Making Higher Education Affordable

With the right planning and research, students can access a range of financial assistance for higher education in the United States.

By Natasa Milas

April 2023

Making Higher Education Affordable

International students can pursue a number of financial aid options in the United States. (Graphics from Getty Images)

The United States is the preferred higher education destination for students all over the world. According to the Open Doors Report 2022, almost 200,000 Indian students chose the United States to pursue higher studies in the 2021-22 academic year. U.S. universities offer high-quality education and research opportunities, along with multicultural campuses. U.S. higher education can also be expensive. Fortunately, there are a range of financial aid options that international students at U.S universities and colleges can access.

Identifying resources

Websites of institutions list specific tuition and additional costs. When budgeting, it also makes sense to take into account that tuition costs might increase during the course of their studies.

EducationUSA advising centers are great places to get information on how to look for financial aid information. Advisers can guide students to stand out in a highly competitive applicant pool to increase their chances of receiving financial assistance. In addition, they can also share up-to-date information about financial aid opportunities.

Types of financial aid

Financial aid can be merit or need-based. Merit-based scholarships are offered to students for academic excellence. Need-based scholarships are primarily based on the student’s needs and can be in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study positions or loans. These scholarships can include the entire package (tuition and living expenses), or only tuition or part of the tuition cost.

The University of Southern California (USC), for instance, provides financial aid to international students in the form of merit-based scholarships and on-campus work. International students at the university are not eligible for need-based financial aid.

“Trustee (full tuition) and Presidential (half tuition) are the top scholarships,” says Glenn K. Osaki, senior adviser to the president, international communications and marketing, at USC. “International students are eligible to be considered for these scholarships and the others if they meet the criteria indicated.”

Based in Los Angeles, USC has one of the largest populations of Indian students in the United States. Among many international students from India who received financial assistance from USC are Aanya Agarwal and Rudra Saigal.

Rudra Saigal (from left), Aanya Agarwal and Revanth Ashok received financial assistance to study in the United States. (Photographs courtesy Rudra Saigal, Aanya Agarwal and Revanth Ashok)

Agarwal, a sophomore from New Delhi, is double-majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. She is a Leadership Scholarship recipient and works the front desk at the Psychology Department.

Saigal, a sophomore from Indore, is a Presidential Scholarship recipient and is majoring in political science. Saigal has recently been elected to the Senate on Undergraduate Student Government and receives a stipend for that role.

At USC, and any other U.S. universities, international students can work up to 20 hours on campus to supplement their scholarship and help cover costs of their studies.

“All on-campus jobs are available to international students, including jobs in the USC Bookstore, libraries, tech support, on-campus housing, fitness center, even tutoring for the Athletic Department and other student groups, etc,” says Osaki.

Amherst College, a liberal arts institution in Massachusetts, offers need-based financial aid for international students.

Admitted international students receive a full financial aid package. “Once admitted, Amherst College provides financial aid to meet 100 percent of admitted students’ calculated financial need without loans,” says Xiaofeng Wan, associate dean of admission and coordinator of international recruitment at Amherst College. “In the 2022-23 academic year, 79 percent of international students received need-based aid, with an average aid offer of $76,739.”

Graduate scholarships

U.S. universities also offer financial assistance to international graduate students. For instance, all applicants to Penn State Law’s Juris Doctor program are automatically considered for scholarships, which can reach up to full-tuition. If students maintain a good academic standing, scholarships are renewed in the second and third years.

Revanth Ashok, who earned an LL.M. degree with a specialization in corporate law and practice from Penn State Law, advises prospective students to reach out to universities to learn about the availability of scholarships. “The process for applying for scholarships or financial aid in each law school will not be identical,” says Ashok. “If you have access to graduates from the university or law school you are applying to, make an attempt to speak with them as they would have a better understanding about the financial aid process as well as the prerequisites for qualifying for financial aid.”

Other scholarships

Students can also get funding from other sources to study in the United States. “In 2019, I was awarded the Best Law Student of India (male) by the Society of Indian Law Firms and Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training. As a result, I received an offer to pursue LL.M. at Penn State Law with a complete tuition fee waiver (about $50,000),” says Ashok. “The award is given after completion of a process, which includes interviews, during the annual N.R. Madhava Menon moot court competition.”

Another option is the Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarships, which provide a limited number of scholarships each year for postgraduate studies to outstanding students from certain countries, including India, who have no other means of financing their studies. Priority is given to master’s-level courses but Ph.D. programs, when doctoral degrees are necessary for a candidate’s career, are also considered. Half of the scholarship is given as a grant and half as a loan, to support tuition and living expenses.

With these viable financial aid options, there is a plethora of opportunities to pursue undergraduate and graduate education in the United States as an international student. The main thing to keep in mind, along with planning one’s studies, is to understand and prepare for the financial challenges—and opportunities—that accompany international studies in the United States.

Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.


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