There’s no two ways about it, being a college student in the United States is expensive. This statement is even more true for International students from other countries. Here in Southern California, the average UCLA undergrad student pays about $13,000 for just their tuition and fees every year. If you take into account room & board and other expenses, this amount easily exceeds the $30,000 mark. By comparison, international students, who have to pay non-resident fees, have to spend about $27,000 for tuition alone with an estimated total annual expense of about $61,000. That’s more than double the amount spent by California residents!

To further compound the problem, financial aid is mainly offered to U.S. residents, whereas many internationals believe that they’re on their own when it comes to college money. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although it is true that Americans have more options, financial help does exist for international students in the form of grants and scholarships.

Grants & Scholarships:

Grants and scholarships are very similar in that they are often referred to as “gift aid” since they are in essence free money for school. Grants differ from scholarships in that they are often need-based and are usually offered by government bodies or large nonprofit international organizations. For international students, grants are usually offered for graduate programs and/or specific majors or areas of study. An example of a government sponsored grant is the Fullbright Exchange Program which is run by the U.S. Department of State. This highly competitive program awards internationals with money for transportation and full/partial tuition. Similarly, the United Nations and World Bank offer grants to qualifying students. Individual countries also offer grants based on specific fields of study that would benefit their local economy such as chemical or electrical engineering majors. Look on the Institute of International Education (IIE) website at to find information on further financial aid programs.

By comparison to grants, scholarships are almost always merit-based and are far more numerous. Unlike grants, scholarships are much less restrictive and their selection criteria can include a variety of factors including country of birth, religion, age, field of study, academic achievement, or even political affiliations. Scholarship awards can vary between each one but when it comes to education, every little bit helps. Contributors can range from small private organizations to big corporations such as Chevron.

Whether you choose to pursue a grant or a scholarship, a few useful tips to increase your chances of being selected include:

  • Improving your spoken and written English. Most of these organizations require that applicants submit written essays and at times attend a formal interview. Being able to effectively communicate your ideas will help demonstrate why you are most deserving of financial help.
  • Apply as much as possible and do your homework. Research as many grants and scholarships as you can and apply to as many as possible. Every little bit helps!

Most importantly, do NOT be discouraged if results are not in your favor. Perseverance is the pathway to success and the funds for college are definitely out there for those who look for it.