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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

Finding Scholarships to Study in the USA

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Update 4.10.20

Learn about what types of scholarships are available and how they can help you study in the USA.

I hope you had a chance to read the last blog about financial aid. It definitely leads up to this week’s blog about the scholarship search and what to expect as you explore your study abroad options. When I started this blog, one of the things I wanted to do was help students overcome preconceived notions about studying in the USA.

I think you can hear a lot of rumors and misconceptions when learning about studying abroad. With scholarships, I've heard everything from students saying, "international students can't get any scholarships at all", to "I can get 100% scholarship because I need it."

...Both of those would be incorrect.

In this blog I want to talk about different types of aid international students can get to study abroad.

In short...

Where is the money?

How do you get it?

What types of aid can you expect from universities?

--> Basically, I want you to finish this blog feeling like you have a solid understanding of scholarships in the USA.

money and graduation hat
Learn about scholarships to study in the USA!

For me, I feel like I went into the university search just as blind as many international students. I was a first generation student, meaning I was the first person in my immediate family (mom, dad, and siblings) to graduate with a university degree.

I remember being so overwhelmed trying to find scholarships to help pay for school. I received some scholarships from my local community, things that totaled $500 or $1,000 USD, which wasn't much overall (but I always say to students that every little bit helps and every dollar counts). Having gone through that process and having come out of college with a bunch of student debt, I think it’s so important to educate international students on things they can do to best prepare for university abroad.

It's very common in the USA for students to graduate with crippling student debt. While this isn't the case in many places around the world, when international students question the high cost of a post secondary education in the USA, I often explain to them that while it is in fact a lot of money and a huge investment, most students who go to university do not actually have all the dollars they need to pay for school up front.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), international students often don't have the loan opportunities that domestic students have. This often means they have to be more creative in finding additional ways to fund their education abroad.

Let’s start with institutional scholarships. This just means scholarships that come from the university.

  1. Merit Based Scholarships - Merit scholarships are often offered solely based off achievements. Note - these typically don't require an additional application and can be received just for applying to the school.

  2. Athletic Scholarships - Athletic scholarships are offered depending on the type of school you attend and level you will play (see more details below).

  3. Specific or Institutional Scholarships – for example an “Outstanding International Student Scholarship”. These can be special scholarship programs offered to specific groups of students like international students. Note - these typically have a separate application and application deadline.


Merit based scholarships are an excellent way to help pay for school. These can be quite significant depending on the type of institution. For example, private universities tend to be more expensive than public universities, but they often offer larger merit based scholarships. In addition, many universities will offer merit scholarships based off of application materials alone. Students do not have to fill out additional application materials. Many schools will list merit scholarships in the same packet with the acceptance letters. What students often find though, is that additional need-based aid may be available, but typically does not cover the remaining balance. This is where other funding sources come into the mix. Most schools do not meet 100% of student need. It’s important to research international student aid when selecting a school.


Athletic scholarships require another blog altogether, but we can give some details in regards to scholarships here. Athletic divisions in the USA are divided into levels. We have the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), which has three levels, Division I, Division II, and Division III. Typically athletic scholarships are offered to players for Divisions I and II only. Division III schools (the smallest type) do not technically offer athletic scholarships.

Students often are not aware that they can also receive athletic scholarships from NAIA and NJCAA schools. These are two additional athletic associations. The most important thing to note for athletes is that full athletic scholarships are typically offered to high level, if not national team level, players from other countries. They are quite difficult to obtain. In addition, many schools are limited to the amount of international student scholarships they have available. Athletic scholarships are given based on talent.


The third type of institutional scholarship are special scholarships that students typically have to complete separate applications for. These can be merit or talent based. These can be things like full tuition scholarships, which would cover tuition and the student would pay room and board and other miscellaneous expenses. Some schools also offer special scholarships to students who experience a financial hardship.

Another thing you may see is the word “fellowship”. Fellowships offer student aid and may or may not require the students to work on campus. For example, I developed a fellowship program at a previous institution where students got a $1,000 stipend for the year, and they had to work a few hours each week in the International Admissions Office with me. Another program I developed was a Global Citizen Scholarship program, which offered full tuition to one select student from specific regions of the world. These are just two examples, but there are many more types of institutional scholarships that schools have developed to help international students.

Many schools will have service-based or program based scholarships available. Be sure to take this into consideration when you are applying. For example, some schools offer significant scholarships for students who do intensive volunteer work throughout their time in university. You can also search for program related scholarships, like creative writing scholarships, or STEM field scholarships. In regards to special scholarships, note that these typically have hard deadlines that students must have all materials submitted by. The deadline may fall before the admissions application deadline, so start researching scholarships early, even before your final year of secondary school.

Phew! That’s a lot of information.

So what other types of scholarships are out there?

I will mention a few outside sources in the blog on full ride scholarships coming out next week, but preview - they include government scholarships, both from the USA or your home country, as well as company or corporation scholarships. These searches are much broader, but if you need a lot of financial support to study in the USA, you will most likely need to use multiple funding sources. It is unrealistic to assume a university can fully fund you, or offer 100% funding for you to study there.

--> Unless of course, you are a genius student with a killer resume, a future professional athlete, or have some incredible niche skills that a university deeply values (which could totally be the case!) - It is possible!

Always remember that if you are committed to this task, you can make your study in the USA dream come true!

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