This resource provides information primarily for students with nonimmigrant visas (F-1, J-1, etc.). Information for permanent residents of the United States is also included. 

The Institute for International Education (IIE) reports in Open Doors 2023 that of the paid tuition and fees to attend a U.S. undergraduate institution in the 2022-23 academic year, nearly 60 percent of payments came from personal and family sources.

Minimal scholarship aid is available to international students, and most of it is reserved for graduate study. Generally, U.S. institutions offer little, if any, discount on tuition, although both private and public institutions may waive application fees in some situations.

EduPASS (The Smart Student Guide for Studying in the USA) also offers a comprehensive glossary of terms relevant to student financial aid.

Funding Factors to Consider: Calculating Cost of Attendance

The budgeted Cost of Attendance is a calculation of total cost by each institution that is used to determine a student’s level of financial need. It is a total of tuition, mandatory fees, room, board (where applicable), and estimated cost of books and other living expenses (and sometimes travel) for students at the particular institution. Separate determinations can be made for students living at home or independently at the institution’s discretion.

EduPASS provides a list of costs to include in your personal budget on top of tuition, housing, and meals.

Some specific costs to consider:

  • Application fees
  • Test/entrance exam fees (e.g., TOEFL)
  • Visa/SEVIS fees
  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board (accommodation and food)
  • Books and supplies
  • Travel to the United States
  • Travel within the United States
  • Health and medical insurance
  • Personal expenses during term-time for on-campus accommodation (including clothing, phone charges, entertainment, and leisure); and personal expenses during term breaks for on-campus accommodation (including travel, food, extra housing fees, phone charges, entertainment, and leisure)

Note: Types of expenses will change according to housing allocation. If you plan to live in private, off-campus housing, you should also expect to pay electricity, heating, water, and other utility expenses.

Geographic location will impact your expenses as a result of differing costs of living. There are a number of cost-of-living calculators available on the Internet. These calculators can help you compare costs between two U.S. cities.

You may want to create a budget worksheet for yourself to keep track of those expenses you already know about. Download a generic sample budget worksheet (19kb Icon XLS 16) to track each of your expenses. Consult with your university to take advantage of any available supplements or fee waivers.

While there are not many ways to reduce the education costs for undergraduate international students, the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • If you have taken International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) courses, have these credentials evaluated to see if some of the credit can be applied to reduce time to graduation.
  • Pursue on-campus employment such as serving as a resident assistant (RA) after your first year of study.
  • Begin your U.S. studies at a community college, and then transfer credit from your two-year school to a four-year institution.

Funding Sources: Institutional Aid

Some public and private universities offer financial incentives for students to attend their institution. Most of the institutional aid available to international students is reserved for graduate study in the form of assistantships and fellowships. Because it is uncommon for U.S. institutions to offer aid to undergraduate international students, such scholarships are often quite competitive. Remember that both private and public institutions may waive application fees in some situations; be sure to consult with your university to take advantage of any supplements or waivers they may offer.

Merit-based scholarships are granted on the basis of special skills, talents, or abilities. Your university may have scholarships based on TOEFL scores, academic record, artistic ability, musical ability, or athletic ability. Merit-based scholarships are usually very competitive. To be considered, you will need to demonstrate exceptional ability in the area required.

Need-based scholarships are awarded based on financial need. Those students who can demonstrate need at a predetermined level are eligible for this type of aid.

Academic departments within the university may have funds allocated to assist international students with exceptional need and/or talent. Consult with your university and/or your major department to take advantage of any special funding opportunities they offer.

Funding Sources: Scholarships and Grants

Many scholarships for undergraduate study are available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, there are free scholarship databases as well as private, corporate, nonprofit, and government scholarship funds that serve undergraduate international students.

Some scholarship databases charge fees to users, and other databases provide their services at no cost. In general, the same information is available from both types of database services, so it is not necessary to pay any fee. Ask in advance, and choose the database service that is free of charge. Be especially aware of dishonest scholarship offers: do not send money, bank account numbers, or credit card numbers to any organization that promises a scholarship in return. If you doubt the truthfulness of any scholarship source, consult with the admissions office or the international student office at the university to which you are applying.

