Questions and Answers About Funding U.S. Study

Financing U.S. Study » Questions and Answers About Funding U.S. Study

Questions and Answers About Funding U.S. Study

Start with our page on Funding U.S. Study, which covers the most important information on this subject.

Below are the additional questions that we’ve researched so far related to funding U.S. study. Each month, we add any new questions we’ve responded to on this subject, so check back for more.

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What are current average U.S. tuition costs?
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U.S. educational costs for academic year 2010–2011, from the annual survey conducted by the College Board and published in October 2011, average  $ 17,131 per year for in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institution.  Average $ 20,770 per year for out-of-state truition at a four-year public unniversity and $ 38,589 for a four-year private university. Room, board, and other living costs may add another $ 10,000 or more. These costs are what an undergraduate student who does not receive any financial aid would pay on average. Both tuition and living costs vary widely from institution to institution.

Aid availability also varies and can make a big difference—don’t assume an institution is too expensive without checking how much aid is available to international students there. Some of the most expensive universities offer the best financial aid packages. Typically over 10 percent of undergraduate international students and over 45 percent of graduate international students each year will receive financial aid most or all of their tuition costs from the college or university that they attend.

What is “out-of-state” tuition?
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Public institutions get some of their funding from taxes in the U.S. jurisdiction (state) where they are located, so they do not depend as heavily on tuition income as private institutions and are often less expensive. However, their lowest rates are reserved for students who live in state (and pay those taxes)—students who live elsewhere (either in the U.S. or overseas) must pay a higher out-of-state charge.

I’ve heard that it’s less expensive to attend a community college for my first two years of undergraduate study. Can you tell me more about this?
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Many U.S. students begin their undergraduate study at a two-year institution or community college because these colleges typically offer significantly lower tuition costs. (Always compare costs, however, as this is not universally true). International students are also becoming more aware of this option—community college international enrollments have doubled in the past ten years.

Such students can graduate from the community college with an associate’s degree, then transfer their credits to a four-year institution and finish the last two years of the bachelor’s degree there.

Not all two-year degrees are designed to transfer. Some are vocational, designed to prepare students for immediate entrance to work force, and credits from such vocational programs will generally not be accepted by four-year colleges. Make sure you are entering a transfer program if you do want a bachelor’s degree.

Specific transfer and articulation agreements between two- and four-year colleges are very helpful in ensuring maximum credit transfer. Academic planning can be complicated, so meet early with the academic adviser at your two-year college as well as discussing your plan in advance with four-year colleges that interest you.

What are the trends in the United States regarding aid availability for different fields and levels of study?
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There is much more aid available at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. Two-year undergraduate colleges seldom offer international student aid, but typically also have low tuition. About 20 percent of international undergraduate students receive the majority of their tuition funding from somewhere other than their own or family funds, compared to over 50 percent of graduate students.

At the undergraduate level, unless you are receiving support from a future employer, the field that you are planning to study generally does not affect how much financial aid you will receive. Some professional associations do offer awards but these are generally small amounts, hotly competed, and not always open to international students.

At the graduate level, programs can be divided between the research-focused and the professionally focused. Research-focused programs typically culminate in a Ph.D. degree, and typically offer more funding opportunities for their students. Gaining teaching and research experience is key to these degrees and provides students with a chance to earn money as well as experience, as universities benefit from their research and teaching work.

In mathematics, science and engineering fields, many (in some cases all) students receive assistantships and/or fellowships that can cover tuition costs and even provide a stipend for living expenses. In the humanities and social sciences, less research funding is available but there still typically are a sizable number of teaching assistantships and other support opportunities. In professional programs it is more common for students to receive tuition support through loans or through help from their employer—grants and assistantships are fairly rare.

Of course, you need to consider what type of program matches your long-term goals. Perhaps a practice-oriented degree such as the M.B.A. is what you will need in the long run for success in your career, even though it means less opportunity for short-term funding during your study program. Working and saving money before enrolling in such a program may be the funding solution.

I’m applying to graduate school and need a full scholarship. Should I look at master’s or doctoral programs, or does it matter?
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A full scholarship is possible at either level but is substantially more likely at the doctoral level. It is not uncommon for doctoral programs in certain fields to fully fund every student that they accept.

Before deciding to go for the doctorate, however, there are some other issues that you need to consider—

  • Generally U.S. doctoral programs focus on academic research. Often they are intended to prepare future university faculty. Is this type of career of interest? Do you like doing research and is it a strength for you?

