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Financing your US education as an international student

Our expert Dharma Naik outlines various avenues to fund your studies in the US

Did you know that the USA is the highest Noble Prize-winning country with a total of 368 winners?  Also, Research and Development expenditures by U.S. Colleges and Universities totalled $75.3 billion in FY 2017! So what does this have to do with financing your education? Well, as a student it might mean more money for the university to hire research assistants and also be able to provide scholarships in various fields basis the innovative curricula and classroom environments to attract and retain talented students to their campuses. 

When deciding on universities to which one wishes to apply; or even later once you have offers in hand - a big influencer on where you would likely enrol depends a lot on the costs involved. Many believe that studying in the US is an expensive proposition and may consider other destinations from the get-go. Whereas others will apply to some US universities and hope for the best. For this post, I want to spend some time clarifying the basic sources of funds a student from India can tap into and consider when applying and making final decisions. There is a plethora of opportunities available – some based on academics, some on talent and others more focused toward graduate students. 

Undergraduate students

Scholarships are a good source of funding for students and there are a few main types that I will explain here:



Need based scholarships are available typically for one year, but a student may reapply annually. These scholarships are given basis financial need and completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required. The FAFSA though can be completed only by domestic students.

Merit scholarships are those that usually are given basis academic, athletic or artistic merit, in addition to special interests. Rewarding and recognising talent is the main purpose of merit-based scholarships. They may be given for the full duration of the course, for one year or renewable annually basis the student maintaining a certain academic profile.

Graduate students

At the graduate level, unfortunately not many scholarships are available for international students, however, there are part-time opportunities that can be looked into. The keyword here would be doing research and taking the initiative to tap into what’s there.

  1. Research Assistantship/Teaching Assistantship: These are available only on campus and all research assistantship positions are mostly acquired by MS/PhD students. Sometimes they also offer tuition waivers but it varies from university to university and program to program.

  2. Tuition Fee waiver/Scholarships (Athletic, Need-based & Need-Blind): These are mostly available to exceptional athletes.

  3. Graduate Assistantship/Resident Assistantship: Similar to the concept of RA and TA; however, these may not be in a student’s primary field of study. It could be a job working say in the university gym or student services offices. Usually, a monthly fixed stipend would be given bi-monthly or as a monthly paycheck. 

  4. On-campus part-time employment: International students are allowed to work part-time up to 20hrs/week when the session is in progress and full time that is up to 40 hrs/week during vacations.

  5. Off-campus part-time employment: This is only available and permitted by the Designated School Official (DSO) under certain conditions.

Networking is the 'key' and will help broaden your horizons. Take advantage of all avenues such as career fairs, professional development workshops and more. While good grades are important – beyond that look outside of the classroom to enhance your skills. Interaction with alumni, current students and faculty as well as taking advantage of job and internship fairs, academic/professional conferences would be beneficial for you to get financial aid as well as boost your prospects for future jobs and career.


IDP Study Abroad Insights

For students like you interested in studying in the USA, we have a wonderful series – Study Aboard Insights. This web series covers most commonly asked questions about studying in the country answered by industry experts.

Watch more!


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Dharma P. Naik 

Dharma P. Naik - Associate Director – USA, at IDP Education (India, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Sri Lanka), Dharma oversees the strategy, training and growth of the US destination and US team in her region across 33 offices in four countries. 

Working in tandem with her central team based in IDP’s South Asia Regional Office in Gurgaon; and the US based onshore team – they engage with US institutions to ensure that IDP students and counsellors are up-to-date with policies, requirements and any process changes related to the USA. Under her able leadership over the past five years, IDP has witnessed strong growth in the US despite a global downturn in recent times, and increased student enrolments due to quality counselling, a unique mix of client portfolio and promotion of the USA as a leading study destination.

Dharma is an expat with more than 19 years of professional experience in Education, Student Affairs, Admissions, Non-Profits, Leadership Trainings and International Education in the US, Europe and South Asia. She was born and raised in the UK and then shifted to the USA with her family. She completed her Bachelor’s in Sociology with a Certificate in Asian American Studies; followed by a Master’s in Counselling and Personnel Services (Higher Education Administration); and a Graduate Certificate in Leadership Management from the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Dharma has worked at esteemed institutions like American University, University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Pennsylvania and leading international education companies like Princeton Review (Manya) and Laureate Education in India prior to joining IDP Education. 



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