May 28, 2024
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Can International Students Use The FAFSA? – Forbes Advisor


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International students aren’t eligible for federally funded aid since government funding is reserved for students who are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens. However, submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can potentially unlock other aid opportunities for international students to utilize.

What Is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an online form that students complete to qualify for federal financial aid, scholarships, grants or work-study opportunities. In terms of financial aid, students who complete the FAFSA gain access to the largest source of federal financial aid in the U.S. Some schools also use your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for state and school aid.

Over $122 billion is available to fund student loans, grants, scholarships and work-study opportunities for 17.6 million students annually. The FAFSA opens a window to higher education for many students and families nationwide.

How Does the FAFSA Work for International Students?

As an international student, your FAFSA won’t be processed to determine your eligibility for federal student aid awards. Instead, some schools, state programs and other aid sources might require international students to complete a FAFSA to be considered for gift aid, like scholarships or grants.

How Much Does It Cost to Study in the U.S.?

For international students, the cost of attending a college or university in the U.S. can vary depending on a few factors. Moving to the United States can be a hectic process, depending on where your home country is. For example, a student relocating from an Asian country, such as Japan or the Philippines, may pay more than someone coming from a South American country.

The type of school you attend also plays a factor. Private school students, for example, spend an average of $55,840 per year, according to the Education Data Initiative. By comparison, public school students spend an average of $26,027 per year.

Before deciding on attending college in the U.S., research your travel, tuition and lodging expenses and factor them into your overall budget.

Am I an Eligible Non-U.S. Citizen?

A select few students who are classified as non-U.S. citizens can still apply for federal student aid if they fall into these categories:

  • U.S. nationals and permanent residents. Individuals who are issued a green card can apply for federal student aid. U.S. nationals can also apply, including native American Samoans or native Swain Islanders.
  • Certain arrival departure record recipients. Individuals with an arrival departure record, or an I-94 record, that states “refugee,” “asylum granted,” “Cuban-Haitian entrant” and “conditional entrant” can receive federal aid. Additionally, some parolee designations are eligible.
  • T-visa holders. Victims of human trafficking or children of a parent with a T-1 nonimmigrant status are eligible to apply for federal aid.
  • Battered Immigrant-Qualified Aliens. Non-citizens, and their children, who are victims of abuse by a spouse who’s a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can receive federal financial assistance.
  • Citizens of Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, or Republic of Palau. Students who are citizens of these areas can access certain types of federal financial aid.

How To Submit the FAFSA as an International Student

The online FAFSA application asks students to enter their Social Security numbers, along with their parents’ numbers. Since international students don’t have an assigned Social Security number, the only way to complete the form is by manually filling out a paper version.

You can find a PDF version of the FAFSA for international students at StudentAid.gov. Print the physical FAFSA and fill out the form as best as possible. On the form, make sure to indicate your status as an international student. After you’ve completed the paper form, certify that the information is correct by adding your signature and date. Make a photocopy of your completed form, and mail the original to:

Federal Student Aid Programs
P.O. Box 7650
London, KY 40742-7650

Other Financial Aid Documents for International Students

Aside from the FAFSA, schools and other aid programs for international students might require other types of documentation for financial assistance.

CSS Profile

You might be asked to complete a CollegeBoard College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile. A CSS profile evaluates your finances to determine your eligibility for certain scholarships as an international student. Some details include your family’s income, assets and expenses using your home country’s currency.

International Student Financial Aid Application

The CollegeBoard also provides an alternative form familiar to the FAFSA for international students called the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA). It’s a standardized form that some schools use to evaluate your eligibility for student aid. If required, provide your and your parents’ financial information and any expected financial support you might receive before returning the form to your financial aid office.

Always check with your financial aid office in advance to learn its specific process for awarding financial aid. Aid programs vary between states and schools differ greatly, as do their requirements for eligibility.

Alternate Aid Options For International Students

  • Scholarships. Gift aid, like scholarships, don’t need to be paid back and can help cover a portion of your college expenses. Several resources, including the U.S. Department of State and higher education nonprofit groups, provide information on scholarship programs for international students.
  • Grants. These awards are sometimes offered to international students pursuing a degree program in the U.S. Grant funding might be more accessible to international graduate-level students.
  • Part-time jobs. To help pay for college, some international students work part-time while enrolled in school. Although this option can be time-consuming, it can be a good way to cover some expenses.
  • Private student loans. International private student loans are a source of financial aid. Proceed with caution as private student loans must be paid back, including interest charges and fees that increase the overall cost of your education.

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