  • Only some doctoral programs allow entry directly from the bachelor’s degree level. In others, students must complete a master’s degree first, and then apply separately to the doctoral program.

  • What field of study are you pursuing? In some, there’s a good deal of aid for master’s degree students as well as doctoral students. In others, there’s little aid at either level.

  • Are you a strong enough candidate to be accepted at the doctoral level? Typically far fewer students are accepted at the doctoral level than at the master’s level. If you are not a really outstanding student, entering at the master’s level may give you the chance you need to prove yourself.

Also be sure to look at how well programs match your own research interests and background—a master’s degree program that’s a perfect fit for you is a better bet than a doctoral program where faculty don’t share your interests. Explore university Web sites and contact departments that you are interested in to get information on financial aid availability, as it can vary a lot from program to program and even from year to year.

What are the different types of U.S. university aid for undergraduate students?
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Need-based aid is based on family income. Because income is more difficult to verify in the case of international students, many undergraduate programs instead offer awards to these students that are instead partly or fully based on academic excellence (often called “merit” awards). Such awards usually require you to provide test scores as well as information on grades and class standing.

“Talent” awards are usually for ability in the visual or performing arts. You may have to submit a portfolio of your work or an audio or video tape of yourself performing, or even audition in person. Consult the specific school for details.

Other awards may be based on your past involvement in community leadership and service, or they may require you to spend a certain number of hours in support of the local U.S. community. In the case of international students, service may take the form of speaking about your country to community and school groups.

Some awards are reserved for women (or, less often, men), members of particular religious groups, or other special categories such as individuals with disabilities. Awards for ethnic groups or U.S. ethnic minorities are often intended for U.S. citizens only but are worth checking if that’s not specified.

Athletic awards are available from schools with highly competitive teams in the particular sport. You will usually need to be competitive at a national level. Contact the athletic department that you are interested in. Read up on the process in advance and be sure recruiting follows requirements of the school’s athletic association (usually the NCAA, National Collegiate Athletic Association).

What are the different types of U.S. university aid for graduate students?
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Several types of graduate aid may be awarded or combined in an aid package. Fellowships and grants are generally awarded with no responsibilities attached, to support study or particular academic projects. Check with the department regarding sustainability of funding in future years—the department’s funding sources may be year-to-year.

Assistantships involve work responsibilities, either teaching undergraduates, providing assistance in laboratory classes, helping professors with their research, or doing administrative, computer, or other work in an admissions or other university office. For teaching assistantships especially, strong spoken English skills are necessary, and teaching experience is desirable. You may need to wait a semester or year so professors can get to know you and see how you do in your own studies before you are eligible to be a teaching assistant.

What are some ways that I can earn credit toward an undergraduate degree before I actually enter a U.S. college?
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Award of credits before you even start studying at a college can shorten your academic program and lower your costs.

If you have already completed some postsecondary study, ask the admissions office about transfer of those credits. You may need to have them evaluated by a credential evaluation agency specified by the college, or the college may do this themselves. If you have been attending another university for a year or more, discuss aid policies for first-year versus transfer admissions. Some universities have less aid available for students entering after their first year and you will want to balance any such factors against the tuition you would save by pursuing entry as a transfer student.

Many colleges will also award up to a year of academic credit for completion of particular tests indicating that you have undergraduate-level knowledge in particular subjects. Most common are the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and the DANTES/DSST Subject Standardized Tests, as well as international baccalaureate or Advanced Placement testing and the Excelsior College exams (formerly known as the Regents College or New York Regents exams).

Less commonly, colleges may award some credit based on nonacademic training, work experience, or independent learning. If you are an older student with significant “real world” experience you may want to look into this possibility, and whether you can demonstrate that your experience matches the learning required by specific college classes through a “portfolio” process, “challenge exams,” or other means.

I have U.S. citizenship as well as Iranian citizenship—does this make a difference in my financial aid chances?
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Yes, if you happen to be a U.S. citizen, you will be eligible for a larger number of awards as well as U.S. federal aid. Sometimes aid is also reserved specifically for non-U.S. citizens. You need to make sure the university is clear about your citizenship in advance so that you receive the correct financial aid information and forms.

Can I get a loan to help pay my tuition?
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The low-interest U.S. federal student aid and loans you will see discussed in many financial aid books and Web sites are only for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Regular U.S. bank loans are only possible if you can find a U.S. citizen or resident who has lived in the U.S. for two years or more and has good credit to cosign. Cosigning means the person will be responsible for paying the loan if you fail to do so, so it will be a serious decision for that person.

