Attending College in America as an International Student

Attending College in America as an International Student

A guide for students who are looking to travel to America to study

In any given year, students travel to the United States to attend college at a number of different colleges and universities. According to the Institute of International Education, more than 1 million international students were participating in a degree or training program in the US. Although the prospects for higher education abound for international students, attending college in the United States as an international student can be a challenging task.

International students studying in the United States may face an uphill battle in securing the financial aid they need to pay for a degree. Similarly, adjusting to a culture shift can create obstacles that are hard to overcome. Fortunately, there are resources available to help with these difficulties as an international student if you know where to look.

Reasons for Studying in the US

Several driving factors motivate students from other countries to earn a college degree in the United States. First, many colleges and universities are of high quality, providing a top-notch education from highly trained and experienced professors and educators. Having a college degree from one of the highly-ranked institutions in the United States can open up doors to international students in many different avenues.

Connections to industry leaders, the potential for prestigious career paths, and the ability to network with experts in a specific field may all lead to lucrative outcomes for students willing to put in the work. Starting on that path early on may result in more opportunities than colleges or universities in other locations can offer. However, there are challenges to overcome, starting with getting accepted to the university or college of your choice.

The Application Process

Although the process of applying for a degree program in the United States as an international student is not much different than students who live in the country, there are extra steps to take. Most colleges and universities require international students to provide evaluated education credentials to ensure a student is academically prepared for college.

Also, an English language proficiency test may be required as part of the application process. For these reasons, international students may need to prepare months in advance before submitting applications to their selected universities or colleges.

Students also need to have a clear understanding of what they want to study when in school, as well as meet testing requirements for the SAT or ACT before applying. Submitting applications to multiple colleges and universities is recommended, and well before the application deadlines. Delays can take place because of the verification of education transcripts and sending information through the mail, so international students need to plan ahead for these challenges.

Additionally, the cost of attending a college or university in the United States is a factor that must be considered before applications are submitted. Prices range greatly from one institution to the next, and international students need to be aware of the financial aid obstacles they may face as part of the process. Recognizing the total cost of earning a degree and identifying the resources available to pay for it is a necessary part of preparing to be an international student.

Financial Aid Options

Before committing to attend a college or university in the United States, international students must take the time to calculate the cost and understand how to cover it. It can be a challenge for international students to receive financial aid because the US Department of Education does not extend financing to non-US citizens.

A recent study shows that nearly 65% of international students paid for the cost of college from family contributions. The remaining 35% rely on other sources to cover the expense of attending a school in the United States. Here are a few resources to help with the cost.

Student Loans

Although federal student loans are not an option for international students, the following lenders provide student loans to qualified international borrowers planning to attend school in the United States.

Prodigy Finance: this private lender offers international student loans without the need for a co-signer. Students from 150 countries may qualify for a loan from Prodigy for undergraduate or graduate studies at a participating school. The lender offers fixed-rate loans up to the cost of attendance, with interest rates starting as low as 7.3%.

MPOWER Financing: this private lender offers student loans to international students without a co-signer, from $2,001 up to $50,000. Students in more than 190 countries may qualify so long as they are planning to attend a school on the lender’s eligibility list. Loans are fixed-rate, and up to 1.50% in discounts are offered to the most qualified borrowers.

Citizens One: as a part of Citizens Bank, this private lender offers student loans to international students, with a co-signer requirement. A US resident must co-sign the loan with the international student in order to qualify, and they must have a strong credit history. Fixed-rate loans are available up to the cost of attendance, with interest rates as low as 4.40%.

Educational Institutions

In addition to private student loans, international students may also qualify for aid directly from the college or university they attend. Some schools provide financial aid in the form of scholarships or grants to students who complete the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. After receiving a student’s FAFSA, the school determines what, if any, financial aid is available, and how much the student may receive. The eligibility requirements vary from school to school, as do the amounts and types of aid offered.

Work-Study Programs

Finally, international students may benefit from work-study programs. Certain colleges and universities offer international students the ability to work while attending school which can help offset the cost of earning a degree. Most work-study programs pay the student at least minimum wage, but they are only offered to those who can show a financial need. This requirement is evaluated by the student’s FAFSA, so international students should be sure to submit the form by the deadline. Although a work-study program will not cover the full cost of attendance, international students may earn enough to cover personal expenses and a portion of tuition costs that would otherwise not be covered.

Bottom Line

Attending college in the United States as an international student can be tough, but there are ways to finance the cost. Through a combination of private student loans, financial aid directly from the school, and work-study opportunities, international students can help offset the price tag of earning a college degree in the US. However, this requires some advanced planning alongside an understanding of what opportunities are available at the school a student wants to attend.


Andy Kearns is a Content Analyst for LendEDU and works to produce personal finance content to help educate consumers across the globe. When he’s not writing, you can find Andy cheering on the new and improved Lakers, or somewhere on a beach.