For international students, the cost of higher education in the United States is primarily the student’s responsibility. Although there are U.S. government-sponsored and institutional financial-aid programs, most of those funds are for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Many colleges have some financial aid available for students from outside the United States, but there is not enough aid to meet the need of all students.
There is more financial aid available for graduate students than for undergraduate students. In academic year 2013-14, 65 percent of international students paid for their education with personal or family funds. After personal and family funds, U.S. colleges and universities are the most significant source of funding for international students. In 2013-14, 19 percent of funding for international students came from U.S. colleges and universities.
Financial aid to students in the United States includes (1) scholarships or grants, (2) loans, which have to be repaid and (3) jobs, which provide money to help pay college costs. Financial aid may cover all college costs or only a very small fraction. Jobs require a commitment of a specified number of hours per week; teaching and research assistantships for graduate students require up to 20 hours per week.
U.S. sources of financial aid include federal and state governments, private foundations, companies and universities. Financial-aid programs usually have specific requirements, such as financial need, citizenship or a particular field and level of study.
International students may apply for privately sponsored scholarships where the criteria allow but should be aware that these scholarships have very early deadlines for applications. If you have Internet access, use the Scholarship Search on the College Board’s website (bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search) to find potential sources of funding.
It is a good idea to investigate sources of financial aid in your own country as well as those in the United States. Keep in mind that the application process for scholarships and other financial aid programs may begin as early as 18 months before your planned date of enrollment. Contact an EducationUSA advising center, the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country, your ministry of education, or other organizations about financial aid as soon as possible.
Part-time work outside of the college or university is sometimes a possible source of additional income once a student is in the United States. However, people traveling in the United States on a student visa are not allowed to work off campus until one year of academic study has been completed successfully. Then you have to get permission from the college and the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services before you can work off campus.
International students can usually work on campus. In either case, your earnings from part-time work will not cover much more than personal expenses. You should not count on employment to pay the major cost of your education.
DON'T FORGET TAXES
Many students from other countries studying in the United States are not aware that they may incur U.S. federal income tax obligations. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the international students most likely to incur U.S. tax obligations are those who receive grants or stipends or who earn income as graduate assistants.
According to IRS officials, a large number of international students actually overpay their taxes because they mistakenly believe that the government will automatically withhold the correct amount of taxes and that they therefore do not have to file a return.
Seek advice in the personnel office on your campus about your tax withholding, and familiarize yourself with the U.S. tax regulations. Watch for tax seminars on your campus, or ask your international student adviser for advice.
Be sure to check out the financial aid feature on The College Board’s Big Future site (student.collegeboard.org) which includes explanations of aid packages, comparing costs and grant awards.
— From The International Student Handbook. Copyright 2015 The College Board. Visit international.collegeboard.org.