How do I pay for college?


When you start adding up all your expenses including tuition, housing, and everything else, the cost could seem very expensive. This is especially true for many international students who are used to public universities with low or even no tuition. For all the great experiences and the many benefits of studying in the United States, the cost of education is the biggest hurdle to overcome. So, how do you finance these studies? Most of us are not millionaires (at least not yet). In this section, we will show you several methods for financing your studies.


Financial Aid from your home country

Many countries offer their citizens financial aid to study outside their home country. Financial aid could be offered in several ways but most often is in the form of loans or grants. Most governments recognize that education in the United States is valuable and they hope that you will return home with your new knowledge, skills, and experience.

student finances

Student Loans

Depending on your country, the maximum amount, interest rates, requirements, and the length of the loan are very different. Since student loans are often very favorable with flexible payback, you should do your research to see if these types of loans are right for you. Even though you can loan more than you perhaps need to cover all your expenses, you often do not want to loan the maximum amount. Remember, that everything that you borrow you will have to pay back one day.

It is important to create a budget to get a feel for how much you will need for your stay. Consider the following categories sorted from highest probable cost to lowest:

  • Tuition
  • Room & board
  • Travel
  • Insurance
  • Books and school material
  • Entertainment
  • All other costs

Once you have a better idea of what you are likely to spend, you can decide how many loans you want to apply for. To create your own budget, take a look at our abbreviated budget form on page 46 in the appendix section.




Do not pass up grants. Grants are free money that you do not need to pay back. If your country offers you grants, find out what you will need to do in order to get them. A common requirement is that you have to complete a certain number of classes per semester and maintain good grades. This should not be too difficult for you!



A scholarship is similar to a grant since it does not need to be paid back. There are thousands of scholarships available for students around the world. Their value could be anything from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
There are essentially two types of scholarships: academic and athletic. When applying for academic scholarships, past education, grades, volunteer work, music talents, community service, associations with various organizations, medical history, gender, age, race, and religion could all be factors considered by the organization awarding the scholarship. Depending of the philosophy and goal of the organization, scholarships will be awarded to students meeting certain criteria.

There is intense competition for many scholarships and it is often even more difficult if you are an international student. However, many people do get scholarships. It may be worthwhile looking into since some lesser known scholarships are less publicized. It could be worth thousands of dollars. There are American, European, Asian, Australian, and South American scholarships available. American scholarships or financial aid are often more difficult to get for international students since they are often limited to citizens only.


Sports & Education

 Many athletes in the US are awarded full or partial scholarships that pay for their tuition, housing, and even pocket money at times. You don’t have to be a professional to qualify but it does involve promoting yourself to the coach and negotiating a scholarship. Given the many details you need and should be aware of when looking for an athletic scholarship, we have developed a special product that discusses this process in detail. We highly recommend that you refer to this source if you are thinking of playing a sport at university level and getting your education paid for. 

If you are good enough in a sport you might be accepted onto a university team. Students can be awarded athletic scholarships in a number of different sports including soccer, golf, swimming, American football, baseball, and many more.   For more information, visit or College Sports section.

Private funds

Even if you would be lucky enough to earn an academic or athletic scholarship, you will probably need to use some of your saved money. If you are receiving financial aid it will often cover only the bare minimum. If you are accepted into a more expensive university, the funds received from your home country’s financial aid probably do not cover all costs. An academic scholarship often only covers part of your expenses. A partial athletic scholarship requires the student to pay the remaining expenses from other sources. A full scholarship covers tuition, housing, and board but not additional expenses such as clothing, entertainment, and travel.


Working while Studying

As a foreigner and an international student you are generally not allowed to work in the United States while attending college. This makes earning extra money on the side more difficult. However, there are some exceptions to the rule including on-campus jobs and economic hardship related permits.

Add a lead-in text with links to the green card section and “beach jobs” section of the website.

You can apply to on-campus jobs once you have arrived to the university. These types of jobs usually pay between $8 to $15 per hour and include anything from working in the bookstore, being a teacher’s aid or cafeteria assistant, and many more.

You can also apply for economic hardship status that will allow you to find a job off campus but limits how many hours you are allowed to work. Students have to fulfill certain requirements and the application will be evaluated by the appropriate US government labor agency. This process is more difficult than getting on-campus jobs but could open more opportunities with higher pay. Consult the international student office at the U.S. university for more information and assistance.

To gain practical real world experience, many students work in a company for six months to a year. This is referred to as an internship and is available to international students. An internship is often nonpaying but if you are lucky, you might get some money out of it.


Read more in our free International Student Guide.

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