How to Figure Out the Financial Aid Process at U.S. Schools
December 22nd, 2015 by Anum Yoon
It’s no secret U.S. colleges and universities are expensive. Whether you’re from inside or outside the country, the cost of higher education here can break any student’s bank. That’s why you need scholarships and the like, especially if you’re an international student. Read on to learn how to navigate the financial aid process at US schools.
The good news is you have plenty of options. They’re so plentiful, in fact, your head will spin by just going through them. Every school has its own criteria for awarding financial aid, so it makes shopping for scholarships confusing.
Still, you can make your search a little bit easier. For example, you can read the guide below, follow the tips mentioned and cut down on time spent worrying about finances. If you’re ready to hear — or rather, read — more, here we go.
Are you eyeing a particular school? If yes, check their official website. Look for their “Scholarship/Financial Assistance” section, and see whether they have anything for students from outside the U.S.
For example, Harvard University has several scholarships for international students. Some of them are awarded based on what country the students are from. Others are based on the program they’re enrolled in. A few depend on both.
But even if your school doesn’t offer these types of financial aid, don’t worry. You can still choose between merit-based scholarships, athletic scholarships and scholarships for those who show promise in dance, music, etc. Don’t be afraid to consider these and see whether they’re a fit for you.
Contact the School Directly
Often, school websites only have general information about scholarships. If you want to know more, or if the website doesn’t say anything about financial aid for international students, don’t hesitate to dig deeper. Look for their Office of Scholarship and Financial Aid, note their contact details, and send them an inquiry letter.
Throughout the letter, keep a professional tone. Use “simple but vigorous” words, as Hemingway would say. Include as much relevant information as you can. Introduce yourself, state your purpose, and use facts to prove you deserve financial aid. Don’t forget to close your letter with a polite request for more information and something such as, “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
Get Help From an Admissions Counselor
If you can’t figure out which scholarship suits you best, an admissions counselor can help. They can tell you how much financial aid you need, what options are available to you, and what you need to do to keep those scholarships, among other things.
Fortunately, most schools have online databases for these counselors. Vanderbilt University, for instance, has admissions counselors in all 50 states. Likewise, the University of Oregon has people who are specially trained to advise international students. Feel free to drop them a line and check whether they can give useful information you’ve never heard of before.
Keep Your Options Open
In general, colleges and universities are the best sources of financial aid. But you don’t have to limit yourself to them. You can always explore other options for lightening your college expenses.
For example, search for less-expensive schools that offer the program you want. Use independent databases such as the International Financial Aid and College Scholarship Search. Apply for government scholarships, such as the Fulbright Program for non-U.S. students and the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. Consider taking out student loans, which are more accessible than scholarships.
Alternatively, find other ways to supplement your allowance. Take a paying job on campus. Apply for online jobs, which you can do after you’re done with schoolwork. Keep your school expenses to a minimum, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself once in a while.
Do Your Best
Hopefully, you learned a little more about financial aid in the U.S. It’s not always easy to find it, especially when you’re an international student. But if it can make your college life easier and help you graduate to fulfill your career dreams in your respective field, it’s worth all the effort, right?
Anum Yoon is an international student currently working in the U.S. on her OPT. She spends all her free time running a personal finance blog for fellow millennials and international students over at Current on Currency.