STUDYING IN THE US ON AN F1 VISA: Your Funding Options

An international student with an F1 or J1 visa usually has very limited options when it comes to funding of their education in the United States, this is because most of the funding for education in the United States is skewed to favor US citizens. Most of the scholarships available to international students are available only to graduate students. Generally, there is no discount on tuition, although both private and public institutions may waive application fees in some circumstances. There are a number factors to consider when you decide to take the F1 Visa route as an international student.

The cost of attendance calculation

The budgeted Cost of Attendance is a calculation of total cost by each institution that is used to determine a student’s level of financial need. It is a total of tuition, mandatory fees, room, board (where applicable), and estimated cost of books and other living expenses (and sometimes travel) for students at the particular institution. Separate determinations can be made for students living at home or independently at the institution’s discretion.

The following is a list that one can use when considering the cost of attendance.

Some specific costs to consider:

  • Application fees
  • Test/entrance exam fees (e.g., TOEFL)
  • Visa/SEVIS fees
  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board (accommodation and food)
  • Books and supplies (including laptops, Ipads or tablets, paper, etc.)
  • Travel to the United States
  • Travel within the United States
  • Health and medical insurance
  • Personal expenses during term-time for on-campus accommodation (including clothing, telephone charges, entertainment, and leisure); and personal expenses during term breaks for on-campus accommodation (including travel, food, extra housing fees, telephone charges, entertainment, and leisure)

Note: Types of expenses will change according to housing allocation. If you plan to live in private, off-campus housing, you should also expect to pay electricity, heating, water, and other utility expenses.

Geographic location will impact your expenses as a result of differing costs of living. There are a number of cost-of-living calculators available on the Internet. These calculators can help you compare costs between two U.S. cities.

While there are not many ways to reduce the education costs for undergraduate international students, the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • If you have taken International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) courses, have these credentials evaluated to see if some of the credit can be applied to reduce time to graduation.
  • Pursue on-campus employment such as serving as a resident assistant (RA) after your first year of study.
  • Begin your U.S. studies at a community college, and then transfer credit from your two-year school to a four-year institution.

Institutional Aid

Some public and private universities offer financial incentives for students to attend their institution. Most of the institutional aid available to international students is reserved for graduate study in the form of assistantships and fellowships. Because it is uncommon for U.S. institutions to offer aid to undergraduate international students, such scholarships are often quite competitive. Remember that both private and public institutions may waive application fees in some situations; be sure to consult with your university to take advantage of any supplements or waivers they may offer.

Merit-based scholarships are granted on the basis of special skills, talents, or abilities. Your university may have scholarships based on TOEFL scores, academic record, artistic ability, musical ability, or athletic ability. Merit-based scholarships are usually very competitive. To be considered, you will need to demonstrate exceptional ability in the area required.

Need-based scholarships are awarded based on financial need. Those students who can demonstrate need at a predetermined level are eligible for this type of aid.

Academic departments within the university may have funds allocated to assist international students with exceptional need and/or talent. Consult with your university and/or your major department to take advantage of any special funding opportunities they offer.

Grants and Scholarships

Many scholarships for undergraduate study are available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, there are free scholarship databases as well as private, corporate, nonprofit, and government scholarship funds that serve undergraduate international students.

Some scholarship databases charge fees to users, and other databases provide their services at no cost. In general, the same information is available from both types of database services, so it is not necessary to pay any fee. Ask in advance, and choose the database service that is free of charge. Be especially aware of dishonest scholarship offers: do not send money, bank account numbers, or credit card numbers to any organization that promises a scholarship in return. If you doubt the truthfulness of any scholarship source, consult with the admissions office or the international student office at the university to which you are applying.

Private Loans

Though rare, there are international student loans available to individuals who meet certain criteria. Many loans require a cosigner. A cosigner is someone who guarantees and is responsible for payment to the loaning institution if for any reason you are unable to pay back the loan. A variety of organizations and institutions provide private loans to international students. Many provide assistance that is targeted to students from specific regions or countries and who meet certain criteria.

There are organizations that offer interest free loans for international students in the United States.

The Organization of American States, is an international organization based in Washington, DC, (1889 F St. NW #619, Washington, DC 20006) that offers, through the Rowe Fund program, interest-free loans to competent students from Latin American and Caribbean countries to help them finance their graduate, postgraduate, and final two years of undergraduate studies at accredited universities within the United States. For more information and to download the forms, see or e-mail the Rowe Fund Program at

Family Contribution and Personal Income

Many undergraduate international students must still rely heavily on their own personal and family sources of funding for their education in the United States. Despite this being the most common way to fund education for international students, there are a number of ways to ease the burden on international students.

Employment Opportunities

Non-immigrant students are not eligible to be employed in federal work-study positions, and federal regulations governing the F, M, and J non-immigrant categories strictly limit both the kind and the amount of other kinds of work that students can do in the United States. Working without authorization in the United States is a serious matter and is considered a violation of immigration status.

The rules concerning non-immigrant student employment are complex, and you should thoroughly discuss questions about eligibility for any kind of employment with the International Student Adviser on your campus before accepting any work. It is also important to understand that working on or off campus, even if it is permitted, cannot be your sole source of funding. Most jobs will provide spending money for personal expenditures at best.

Tax Credit Information

Many of the financial resources available to undergraduate international students are not tax exempt. In some cases, international students may be exempt from paying taxes on certain forms of financial aid. These exemptions depend on visa type, duration of time in the United States, and the type of financial aid award.

If your home country maintains a tax treaty with the United States, you may qualify for a full refund of any taxes withheld from your financial aid award. You must file a Non-Resident tax return (1040NR) with a letter indicating that your home country holds a tax treaty with the United States. Consult with the International Student Adviser or tax office on campus to learn more.

Undergraduate international students are more likely to gain tax exemption if their financial aid is designated as an educational award rather than a work-related award.


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