Paying for U.S. Education

The good news is that every year international students receive significant amounts of financial assistance toward their studies in the U.S.  The most recent report produced by NAFSA: The Association of International Educators estimates that $7.223 billion was received by over 690,000 international students studying in the U.S. in 2009-10. 


Since U.S. education can be expensive, you should research and consider financial matters. It is important for you to know what costs to expect and to develop a plan to cover these.


Generally speaking, there are four types of funding for study in the U.S.:

  • Personal/family savings
  • Educational loans
  • Funding from U.S. universities
  • Scholarships from external funding bodies.


After assessing your personal and family savings, your best resource for funding will likely be from a U.S. university. The good news is that two thirds of students in the sciences and engineering and half of students in the humanities report receiving significant funding from their university. How do you become one of them? Read our handout on graduate funding and the tips below:


Funding from U.S. University

There are two main types of university-based funding: fellowships and assistantships. Usually both types of funding are renewable from year-to-year, if the student maintains specified academic standards (such as a minimum 3.0 GPA).


Fellowships can be thought of as an outright grant, while assistantships are funding offered in return for services provided to the university - either teaching, research, lab supervision or working in a campus office for approximately 15-20 hours per week. Assistantships are not only an excellent way to fund your studies, but can also be a way to network and gain valuable experience in your field.


The terms of assistantship packages will vary between universities and departments and often depends on the availability of grants for research in the department, the field of study, and the number of undergraduate classes needing graduate-level instructors. As a general rule, funding is more readily available for PhD students and students in a research-focused Master's degree. (Assistantships are rare for students in professional degrees - JD, MBA, MD.) The number and amount of awards varies by subject area with programs in the sciences receiving more funding than programs in the humanities.


Often the process for applying is straightforward and integrated into the admissions application. In fact, it may be as simple as submitting your admissions application by an earlier date, ticking extra boxes on the application and/or submitting a CV and covering letter. Fellowships and assistantships are generally awarded based on academic merit and potential as assessed from your university admissions application. Some fellowships may have niche criteria, based on the donor or department's wishes.


Does this sound too good to be true? Funding is used in two ways by universities. First, it provides much-needed teaching and research assistance at a lower cost than they would regularly pay professors. Second, universities use funding as a recruitment tool. You should take competitiveness of admission and funding into account when choosing degree programs.


Keep in mind the key to getting university funding is starting early and being flexible in short listing universities at which you will be competitive for funding opportunities.


Funding from External Bodies


External funding bodies may include a wide range of professional, charitable or government organizations with a vested interest in supporting further education. Generally, external funding bodies award scholarships or financial awards that do not have to be repaid and do not come with any work requirements as you will see with university assistantships.

For any query on U.S. higher education, call us on our EdUSA toll-free hotline 1800-103-1231 between 2pm and 5pm (Monday-Friday)