By Jennie Kent, IECA (Bogota, Columbia)

An important aspect of our work as IECs is helping students find colleges or universities that are not only strong academic and social matches but also good financial choices as well. Although many counselors and independent educational consultants feel secure assisting domestic students with regard to financing, many still have questions when advising international students on financial matters. The answers to the following questions are a good place to start learning more.

Q: Are international students eligible for financial aid?

A: Most international students are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, Direct Loans for students, and PLUS Loans for parents, but they are eligible for institutional aid at many public and private colleges and universities.

Q: Who is considered an international student?

A: In the United States, each educational institution determines the criteria for an international student and how their applications are read. There is no easy definition that pertains to all institutions, but many draw the line according to whether a student will require a visa to study in the United States. Many dual nationals will fall within the domestic applicant pool.

Q: What is the largest source of financial aid for international students?

A: The largest source of financial aid for international students is institutional aid, in the form of need-based aid, merit-based aid, or both.

Q: When helping an international client, what are the key pieces of information that IECs need to help families build an appropriate financial list of colleges?

A: The two most important things to know beforehand are the financial aid policy of each institution and whether the client will qualify for need-based aid or only be eligible for merit-based aid.

Q: How can we learn which colleges give need-based aid, merit-based aid, or both?

A: The best way to learn about institutional financial aid policies is to look in each university’s Common Data Set or to use the recently updated chart that Jeff Levy (CA) and I produced (go to resources/FA international students at

Q: My client qualifies for need-based aid. Which institutions should he consider?

If your client can demonstrate financial need, any institution that offers need-based aid for international students will be an option. Although data on the percentage of need met for international students are difficult to find, most institutions that offer need-based aid should be considered, particularly if the data indicate that the average per-student financial aid award is substantial.

Q: My client will only be eligible for merit-based aid. Which institutions should she consider?

A: Merit-based aid is awarded to any student who fits a profile that the institution is eager to attract. That may mean a talented artist or athlete, a strong academic student, or even a student who is from a desired location. Because of that, it is important to consider the strengths of each individual student and look at what he or she will bring to the institution. In addition, if an institution offers generous aid packages to a large percentage of students, there is a greater chance of your client getting a good offer.

Q: Are some colleges more generous with financial aid than others?

A: There are many institutions that are generous with aid, but some stand out for the amount of aid they offer or the overall percentage of international students who are receiving it. The list of schools generous with aid to international students is long. Here is a sample of 15 such institutions:

Only need-based aid. Amherst College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and Yale University are all need-blind for international students and meet 100% of demonstrated need.

Only merit-based aid. Furman University, Muhlenberg College, Quinnipiac University, Stetson University, and The College of Wooster are all generous with merit aid.

Both need-based and merit-based aid: Colby College, Macalester College, Providence College, Trinity College, and Washington and Lee University all offer generous packages of combined need and merit.

Q: Other than institutional aid, what other sources of financial aid are available for international students?

A: International students have many sources of aid available to them. Some students’ home countries may offer scholarships or loans. And there are international organizations and private sponsors who do the same, as well as scholarships specifically earmarked for international students. A good resource for scholarships is

Although the majority of international students are not eligible for federal aid in the United States, there are some exceptions, such as US nationals, permanent residents, or students in the US with the intention of becoming a US citizen or permanent resident. For a list of which noncitizen students are eligible for federal aid, go to

Finally, international students are allowed to work on campus, although institutions limit those hours. If any of your clients will have campus jobs, remind them to check with the international student coordinator to see if any US taxes will be due on earned income at the end of the year and when to file returns.

Q: Is grant aid subject to US tax?

A: Scholarships not exceeding tuition and fees are not subject to US tax. But if any amount of a student’s grant aid is used for room or board, it will be taxable at the federal rate of 14%. If a student’s home country has a tax treaty with the US, however, they may receive a refund for taxes paid on aid used for room and board during the previous calendar year.

Q: What about loans? Are international students able to take them out?

A: International students may not take out federal loans, but some institutions and private lenders offer loans for international students. As is the case with anyone entering into a legal agreement, loans should be carefully analyzed and the terms clearly understood before borrowing money.

Q: Which forms do international students need to submit when applying for financial aid?

A: The forms that need to be submitted will depend on the methodology used by each institution, so be sure to have your students check on each college’s website. Some students will need to submit the FAFSA, some will need to submit the CSS PROFILE, and some students may need to submit what is known as Proof of Financial Support or Financial Certification.

Q: When do these forms need to be submitted?

A: Submission deadlines can be similar to those for domestic students who are applying for financial aid but will need to be individually verified with each school. Verification is crucial in the case of financial certification or proof of financial support. Some institutions require forms to be submitted at the same time as the admission application, but others will request them at the time of enrollment to help secure a student visa from the US government. If a client is applying for need-based aid, keep in mind that many institutions will not let an international student apply for aid if they did not apply as a freshman, regardless of a change in situation, such as loss of a job or death of a parent.

Q: Will applying for financial aid impact an admission decision?

A: It is important to note that an institution may be need blind for domestic students but need aware for international students. The majority of institutions that offer financial aid to international students are need aware and thus may consider the student’s demonstrated need in the application review.

Jenny Kent, Educate Abroad, can be reached at [email protected].