financial aid for international students
Looking for financial aid? Your college may be able to help. Source: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

Financial aid for international students in US colleges and universities don’t come along as easily as for the locals, who can rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The aid is big help — in the 2020-21 award year, the maximum award was US$6,345.

Does FAFSA offer such aid to non-US citizens and residents? Yes and no.

Financial aid for international students will come from college, not government

First, FAFSA is a standard form used to determine if an applicant is eligible. American college students use it, too. There are several types of aid: grants, work-study, and loans included.

It’s important to note that international students do not qualify for federal aid — but you can use FAFSA to apply for college aid. Of course, this depends on your institution’s offerings, so you should check with the financial aid office before filling out the form. Each state has its own deadline, and admissions for the 2021-22 year have closed. However, colleges often have their own deadline, too.


Former US First Lady Michelle Obama stands with students as they hold up the FAFSA during a 2014 workshop. International students may use this form too. Source: Saul Loeb/AFP

With that being said, applying for FAFSA has yet to become a norm for international students. In 2019, the “Nudging at Scale: Experimental Evidence From FAFSA Completion Campaigns” study found that international students are put off by the complex submission process. We’ll tell you how to make it easier.

How to apply

  1. Fill out FAFSA manually — While applicants may access this form online, international students are advised to take a different route because they don’t have Social Security numbers. Here’s what you should do: print out the FAFSA, fill it out, then mail it to the Federal Student Aid office.
  2. File early — Financial resources are limited, so many colleges operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. That’s why international students are advised to get their application in early.
  3. Look up additional forms — Business Insider points out that international students must also fill out the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA), which can be found on your institution’s website. You should also create a College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, where you will record details of your family’s income, assets, and expenses. Head over to the official website to learn more.