A Survey of U.S. Universities
On The Availability of Merit-Based Scholarships for International Students

by Ousman Gajigo and Andy Lyons


During the summer and fall of 1995, we wrote to approximately 75 U.S. universities, inquiring about the availability of financial assistance for undergraduate international students. The following pages summarize the results of that letter writing campaign.

Although there are many factors that should be considered when choosing a college, financial assistance is often the number one dilemma facing students from developing countries. Unfortunately, very little financial aid is available to international undergraduate students in the U.S. Universities are not philanthropic or-ganizations, and do not offer assistance solely because a student is poor or comes from a poor country. Furthermore, during our research, we did not encounter any colleges that offer loans to international students. The only real possibility of aid for international students are merit-based awards given out by individual colleges. Most merit-based scholarships are restricted to American citizens, but there are a few that are not limited by nationality. Unfortunately these scholar-ships are generally few and far between, and highly competitive. To be even considered for one of these scholarships, a student must have excellent transcripts, recommendations, and exam results, as the top students from all over the world will also be competing for these limited funds.

In addition, US colleges that do have financial assistance for international students generally only offer partial tuition scholarships. The balance of expenses, which can range from $1,500 per year and up, must be supplied by the student. While it might seem possible for an international student to earn the balance of tuition through part-time employment, a new student will need personal savings or a private sponsor to cover expenses for the at least the first year, and, of course, airfare and settling-in expenses.

International students seeking merit based financial aid face a certain paradox. On the one hand, they are not be eligible for scholarships unless they are first ad-mitted to the school. On the other hand, they can not be admitted unless they submit proof of financial support. In our experience, the way around this dilemma is to be honest and realistic in the statement of financial support, and understand that admission will be contingent upon the offer of a scholarship. If the scholar-ship one is applying for covers less than full annual expenses, the student must demonstrate support for the balance. Often a call to the admissions office will be required to find out the minimum amount of support needed to be considered for admission and a partial tuition scholarship.

The schools we wrote to were chosen from the College Handbook - Foreign Student Supplement. This handbook indicates whether schools offer financial assistance to foreign students, as well as information that can be used to calculate the average award size. While useful, this guide should only be seen as a starting point. We discovered that not all of the schools indicated by the Foreign Student Supplement in fact offer assistance to international students, and we encountered other schools not listed in the supplement that do have financial assistance for foreign students. Hence we can con-clude that this information changes quickly from year to year.

We should also note that the list we researched only includes publicized financial aid sources. Occasionally, an individual professor or department will have funds for student support, but these will generally not be advertised by the admissions office. Often these funds will be available only after a student is enrolled and doing well. Finding out about these avenues of assistance is a mixture of "who you know," good timing, and good luck.

Finally, while the task of winning a scholarship may understandably seem daunting and discouraging, it isn't necessarily impossible. As a result of our research and other efforts, one Gambian student was awarded a near-full scholarship to a college in the U.S., and will begin their BS program during the 1996/97 school year. We wish you the same the luck.

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