every student who applies to U.S. universities, and I say this from experience as I have seen plenty of students being unable to access those scholarships.

Moreover, students don’t really focus their energy on developing and celebrating the accomplishments of OTHER schools and programs, so dejection keeps growing! They neglect to inspire themselves with offers from other colleges. And I would like to start on that note – the note of possibly being dejected – remember, even if you can’t get a scholarship, your options may still be affordable.

Now that I’ve set the expectation, let’s get to the point. If what you’re looking for are some affordable options, then check out low-cost schools in the US or elsewhere: Some of them cost less than $10,000 a year. However, low-cost schools aren’t really that attractive, right! It’s the waiver of fees at a top school that we’re after.

At least, that is what we should be after, right? Wrong!

Start with Expanding Your Safety Net (The College List)

The most essential thing to do now if you want to attend college in the US is to have choices to choose from. If you need a full ride or close to a full ride, then you need to apply to at least six colleges that will accept you so that you may choose one.

Keep everything about your ‘choices’ flexible and start with location. There are more than 4,000 colleges in the US. 150 – 200 US colleges are as good as any of the IITs. So, you can’t just focus on the big brands like Harvard, Stanford, or MIT.

Read how to build a balanced college list for US college admissions.

In the next few sections, we’ll discuss:

  • How much does it cost to attend college in the U.S.?
  • What is a foreign student?
  • Which kinds of support may foreign students obtain in the US?
  • How to know when you find the right college fit?

Keep in mind that if you keep researching and get the right guidance you could find the best place for you to attend college, and you may discover answers that are not only suitable for you economically, but for you socially and intellectually.


Well, according to the US NEWS website, tuition in private colleges was $35,087 on average, while tuition in public universities was $21,184. The percentage of money that you’ll need to spend on tuition on average while in college is 65% and this excludes the other expenditures incurred. There are a lot of expenses that all tend to add up – a lot more than the students would think they have to pay for things such as Visa fees, housing and board, books, supplies, insurance, personal expenses, and transportation.

But wait, I just lured you into this article saying that you can get financial aid as an international student!

And yes, you can.

So, start with asking yourself some basic questions:

How good do you think you are at predicting your strengths?

Are you a foreign student? – I realize it’s perplexing since each American institution defines foreign students differently.

Pro Tip – Do not bypass the administrative offices at the schools. Ask them – Is financial assistance available to foreign students? Literally, just ask. Don’t assume anything!

The majority of foreign students are ineligible for government funding (such as Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Pell Grants), but there are a few government loans that you could be eligible for.

Ask yourself – How can I afford to study in the US if I can’t get financial aid?

Scholarships and grants are available (which are provided directly by many colleges and universities). External scholarships are available from governments and organizations, and you should consider applying for them – lots of them! And if you’re really unsure then get in touch with a professional.

Getting Financial Aid While Applying for Undergrad in the US as an International Student

Plenty of candidates ask me about their likelihood of getting financial aid!

Well, getting the financial assistance you need for a school in the US mainly relies on several different things:


This is a very hard thing to calculate. Remember: “needing” money and “wanting” money are quite different things. In the next two stages, you should:

Start with a straightforward discussion with your parents or guardians about the maximum amount they can provide you for college!

Tell them everything they can expect to spend. Additionally, talk about many of the preliminary costs, including translations, immunizations, mailing services, Embassy visits, standardized exams, notarizations, and others that are vital for financial planning.

You need to identify the amount a college will offer you based on the amount your family can contribute toward the cost of attending college. This is often referred to as a Family Contribution (EFC). Most Net Price Calculators are tailored to domestic applicants, but you can get a rough estimate of your EFC with more advanced calculators for international students.

Contact us or book a consultation session for feedback on this.

Speak to others who have gone through the process!

Demonstrating your financials to colleges is a tedious process, and there are typically many speed bumps along the way. Reach out—ahead of time—directly to the Financial Aid Office at your dream schools if you have any questions. Connect with seniors who’ve been successful and gain valuable insights.

If you’ve been browsing college websites, you may have seen a handful of schools that say they will meet 100% of demonstrated need for accepted international students. This means they will use their own EFC calculator to figure out how much your family can pay and cover the difference so that you can afford college.



Well, the answer is YES, and NO!

One thing to remember is that if a university promises to fulfill 100% of your proven need if you’re admitted, it is just as essential to understand whether the university is need-aware or need-blind.

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

Need-Blind vs Need-Based Financial Aid

When making admissions decisions, schools that are need-blind do not consider a student’s financial situation. Even though a few schools in the United States do not consider a student’s financial status in their admission process, seven of these schools have low acceptance rates. Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Minerva Schools at KGI and the Curtis Institute of Music are the institutions that fit this description.