The U.S. Department of Education offers tips and resources to protect students from dishonest organizations.

Funding Sources: Web Sites with Multiple Scholarship Resources

  • College Board
    Free online financial aid source for scholarships, grants, and loans for all college-bound students, including permanent residents and international students wishing to study in the United States.
  • Scholarship Finder  
    Searchable database of scholarships, fellowships, grants and other financial aid opportunities. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • EducationUSA
    Searchable directory of special opportunities and financial aid for international students and scholars. 
  • EduPASS
    List of websites that allow international students to search for scholarships.
  • FastWeb
    Free online scholarship search service.
  • International Education Financial Aid
    Free online scholarship search service designed for international students.
  • International Scholarships
    Free online scholarship database for international students wishing to study worldwide.
  • Mobility International USA
    Free online scholarship resource for non–U.S. citizens with disabilities.

Funding Sources: Private Loans

Though rare, there are international student loans available to individuals who meet certain criteria. Many loans require a cosigner. A cosigner is someone who guarantees and is responsible for payment to the loaning institution if for any reason you are unable to pay back the loan. A variety of organizations and institutions provide private loans to international students. Many provide assistance that is targeted to students from specific regions or countries and who meet certain criteria.

Interest-Free Loans

The Organization of American States, an international organization based in Washington, DC offers, through the Rowe Fund program, interest-free loans to competent students from Latin American and Caribbean countries to help them finance their graduate, postgraduate, and final two years of undergraduate studies at accredited universities within the United States. For more information and to download the forms, see or e-mail the Rowe Fund Program at [email protected].

Funding Sources: Personal Resources

Family Contribution and Personal Income

According to Open Doors 2023, undergraduate international students must still rely heavily on their own personal and family sources of funding.

Employment Opportunities

Nonimmigrant students are not eligible to be employed in federal work-study positions, and federal regulations governing the F, M, and J nonimmigrant categories strictly limit both the kind and the amount of other kinds of work that students can do in the United States. Working without authorization in the United States is a serious matter and is considered a violation of immigration status.

The rules concerning nonimmigrant student employment are complex, and you should thoroughly discuss questions about eligibility for any kind of employment with the International Student Adviser on your campus before accepting any work. It is also important to understand that working on or off campus, even if it is permitted, cannot be your sole source of funding. Most jobs will provide spending money for personal expenditures at best.

Tax Credit Information

Many of the financial resources available to undergraduate international students are deemed taxable. In some cases, international students may be exempt from paying taxes on certain forms of financial aid. These exemptions depend on visa type, duration of time in the United States, and the type of financial aid award.

If your home country maintains a tax treaty with the United States, you may qualify for a full refund of any taxes withheld from your financial aid award. You must file a Non-Resident tax return (1040NR) with a letter indicating that your home country holds a tax treaty with the United States. Consult with the International Student Adviser or tax office on campus to learn more.

According to EduPASS, undergraduate international students are more likely to gain tax exemption if their financial aid is designated as an educational award rather than a work-related award.

Information for Permanent Residents: Citizenship Status

U.S. citizens and nationals, lawful permanent residents, and refugees and asylees qualify for federal financial aid in the form of loans, grants, or work-study opportunities. There are a few additional categories that may qualify as well. As a general rule, students in a nonimmigrant category are not eligible for such aid. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a handbook with information for financial aid professionals which addresses eligibility for international students and includes fairly detailed descriptions of the statuses that do and do not qualify for federal financial aid.

If you are a permanent resident, you can apply for federal financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As a permanent resident, you may qualify for federal and state government aid, including the Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan, PLUS Loan, Pell Grant, SEOG Grant, or Federal Work-Study. The FAFSA form also helps colleges and universities determine whether a student qualifies for institutional aid.

Additional Web Site Resources