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USA Studies: Tips and Advice 3 - Finances

Tue 26 Apr 2016

So what is the difference between Scholarship and Financial Aid?

The definition of scholarship is: a grant or payment made to support a student's education, awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement.

This has two important parts:

  1. It is a grant or payment – meaning students do not need to pay the money back. It is an award.

  2. It is awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement.This could be sports, music, acting, charity work contributions or anything else in addition to in-school performance.

Scholarships can be and are awarded by many schools to students in order to attract the best applicants. 

Financial Aid can be a grant or payment, it could be a loan, it could be work-study hours….but financial aid is based on need.  It is not based on achievement like a scholarship is. 

Can international students get both?  Yes, they can.

Many people know that international students can get scholarships.  Not as many know that financial aid is also available.

Getting Scholarships

Many students and families place significant value (financial and sentimental) on receiving a scholarship.  Some schools in America automatically assess students for scholarship when they apply.  Sometimes the school may require an interview with the student, and some schools require a separate application or essay.  The ONCAMPUS USA programs in Texas, New York, California and Boston do have a separate application for their annual 50% Global Scholarship awards but students are automatically assessed for other scholarship awards.  If I am helping a student, I would try to get them an interview with the school as much as possible.  It helps.

Why?  Well, many scholarships go beyond academics in America.  To find well-rounded students who will add to the school community, schools look for activities or personalities that will be unique, or different.  It doesn’t have to be sports or music, but it can be anything unique that perhaps makes a student stand out. 

Almost all scholarships awarded are from the schools directly.  There are some private scholarships for specific countries or majors, but the large majority of scholarship money is from the schools.  If you are not sure of a school’s scholarship policy, ask. 

Getting Financial Aid

Some may know that some schools in the USA will offer financial aid to international students based on their family’s financial need.  Really?  Yes, that is true. 

Often these are smaller schools (and more expensive) – including many of the ‘liberal arts’ schools in America.  These smaller schools may have costs or locations that do not attract enough students from different countries.  And all schools want diversity!  Having people from different countries adds so much to a classroom.  Therefore, some of these schools will offer financial aid to attract excellent students from all over the world who may not be able to afford the cost of a US degree.

These financial aid awards for students who qualify for need-based assistance typically are grants (which do not need to be repaid), and an opportunity to work on-campus up to 20 hours a week to cover some expenses.  These will normally be for all 8 semesters or 4 years of university in America.  Financial aid awards need to be granted at the time of admission, not after the student is enrolled and studying for a period of time.

So which schools offer financial aid and how do I prove my financial need?

First, the schools that offer financial aid for international students are listed here:

This is on the site of CollegeBoard – remember them?  They are the same company who owns and administers the SAT test!   In the fifth column on this chart it says ‘PROFILE for International Students’.  If there is a Yes in that category for the school, then the school offers financial aid to international students.  

So what is the PROFILE?

That would be the CSS / Financial Aid Profile.  This is the financial aid form for schools to determine the family’s financial need.  It is based on tax returns and other information from the family.  More information can be found here:

Does that mean that students should just apply to these schools since they offer financial aid?  Well, no.  Because these schools may be more expensive, or more difficult to get into, or they may only offer partial financial aid which cannot cover much of the tuition fee, or perhaps another school offers a larger scholarship.

Whatever the reason may be, this list is still worth a look for international students seeking financial aid.  Students should give themselves choices – whether it be through actual cost, scholarship award, and possibility of financial aid.  The best chances of finding money involve doing plenty of research among all sources. 

It may also be worth noting that schools which offer the most financial aid may or may not be the highest ranked.  Financial aid can depend on a number of factors – including location/diversity of the campus and amount of money in a school’s endowment.  It comes down to how much the school wants the student. 

Speaking of locations, that will be the topic of our next discussion.


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