At other need-aware schools, if you cannot afford to go to school, you are less likely to get in. Schools that are need-aware, meaning they take into consideration how much money their students have, will make it harder for you to get in if you can’t pay.

Need Personalized Guidance?

Get on to a 30/60-Minute Call with Michael Wharton!

As your financial assistance requirements rise, you risk having lower chances of acceptance at need-aware schools. It is much simpler, at these schools, to obtain modest awards that focus on need than it is to get a free ride (all expenses covered). The competition for a full ride is always difficult, even when a school’s advertised admissions rate makes it seem like it would be easier to get!

This brings us to our next point –


Holistic Evaluation

When applying to a U.S. school, students are encouraged to write essays that highlight various aspects of their character. Looking at each element of your application, they evaluate both academic and non-academic criteria. This information is aided by Class Profiles and Common Data Sets.

Applying to colleges and universities in the United States requires a lot of planning and consideration, especially in comparison to when institutions in your nation have only one exam as part of the application process (Think JEE, NEET, etc.)

Be diligent and challenge yourself with your work, your schooling, and with achieving your highest potential (more on that elsewhere), explore your passions and research opportunities with a mentor who you trust.

Related Post: Top US Colleges that Offer Maximum Financial Aid to International Students for Undergrad

College Application Essays

You must have your essays written early, so be sure to connect with your counsellor/mentor and get in the habit of looking for good experiences. Find your passion by speaking to your teachers and friends who are willing to share with you their own stories as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard that students can improve their likelihood of being admitted to a top school if they apply to that school early (that is if they apply early decision).

Remember that you may be disadvantaged by having to rely on merit-based assistance from US universities if you apply early in the application cycle. Read more on Early Action vs Early Decision.

Expert Guidance

Furthermore, a good application requires a cheerleader, so that’s another person you’ll need to talk to. Ideally, it will be a reputable mentor or counsellor who helps kids apply to universities in the U.S. Find someone (ideally an English speaker) you trust to assist you with this process if your school doesn’t offer a college counsellor.

Learn how to maximize your chances of getting all the assistance you need by leveraging and learning how your family and friends can pitch in with all kinds of support!

In the end, it’s essential to get acquainted with your mentor as this individual will provide several inputs, including but not limited to those related to building your profile, transcripts, and school biography.

Stiff Competition

And lastly, it is common for a school to reject several competent applicants. Remember, being rejected by a school does not necessarily reflect on your qualifications as an applicant. When applying for financial assistance, it is very difficult since many others are also applying, with a few available places.

At these schools, you’re up against massive numbers of top competitors and find yourself among the most competitive universities in the world. Even though students study hard every year to stand out in admissions, many fail to be admitted into the most selective institutions. Keeping your mind open to a variety of options is essential.


You’re searching for educational facilities that suit both your budgetary needs and your academic and social interests.

Students apply every year to schools in the United States offering full scholarships, focusing on maximizing their prospects of financial support to finance their studies when, in reality, the college or university is no good for them and isn’t really the right fit.

Scholarships should also suffer the same rigor as other parameters!  When you’re just applying to schools because they’ll give you a free ride, it’s obvious to admissions officials, and they tend to look at such applications unfavorably.

Many US universities are restricted in their ability to provide financial assistance. Your college selections are therefore influenced by how much money you need. However, even if you have a limited range of options, it is essential to be purposeful in making your selections.

Need Personalized Guidance?

Let’s Get on to a 30/60-Minute Call with Michael Wharton!

Quick Tips on Getting Financial Aid for Undergrad Courses in USA


Well, you could begin with the following steps:

  • Locate US universities that provide significant sums of financial assistance to a high percentage of foreign students by referencing a good PAID listing such as US News (yes, the free info is unreliable!). Look into all these colleges and figure out which are the best ones for you.
  • You should educate yourself on the financial assistance procedure.
  • Connect with students who have obtained scholarships in the past. Social media is your lifesaver here.
  • To better understand financial aid for international students, I recommend visiting FAQs of the various colleges’ financial aid offices
  • You should locate and meet with the person at your high school who is in charge of the application process or locate a mentor who can support you in this critical period.
  • Talk to the professionals about it! Email or call a college’s admissions department and talk with a member of the staff. You could also consider having a session with an independent counsellor.
  • Make a point to put effort into your work and make a strong impression on your application.
  • Make sure to scrutinize the small print on every college webpage! Think about your deadlines, demands, and REAL COSTS before you start.
  • Research into the various university scholarships available AROUND THE GLOBE. Believe me when I say, aid is available at countries across the globe and some of the relevant universities may be a good fit for you.
  • What’s most important is to have choices in the financial range that is best for you. Have a Plan B in place and don’t neglect it!
  • Be sure to start as early as possible
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