1. What types of financial aid are I eligible for?

There are two types of financial aid available for international students: merit and need-based scholarships. Merit scholarships are given solely based on your “merit”, which is based on your GPA, SAT scores, extracurricular activities. Need-based financial aid is based on the amount of your “need”.

Merit Scholarships

There are many merit-based scholarships available for international students. Many schools are eager to recruit bright international students to improve their average test scores and to add diversity to their campus. Many scholarships typically cover full tuition at most, but few scholarships cover the full cost of attendance. For example, Washington and Lee Johnson Scholarship covers tuition, fees, and room and board for four years.

Although plenty of merit scholarships are available to international students, they are competitive to receive. In order to receive a full-tuition merit scholarship, your GPA and test scores need to be near the top of the applicants. If you are able to afford $15,000 a year and have excellent GPA and test scores, you should consider full-tuition merit scholarships because around $15,000 will pay for other costs such as room, board, travel expenses, living expenses, and books. You can find information regarding competitive merit scholarships on each college’s website.

If you meet certain criteria, you can receive an AUTOMATIC merit scholarship. For example, the University of Alabama offers automatic full-tuition scholarships to students who have received a 3.5 GPA and 32+ ACT or 1450+ SAT. For automatic scholarships, visit http://automaticfulltuition.yolasite.com/. Since the information about the automatic scholarships is applicable to domestic students, check each college to confirm that international students are also able to receive those scholarships.

Need-based Financial Aid

The amount of need-based financial aid is awarded based on your financial “need”. Your financial need is determined by individual colleges based on your financial documents (CSS Profile, International Student Certification of Finance, International Student Financial Aid Application). Colleges will calculate your financial need based on your financial information, and some colleges will meet your need up to the full cost of attendance (tuition, room, board), while some will meet up to full tuition. If a college states on its website that it will meet the full demonstrated need of international students, it will meet your financial need up to the full cost of attendance (tuition, room, board). Other colleges will state how much their need-based aid covers.

Check Also: Available Programs for International Students

2. Is it harder to be admitted if I need a significant need-based aid?

Yes, it is more difficult for international students with a significant need to be admitted compared to those without a need except in five colleges. Colleges can be divided into colleges that practice need-aware policy and colleges that practice need-blind policy.


Need-blind means that your need for aid does not affect your admission results. Five colleges that are need-blind to international students are Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, and Amherst.


Need-aware means that your need for aid does affect your admissions results. The more need you have, the harder it is for you to be admitted. All colleges accept five previously mentioned colleges that practice need-aware policy to international students. However, your need for aid is only one part of the application, and colleges will award significant financial awards to qualified students.

3. What documents do I need to submit to be eligible for financial aid?

In order to receive need-based aid, international students will need to file CSS Profile, International Student Financial Aid Application, and International Student Certification of Finances, which are all available on the website of CollegeBoard, the same organization that administers the SAT. Even if an international student does not need aid, International Student Certification of Finances needs to be filed. International students do not need to file FAFSA because it is intended for receiving federal aid for which international students are not eligible. For more information regarding those documents, please visit the financial aid documents category.

4. Do I have to repay the financial aid award?

The answer depends on the type of financial aid that you’ve received. First, merit scholarships do not need to be repaid. For need-based aid, colleges award international students with three types of financial aid: Grants, Loans, and Student Work.

Grants- Do not need to be repaid. Typically, colleges award international students with only grants.

Loans– Need to be repaid. For international students, colleges rarely award loans as part of the financial aid. You can either accept or decline the loan. To accept the loan, however, you will need a cosigner who is an American citizen.

Student Work– Some colleges will award you with an option of working on-campus to help to pay for the cost of books and other expenses.

5. What schools award international students the most aid?

Generally speaking, colleges with low acceptance rates offer more need-based aid, and schools that are less selective offer more merit aid. If you need significant financial aid, you will need to be in the top 25 percent of the applicants. Do expect to be rejected by colleges who would have otherwise accepted you if you had not required financial aid. To be prepared, apply early action to safety schools and automatic scholarship schools that will award you with significant financial aid.

To help international students with financial aid, Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy compiled a data sheet that includes the number of total international students, number of international students receiving aid, average financial award, and percent of international students receiving aid. This will help you to determine whether a college will award you with financial aid. The datasheet is found on Jeff Levy’s website.


I hope this article on the Top 5 Questions that International Students Ask about Financial Aid in USA was helpful to you. Make sure to also check out the Available Programs for International Students!