Before coming to the United States for university, it’s critical that you understand how financial aid for international students works. Here’s what you need to know.
I was once told by one of my teachers in high school, back in Islamabad, that if you live in one part of the world and you have an opinion about another part of the world, it is bound to be wrong in some way,’ says Arham Muneer, who came from Pakistan to study in the United States. These words always stuck with me and became a major factor in deciding where I would go to college. I knew I wanted to go abroad for college if my parents could afford to send me.
Fortunately for Muneer, he received significant need- and merit-based grants from Ithaca College in upstate New York, where he is now a Television-Radio major. He also helped cover costs by seeking out departmental and endowed scholarships and becoming a resident assistant on campus.
Hundreds of thousands of international undergrads like Muneer come to the United States for college each year. But while America offers some of the best educational opportunities in the world, its universities also have some of the highest price tags. To make sure US dollars don’t get in the way of your US college dreams, you’ll need to understand how financial aid for international students works.
Calculate the true cost
To know if you can afford a particular US university, you need to understand its true full cost. This is the total amount you and your family will need to pay at the end of four years. And cost of university goes far beyond tuition, room, and board; you’ll also have to take into consideration things like books and supplies, health insurance, personal items, travel, and more.
It’s very important that international students plan for all expenses. You don’t want to get here and be stuck, says Lisa Hoskey, Director of Student Financial Services at Ithaca College.
One of the best ways to determine the full cost of a university is to find out the total dollar amount the school requires for the I-20 form (required for your student visa). Once you have this figure, keep in mind that tuition and fees generally increase between 1%5% each year.
Finally, don’t lose sight of the total cost of attending a university, even after you receive any financial aid. Yes, $20,000 in aid is a lot of money. But if a university costs $40,000, you may be better off going to the $25,000 college that only offered $10,000.
Find the right financial fit
International students often focus heavily on America’s most famous or well-known colleges, where financial aid is either highly competitive or extremely limited. But there are more than 4,000 schools in the United States! Conducting a thorough US university search opens up more options-often at a lower cost. Don’t forget, college in the United States is all about taking advantage of the opportunities available to you.
International parents and students don’t have a whole lot of information to go on, so they end up focusing heavily on college rankings, says James Dorsett, Director of the Office for International Students and Scholars at Michigan State University, which enrolls a huge number of international students each year. But if you plan on returning to your home country and it’s most important you went to college in the US, did well in school, became fluent in English, and so on, you might be better off going to a school that’s a little cheaper. Another idea is to consider a university in a suburban or rural area, where the cost of living is lower. (Online cost-of-living calculators can help you compare expenses by city and state.)