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  • Cortney Dowdle

Full Scholarships for International Students

Updated: May 6

Hi everyone,


I’m back this week with one more article about scholarships, and then we'll move on to a new study abroad topic next week. I hope everyone had super restful and awesome holidays! I know I enjoyed spending time with my family before getting back on the road. Finishing this blog in Hanoi, Vietnam today. One of my favorite cities!


I have been wanting to write this article for ever. No joke. After years and years of working with international students, one of the biggest goals we have as educators is to help students around the world understand the processes to study in the USA. In my webinar series, I talk a lot about misconceptions of studying abroad.


For example, I think many students around the world who play sports think that getting a full ride scholarship for their sport is “easy” or relatively easy at least. In actuality, the percentage of students who attend university with an athletic scholarship, both domestic and international, is quite small. Another example of a common misconception is that schools who offer financial aid can meet 100% need, meaning they can cover any amount of the cost of attendance that the student cannot afford. In these cases, most universities often have limited financial aid budgets for international students. This might sound bleak or negative, but I have some ideas for alternative ways you can pay for school or other options to look into below.


Read on for more details! Remember, studying abroad is a life changing opportunity. No one said it is easy, but as they (usually older and wiser people) say, nothing good in life ever is! I also want to note that this article is geared towards undergraduate post secondary education. Graduate students (Masters and PhD level have different opportunities they can look for).

Learn about full scholarships for universities in the USA

I have probably answered the question, “Do you offer full scholarships?” thousands of times. I’m not kidding. Thousands. I am sure most other international admissions directors and recruiters would say the same. It’s an understandable question on behalf of the students. While there are awesome educational opportunities in the USA, unfortunately, it sometimes seems like the opportunities are just for the privileged (trust me, it feels like that for domestic students as well). That, or international students are often used to higher education being very affordable in their home countries. Many countries around the world offer free or nearly free higher education. No matter, the USA offers an abundance of educational opportunities for international students and I truly believe it’s worth an investment. I always encourage students to be smart about their decisions when choosing a school though, and consider all of the financial implications. See my article on financial aid where I talk about calculating out of pocket cost for more information!


So why is it so hard to get a full ride? There are many reasons. For some background, there have been many articles written about the slim percentage of full ride scholarships (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/10/16/odds-your-child-getting-full-ride-college-are-low/?utm_term=.14a06845dbd4). I’m here to break it down to you while still providing resources and some hope for the future. My favorite phrase to describe this is that “full ride scholarships are like unicorns”.


So what is a full ride scholarship? And why are they like unicorns? Some students are offered “full tuition scholarships”, and these are different because they account only for the cost of tuition (and sometimes fees). The term “full ride” typically includes tuition, fees, room, and board (meal plan). Sometimes full ride scholarships even include things like book stipends. The USA isn’t world renown for education for no reason. That’s not to say there aren’t amazing educational opportunities for students all over the world, because there are. However, the largest amount of students going abroad each year is still overwhelmingly to the USA. And of those going to the USA, over 80% were at least partially funded by parents or family (cite). A funding source is any source where students get money from to study abroad. So when I say that students often can’t rely solely on university aid to pay for school, this is why.

Schools in the USA also want to offer students discounts because of the high cost of education, and many times, these can be offered to international students with high qualifications. Let me be very clear here. The percentage of “full ride scholarships” is slim. So slim, in fact, that there are sometimes only one or two offered per institution, if any at all. Crazy right?! So why are these like unicorns? Well unicorns are legendary and mythical creatures that are not actually real, so many times those of us in international educators often joke that full ride scholarships are like unicorn sightings, so rare that you may never actually see one in real life.



Full ride scholarships are often times offered in two cases. The first is to high level athletes (think Division I and Division II NCAA athletes – future article coming on athletic scholarships as well, so stay tuned for that if these are new terms). The second are usually competitions to attract the most highly qualified candidates each year. Think about it. If you’re a small private university (5,000 students or less), and you want to enroll a few hundred or thousand students each year, offering one or two full ride scholarships would definitely attract some highly-qualified candidates to your applicant pool. At the end of the day though, institutions cannot offer these full rides to very many students.


So what’s a savvy international like yourself to do? Well, first off, always do your research. While full rides are slim, there are plenty of opportunities to find some extra study money if you look in the right places. Don’t be afraid to contact your school and find out what kind of opportunities they have. But outside of that, there are a few other resources you can try to utilize:

  • Education USA – this is a great extension of the US government that exists to promote education abroad. They have offices all over the world, and many of them specialize in helping students find financial resources to attend university (link)

  • Your country’s government – many foreign governments offer scholarships going up to full coverage, to students who want to study in the USA and return home to positively impact their home country

  • Third parties – there are tons of international companies around the world who offer scholarships to international students. I know these are a hassle to search for, but if it gets you some additional cash, then I think it’s totally worth spending some time on.

The last bog on scholarships focused on how to utilize multiple funding sources (or more than one way of paying for university education). I hope this article helped explain how full ride scholarships work for many universities in the USA. For now, just remember that while full ride scholarships are extremely rare in the USA, they are not, in fact, nonexistent (like unicorns), so look for the right fit (make sure you read this blog if you haven’t read about fit already), research aid options, and know that you should most likely have other funding sources available when you go to study in university.


Until next time savvy internationals!

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