Funding your American Education

Nikhil had always been a good student in school – excellent grades, good debater, quiz team, and the school’s star table tennis player. In grade 11, when many of his classmates started planning for the SAT/ACT, and discussing American universities, even he was enticed into thinking about his higher education abroad. However, knowing his parents could not really afford the full cost of attendance, he was hesitant to even broach the topic with them.

Much like Nikhil, many students across the country and in other parts of world, dream about a quality higher education at one of the globally respected universities in USA. Unfortunately, faced with the prohibitive fee that stares back at them from the attractive websites and glitzy brochures, several students do not even dare to apply.

Help is however available in the form of substantial financial aid that many US universities provide for international students. Many students are not aware that, apart from external resources, they can procure scholarships and other funding from the universities themselves.

There are some common myths parents have about financial aid –

  • My child needs to be an A+ student to get aid
  • College fees are unaffordable
  • I have my own business and won’t be eligible for financial aid
  • There is no funding for international students
  • I shall have to sell all my retirement assets to pay for a college education for my child

How much would an American education cost for International students?

The Total Cost of Attendance (COA) is clearly displayed on the college website and would include the following –

  • Tuition and Student Fees
  • Room and Board
  • Books and Supplies
  • Personal Expenses
  • Transportation Expenses
  • Some discretionary expenses depending upon specific needs

For International Students, this could range from about $35000 to more than $70000 per annum.

How could one afford to pay this?

Financial aid is a supplement to family resources when the calculated ability of the family to pay for educational expenses falls short of the cost of attendance.  Universities calculate the eligibility for aid based upon the financial ability of the family to pay for their child’s education. This calculation takes into consideration the parent income, student income, family savings and assets, any other sources the family may have (eg: sponsors), number of members in the household, family expenses, etc. Based upon their internal methodology of calculation, the universities arrive at the total contribution expected from the family, commonly termed as the Estimated Family Contribution.

Financial Need and how it affects your chances of Admission

Financial Need is the difference between the Total Cost of Attendance and the Estimated Family Contribution. This is ultimately the eligibility for financial aid. Colleges practice either ‘Need Aware’ or ‘Need Blind’ admission policies, depending upon whether they consider ‘financial need’ as a factor in evaluating your application or not. Unfortunately, apart from 5 colleges, all others are need aware for international students – which means that your requirement for financial aid becomes a determining factor in your selection into the college. Institutional funds are limited for international students, and colleges are therefore more selective in awarding scholarships.

Types of Financial Aid

  • Grants – the primary source of aid from universities and serves as a discount on the cost of attendance
  • Loans – International Students are not eligible for US Government (federal) loans but some colleges do provide institutional loans
  • Work Study – you can work up 20 hours a week on campus during the school year. You will usually earn enough to cover your personal expenses at college
  • Merit Based Scholarships – awarded to high achieving students, irrespective of their need for aid, to attract them to enroll at a college. These are more popular with the lesser known colleges and helps them attract the best students to enroll with them

External Sources of Financial Aid

  • In addition, students may research on outside scholarships that they may be eligible for






  • External Bank Loans are also available from various banks like HSBC, SBI, among others

Forms used for Financial Aid

  • FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (Only for US Citizens, International Students not eligible)
  • CSS PROFILE – administered by College Board and is submitted online. There is a small fee attached to it. Some colleges accept this for International students. They may have additional forms in addition, or their own Institutional forms.
  • ISFAA (International Student Financial Aid Application) – Offline and free. Some colleges will accept this instead of the CSS Profile.
  • It is important to research the specific college requirements, as well as the deadlines for submissions
  • Other documents required – Income Tax Returns, asset statement, etc, depending upon the college policy.

Students can receive up to 100% financial aid if they can prove a need for it, provided the colleges are impressed with the profile and can establish that the family needs the money to make it affordable for the student to attend their college.

Some things to remember to maximize your chances of obtaining your required funding from colleges include –

  • Start Early and be very careful to submit correct figures
  • Follow the deadlines and ensure submission of all required documents
  • Onus of payment is on the family – financial aid is not a right, it’s a privilege
  • Strategise – you might have a better chance of receiving merit aid at a college that is a match or safety for you since it would like to ‘steal’ or ‘lure’ the candidate from a more selective college.

As mentioned above, financial aid is a privilege that you are being given to make it affordable for you to attend college. You have to work hard to earn it, and perform well in college to retain it. College can be made affordable – provided you are willing to put in the effort.

Nirmal Agarwal

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