A cosigner must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident who has lived in the United States for at least two years. Other requirements may include full-time employment with the same organization for a minimum of two years prior to the loan application, and two years of satisfactory credit history. The cosigner's financial background is checked for any late mortgage or credit card payments, bankruptcy filings, or similar black marks that may make them ineligible to receive a loan.

A few professional school programs have set up institutional loans through which the school stands in as the U.S. cosigner on behalf of the student. Institutional loans typically have more stringent terms than traditional loans with an individual cosigner: interest rates tend to be higher; loan amounts are often less than what may be available through commercial banks; disbursement fees (defined below) are charged; and students may be required to pay back the loan within ten years after graduation as compared with often longer payment schedules for bank loans.

Students applying to professional schools should ask the school's financial aid office and office of international services if the school can provide student loans for an international applicant. It is also advisable to compare the institutional loan with a bank loan in terms of the loan amount, terms of payment, and relevant financing details if a loan with individual cosigner is a possibility.

Here are some questions that may be useful to consider in shopping for the best loan option available:

  • How much money can be borrowed? The answer will vary from bank to bank: some loans cover the entire cost of education, including tuition, fees, room and board, and all other costs minus other financial aid. Some companies set a cap of 0,000, others at ,000 per year. The minimum loan amount also varies from ,000 to ,000 per year.

  • How much interest will be charged annually? Is the rate fixed or variable? Is there a “disbursement” or “guarantee fee”?

  • How is the loan to be repaid? Many of the companies offering loans allow flexible payment plans, including deferment for up to six months after graduation or upon dropping below full-time status.

Another point to consider is the length of time given by different companies to pay back the loan: usually ten, twenty, or twenty-five years. Longer terms of repayment usually mean higher interest rates or additional disbursement fees to offset the risk of default.

Can I work while I am in the United States?
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Work for individuals on a student visa is limited to twenty hours per week during the academic year. For the first nine months, any work must be on campus—where you may face competition for jobs and pay is not generally high.

Even after first nine months, work off-campus is highly regulated and limited. Be sure to work with international student adviser regarding any such plans—working without permission can lead to loss of student status and being sent home.

You may be able to cover costs like your books and pocket money through working but not large expenses like tuition or your total living costs.

Some schools have “cooperative education” programs, where periods of study alternate with periods of work related to that study—can be a way to earn money appropriately and also gain career experience. If it is program-required it may not count against the visit limit on off-campus employment in your field. Other schools may have required summer internships or may provide support in locating employment related to your major.

Find out how available such options are at universities you are considering, what resources support them, what employers commonly work with the institution. It’s helpful if the offices involved have significant experience in placing international students specifically. Again, check with the international student adviser at your university before starting work through cooperative education or other employment—you are only allowed a certain amount (approximately twelve months total during or after each degree program) under visa regulations.

I saw an advertisement offering “guaranteed scholarships.” Is this for real?
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If a possibility sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, there are some fraudulent businesses that take advantage of people looking for scholarships. Victims of such fraud lose over 0 million each year. In general, be suspicious of scholarship contests that involve an application fee, agencies that “guarantee” success in finding scholarships, and mail-order lists of “unclaimed” scholarships for sale.

I read in the materials of the college that I’m interested in that they do not have aid for international students. I do need aid, but I’m an extremely good student—should I apply to this institution anyway?
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Don’t apply to schools that tell you they can’t fund you at the level you need. Usually schools will tell you up front if they don’t give full scholarships, don’t give aid to international students, and so forth—and they do not make exceptions.

Can I get a loan to pay for my study from a U.S. bank or credit agency?
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It may be difficult for you to obtain such a loan, but it's worth exploring.

The challenge for international students is finding a U.S. cosigner, generally a requirement. A cosigner must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident who has lived in the United States for at least two years and who has a good credit history. Have potential cosigners check their credit rating before applying for the loan as the decision will be based upon that. Your cosigner will be held responsible for paying back your loan if you do not, so it is a serious responsibility.

Ask the universities that you are considering whether they offer an international student loan program. A small number of institutions/programs (usually business or other professional schools) have made arrangements with a bank or credit agency that allows them to serve as the "cosigner" for their international students.

Be sure to review rates and repayment terms carefully before agreeing to any loans that you may find.

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