Funding your studies in the USA

Many students make the mistake of applying for admission first and then considering how to fund their studies. Do not be one of them.


To avoid the disappointment of gaining admission but not having sufficient funding to take up your place, consider funding as you choose a university and explore funding options as you complete your applications in the autumn/winter.

Sources of Funding

Generally speaking, there are four types of funding for study in the US:

  1. Personal / family savings- no matter how large or small! Even if you receive significant funding, you may have to pay for your visa or airfare before you receive a scholarship cheque.
  2. Loans from a US or UK lender As the cost of higher education rises in the US and UK, more students require loans to fund all or part of their studies. When considering a loan to finance education, be sure to examine carefully all of the terms and conditions of the loan. Explore repayment options, as the conditions of each loan scheme will vary. Interest rates may also add to the total cost of the loan, particularly if it is accrued while you are studying. Although you might find all of the general information about costs and interest rates when enquiring about a particular loan scheme, it is important to read the fine print before signing any agreement.
  3. Scholarships from US universities After assessing your personal and family savings, your best resource for funding will likely be the US university. In fact, nearly a quarter of international students report US universities as their primary source of funding. US universities award funding on the basis of financial need (often called grants) and/or merit (scholarships), as well as sports scholarships. Most funding will be renewable from year-to-year, based on maintaining specified academic standards or grades. Every year over 900 US universities offer international students scholarships of $10,000 or more. Of these 900 universities, 195 offer scholarships of $20,000-$30,000 per year, 80 offer scholarships between $30,000-$40,000 per year, 105 offer scholarships greater than $40,000 per year and 183 offer a ‘full ride’.
  4. Scholarships from external funding bodies External funding bodies may include a wide range of professional, charitable or government organisations that have a vested interest in educating members of society. Often, scholarships from external funding bodies can be thought of as niche scholarships, as they may be based on very specific personal qualities outlined by the funding body in addition to academic merit or financial need. These qualities often correlate to the mission of the organisation and could include country of origin, ethnicity, religious faith, interest in a particular field, gender, interests, talents, etc.
  5. Sports scholarships There are many opportunities to play sports at universities in the US. University sports programmes are offered at the varsity (organised competition between universities) and the intramural or club (participation-oriented, less competitive) level. While no scholarships are offered for participation in sports at the intramural or club levels, some universities offer sport scholarships at the varsity level to students who are academically-qualified for admission and very gifted in a particular sport.

As the cost of higher education increases in both the US and UK, it is important for parents and students to know what costs to expect and to develop a plan to cover these. Finding funding for undergraduate study in the US is a challenge for both American and international students alike. The key is starting early; choosing universities appropriately and putting in the necessary time and effort to seek out and apply for scholarships. Also keep in mind you will need to demonstrate access to funding for the first year of study in order to apply for a visa.

The good news is that each year international students receive significant amounts of financial assistance toward their studies in the US. The most recent report produced by NAFSA: The Association of International Educators estimates that $7.223 billion was received by over 690,000 international students studying in the US in 2009-10.