The idea of the "American Dream" means many things to many people, but one of its most common—and important—elements is the ability to further one's self by getting a college education. And for students born outside the United States, scholarships can be an invaluable help toward achieving that dream. Whether you're a new immigrant, a student going on to graduate school, or a learner returning to college, there's international scholarship assistance out there for your studies in the United States.
Before you do any scholarship searching, it's important to know that you should never have to pay to find or apply for scholarships. If a scholarship search engine or application asks you for a credit card or other financial information before you can use it, stay away. Reputable scholarships never charge to apply, and there are plenty of excellent free search engines. (Scholarship Experts, in particular, features a search specific to international students.)
[Learn more about studying in the United States.]
One of your best sources of financial aid will be the college you attend. If you were born outside the United States but are now a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, start by looking at colleges within the state where you live. Generally speaking, state residents pay a much lower tuition rate than out-of-state residents.
For example, a year of tuition and fees at the University of Virginia costs around $12,000 for students who live in Virginia, and around $36,000 for those who don't. Establishing residency in a state can instantly cut a great deal off of your ultimate college price tag.
If you don't live in the United States, you can do some very thorough research on colleges and financial aid opportunities at EducationUSA. This service of the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education provides a ton of online information; there is also a frequently updated list of financial aid opportunities and, most usefully, a guide to advising centers in countries around the world, where you can meet face-to-face with experts in your country that can help you search schools, translate information, and learn about your options.
You should also take a look at ForeignBorn.com for useful information on applying to schools, obtaining a student visa, and more.
No matter where you live, or decide to go to school, your college's financial aid office (and its website) should be your next stop. Most colleges have scholarship programs specifically for international students attending their institutions. To use just one example, the University of Oregon awards more than $1 million each year to students born outside the United States.
You'll notice on that page that some of this funding is for students from specific countries, some is open to students worldwide, and some requires that you study a certain field or do specific customer service—it can be confusing, but college admissions officers and financial aid experts are there to help you find as much money as you qualify for.
These resources will go a long way in helping with your education in the United States, no matter where you're from; you can also seek out opportunities specific to your country or even your gender. If you're a native of a Latin American or Caribbean nation, check out the listing of scholarships provided by the Organization of American States's Leo. S. Rowe Pan American Fund. The fund exists to provide interest-free student loans to students, and this brochure also features a useful listing of scholarship opportunities (starting on page 5), sorted by your country of residence.
If you live in one of the 17 countries (across four continents) where the Aga Khan Foundation has a presence, and you're doing graduate or postgraduate work, don't miss out on the Foundation's International Scholarship Programme, though note that awards made through this program are 50 percent scholarship and 50 percent loan, so you will have to pay part of the award back over time.
[See more ways to find scholarships for international students.]
And, finally, if you're a female graduate student and a non-U.S. resident, the venerable AAUW International Fellowship provides a tremendous opportunity; in 2011, the fellowship program awarded nearly $1 million to women dedicated to improving life in their home countries. This highly competitive program usually opens in August for the next academic year, so keep it in mind if you're an exemplary grad or postgrad student.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.