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 Q:  How does a student obtain financial aid?

Write to the admissions office of universities that interest you and find out specific details of their financial aid programs such as amount of aid awarded to international students and any special requirements. A scholarship is a financial award based on merit: excellent academic performance, or perhaps community service or leadership. Financial aid is a grant based on the student`s financial need, as documented by, family income, assets and other factors. There are also sports scholarships, awarded for recognized athletic ability. All types of scholarships and financial aid are extremely competitive and require outstanding academic records. If you have any special talent in fields such as music, sports, arts, student politics or others, make sure to mention it in your application. Scholarships, grants and prizes are occasionally available through local organizations and your local American Embassy.

Each university or college makes its own decision about whether or not to grant financial aid.  In general, there are very few financial aid opportunities available to foreign students, especially at the undergraduate level. Students with outstanding academic records and high SAT scores can be considered for financial aid. About 300 undergraduate institutions award significant (but usually partial) financial aid to international students. Through research, you may develop a plan that maximizes your chances of admission with aid.

Universities and colleges in the US may offer financial assistance to graduate students in the form of research or teaching assistantships. Funding may come as a tuition waiver or a monthly stipend for board and lodging, or both. Assistantships do not cover airfare to and from the U.S. The student should therefore look for additional funding to supplement his/her assistantship. To be competitive for assistantships, you must have a high score in the GRE or GMAT, excellent grades, strong recommendations and a clear, precise and interesting statement of purpose.

Financial aid usually does not cover the full cost, so you should be prepared and also apply to other sources of assistance. First year students are less likely to receive assistance, and a few universities may restrict their funding to US citizens and residents. There are three main forms of university financial aid available:

  • Teaching Assistantships: For 20 hours a week, a graduate student may help a professor with lectures, lead class discussions, grade exam papers or teach freshmen (first-year) undergraduates. Take both the TOEFL and the TSE (Test of Spoken English) to demonstrate your English proficiency and write an extra application essay describing your teaching interests and experiences.
  • Research Assistantships (RAs):  RAs are hired by professors who have been awarded grants to conduct research. They are most common in the sciences are often available in the social sciences, and are rarely available in professional fields such as business or health professions. The number of positions available depends on the professors` ability to get research grants and are therefore more common at the leading research universities. The RA`s workload varies widely but usually includes a tuition waiver and a stipend. The advantage of a research assistantship is that it can be related to the student`s thesis or long-term academic interests. RA`s are chosen for their demonstrated research and interpersonal skills; computer ability, writing skills, and teamwork are three essential qualifications. To get an RA, study the curriculum of each university to which you are applying, and identify the professors whose research interests most closely parallel your own. Write an intelligent letter to any professor who could serve as your advisor, describe your previous research experience and interests, and tell him or her why you would be a productive member of the research team. A superior academic record and GPE scores are also essential to a successful RA application.
  • Fellowships: Fellowships are normally awarded to students admitted in a Ph.D. program. They entail no work responsibilities and may cover the cost of tuition and fees plus a stipend. Full fellowship support for the duration of a program is rare and will generally be combined with an assistantship. All aid is awarded on a year-by-year basis but should be forthcoming if the minimum GPA is maintained.

In general, financial aid for international students at the undergraduate level is less available than assistance for students at the graduate level and beyond. For strategies, tips and advice, try these sites:

(Source: Department of State)

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