Studying in the US as a Green Card Holder or International Student

Studying in the USA need not be a problem for holders of a green card since it is possible for them to save up to 80% on tuition fees! For international students, it can be more expensive and not as straight forward, but definitely worth its while in the end.


According to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Division, Green Card holders who are permanent residents with green cards holding Forms I-551, I-151, or I551C they are classified as ” eligible non-citizens” and are allowed to get financial aid from the government. The financial aid available for permanent residents includes federal student loans and state grants.

If your green card has expired, you can still get financial aid as long as your permanent residency hasn’t expired; you just need to make sure you organize to have your green card reviewed. Unfortunately, if your permanent resident status has expired, you can’t get any federal financial aid.

The process for getting financial aid as a green card holder is almost identical to what you’d do as a US citizen. The process can be summarized as follows;

Step 1:  Application of FAFSA for Green Card Holders

To get financial aid as a permanent resident, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before the deadlines for federal and state financial aid.

The deadline for federal assistance is usually the 30th of June (midnight, Central Time) for the following school year.

Deadlines for the state government aid varies from one state to the next and one should be on the look out for when the financial aid given by the state application period expires.

As a green card holder,  after you fill out the FAFSA you must fill out the Alien Registration Number that is usually 8 or 9 digits.

Step 2: Communicate with your College

Many colleges and universities, especially those with large endowments, often offer students grants, loans, work study programs and scholarships.

The best way to find out what kind of financial aid for green card holders is available at your college is to reach out and ask from the college’s financial aid office.

Step 3: Find out where to get Private Scholarships

In addition to government-based and school-based financial aid, you may also be able to get private. Like school-sponsored scholarships, private scholarships do not require repayment and help keep your student debt down.


As stated earlier the process of getting financial aid for an international student is not as straight forward and may be trickier and more complicated.  According to the policy, financial aid for international students in the U.S. is typically reserved for graduate students. To make matters even more complicated, most of the financial aid available for both undergraduate and graduate education is reserved for U.S. residents. However, that doesn’t mean aid for international students does not exist.

Most of the financial aid available to international students comes in the form of research and teaching assistance programs. Additionally, financial aid for international students may be funded by grants, loans or jobs and often includes merit-based and need-based awards.

The international financial aid available varies by school and sometimes even varies by major, so you’ll want to call the school and see what financial aid options are available for international students.

Applying for scholarships

Applying for scholarships is one of the best ways international students can help pay for college in the U.S. Unlike many of the other options mentioned here, scholarships aren’t as restrictive for international students, so they can provide good opportunities for international students seeking to study in the U.S.

There are several scholarship opportunities available to foreign students with a variety of criteria, including country of residence, age and academic major. You can even find some more obscure – yet still legitimate – scholarships that have no geographic restrictions.

There is certainly no lack of scholarship opportunities in the U.S., so make sure to do your research and apply for the scholarships you are most eligible for to increase your chances of receiving the award. Don’t be afraid of applying for some non-conventional scholarships as well.

Perhaps the most tedious part of applying for scholarships, and probably the reason why so many people don’t take advantage of them, is the amount of time they take to complete. Don’t let this discourage you! Even some money awarded from scholarships is better than no money at all. This is especially true for international students who may not have as many other options as U.S. residents do.

Here are some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind to increase your chances of being awarded a scholarship to attend school in the United States:

  • Polish your English Communication Skills: Nearly all scholarship applications will require you to write an essay as a part of the application process. The essays will also probably have to be in English. This means you may want to invest in brushing up on your English communication skills by getting a tutor or taking classes online. You may also want to have a native English speaker helping you through the application process.
  • Apply for as many scholarships as you can: There is no lack of scholarship opportunities in the U.S., so take advantage!
  • Boost your leadership skills: Americans value leadership skills, and it’s something they instill in people from a very young age. That’s also why so many scholarship funds give preference to people who possess leadership qualities. Do what you can to boost your leadership skills, including volunteering for leadership positions in your school or local community. Becoming a coach for a community team or volunteering to spearhead a school project definitely count!


General grants to attend college are not as abundant for international students as they are generally restricted to US citizens or permanent residents, but there are several options available. Once you’ve been accepted into a school’s program, you’ll want to call the financial aid office for any information on grants available for international students.

The Institute of International Education is a good place to start looking for grants for international students. This is an organization dedicated to helping international students get a good education and stay on top of grant opportunities. International students can also get help from the Overseas Association of College Admissions Counseling which helps direct financial aid to foreign students.


For more information click on the following links;

  • Institute of International Education 

  • Overseas Association of College Admissions Counseling

  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid


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