The cost of living and studying varies across the United States. With the right planning and research, students can access a range of financial assistance options to make their U.S. higher education affordable.
Photograph by William_Potter/iStock/Getty Images
Acceptance to a U.S. university means a new world of learning and ideas that can often be life-changing. An important aspect of living and learning in the United States involves funding and while that can be daunting, students have many options to explore. Funds can come from different sources like the specific university applied to or federal or private sources.
For international students on an F-1 visa, universities have funding opportunities like scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, need- or merit-based awards and other grants available to qualified contenders.
For graduate students, fellowships are often the best way to finance their education. The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), for instance, provides different fellowships and editorial assistantships in addition to helping students find externally-funded fellowships. The university also awards college and departmental fellowships based on nominations from departments. Fellowships are usually merit-based. UT Austin has recruitment fellowships which are prestigious awards given by the Graduate School to attract top-quality graduate students. While preparing your application, reaching out to the department and starting a conversation with professors whose work interests you or falls in your area of research can set you on the path to landing one of these awards.
Need- or merit-based awards
Merit-based scholarships are given for academic excellence and international students qualify for these awards. Need-based scholarships are primarily based on the student’s needs and can be in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study positions and loans. Checking the grants and scholarship information specific to international students at your university can be very useful. These grants are usually meant for continuing or new F-1 or J-1 visa students enrolled in a degree-seeking program at the university. Most of these require a certain GPA. For example, the University of Nevada, Reno, has several continuing scholarships for international students. Undergraduate students with a total cumulative university GPA of at least 2.75 and graduate students with a total cumulative university GPA of at least 3.0 in graduate-level courses are eligible. While applying for scholarships, it’s important to remember that all scholarships, no matter what the amount, matter.
Scholarships like the Fulbright Foreign Student Program aimed at graduate students often have full scholarships to support study in the United States. Nearly 4,000 international students receive Fulbright scholarships each year. The American Association of University Women has fellowships for non-American women pursuing full-time graduate or postdoctoral study in the United States, and who intend to return to their home country to pursue a professional career. The Aga Khan Foundation’s International Scholarship Programme accepts applications from Indian students planning to pursue graduate studies in several countries, including the United States. While the foundation gives priority to scholarship requests for graduate studies, it also considers applications for Ph.D. programs from students who are highly recommended for doctoral studies by their professors and who need a Ph.D. for the fulfillment of their academic or research-oriented career objectives.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette describes graduate assistantships as a “salaried student employment opportunity for graduate students” where employed students work a certain number of hours and receive a living stipend and tuition waivers. Teaching assistantships are often integral parts of the teaching community and they are a great way to develop skills.
While applying for and budgeting your study around a fellowship, make sure you understand all the qualifications required and the items the scholarship covers. Often students are unprepared for winter and summer semesters that grants and fellowships may not cover. Preparing financially means understanding how grants and scholarships can be used. Universities often put out information asking for applications for different funds. Keep an eye out by signing up for information from the university and the grants office. Your department graduate coordinators are usually a great source of useful information. Since they are the ones who send out notifications about department-related matters, they are the first to know about positions, especially those related to research and teaching assistants. Many U.S. universities have very generous grants for international students. For instance, Arizona State University in Tempe awarded 2,803 international students an average of $4,737 in financial aid in 2019-20, according to the U.S. News & World Report. The key is to do as much research as possible and work with the grant officers. Most schools are extremely receptive to talking to students. Take the first step and schedule an appointment.
Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.