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University Funding

Merit Scholarships - Niche Scholarships - Need-Based Financial Aid - Sports Scholarships - Application Process

Student in front of a university entranceOverview

After assessing your personal and family savings, your best resource for funding will likely be the US university. In fact, nearly a quarter of international students report US universities as their primary source of funding.

US universities award funding on the basis of financial need (often called grants) and/or merit (scholarships), as well as sports scholarships. Most funding will be renewable from year-to-year, based on maintaining specified academic standards or grades. Every year over 600 US universities offer international students scholarships of $20,000 or more. Of these 600 universities, 179 offer scholarships of $20,000-$30,000 per year, 64 offer scholarships between $30,000-$40,000 per year, 124 offer scholarships greater than $40,000 per year or more and 250 offer a 'full ride'.

If college affordability is a key consideration for your university selections, you may wish to choose universities that offer scholarships for UK / international students. You can find this information on the universities' admissions or financial aid webpages. We also pass along information from scholarship programmes on our monthly advising e-newsletter.

We encourage you to also use search engines such as College Board which allow you to search for universities, based on whether they offer funding to international students. Additionally, the Hotcourses Abroad website and IIE's Funding US Study websites include search engines for scholarships for international students.

Learn about the Sutton Trust US Programme, which provides bright, state school students a taste of life at an American university. The initiative is centred on a one-week summer school in the US with introductory events and application support in the UK before and after. Sutton Trust programme participants benefit from support from our dedicated team of knowledgeable advisors throughout the process of applying for admissions and financial aid at American universities.

Merit Scholarships

"Remember that when you're preparing your university applications you're not only applying to the university, but also for financial aid. Your application has got to be even better to make sure you can get all the financial help you need, which could in the end affect whether or not you choose to attend that university."
Joel, Morehead-Cain Scholarship, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Merit is usually evaluated on the basis of strong academic performance (as demonstrated by your admissions test scores and results from Year 10 - 13 as reported in your transcript). However, merit can include talent in performing arts (for students majoring in these fields), as well as other admissions criteria such as community service participation or extracurricular involvement.

You will want to make sure you apply to universities where you have well above the average admissions test results and marks of admitted students, as funding is often reserved for top students. These average figures should be readily available on university websites and their financial aid pages or using search engines.

We also encourage you to have a look at this list of CIS member universities for information on the type of aid, average award and percentage of international students receiving funding. Please note, this list only includes CIS member universities. However, we hope it will help you get started selecting universities in the US that offer funding at the level you need. We encourage you to also use search engines such as which allow you to search for universities, based on whether they offer funding to international students.

Niche Scholarships

Some scholarships are also awarded based on specific personal qualities outlined by the university or an individual donor or sponsor. These qualities often correlate to the mission of the organisation or interests of the donor and could include country of origin, ethnicity, religious faith, interest in a particular field, gender, interests, talents, etc.

Need-Based Financial Aid

US universities offer aid based upon (significant) financial need. Financial need is often assessed based upon information about your and your family's financial standing on the College Board's Profile form or FAFSA form

If college affordability is a key consideration for your university selections, you may wish to choose universities that offer large amounts of need-based financial aid to international students. A few universities (particularly private universities) have recently begun offering to fund admitted students’ demonstrated financial need without loans. Demonstrated financial need is the university's published cost of attendance minus your estimated family contribution (determined on College Board's profile or FAFSA forms). Please note that universities evaluate you and your family's ability to pay, not your willingness

For example, the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative provides full funding without loans to students with a family income below $60,000, and at MIT, the threshold is a family income below $75,000. Keep in mind these are all very competitive universities to gain admission to.

You may wish to investigate the following universities that offer to meet students' full demonstrated financial need and also offer needs-blind admissions policies, meaning high financial need will not negatively affect the decision made on your application. Please note these are not the only universities offering need-based financial aid to international students. However, they are the only ones that we are aware of that offer to meet students' full demonstrated financial need AND do not consider need in the admissions decision.

* These universities follow a need-blind admissions policy to the extent that financial resources allow.

For more information on need-based aid, check the university’s financial aid webpage. Another website you may find helpful is The Project on Student Debt. The universities listed on this website may not all have need-based aid policies; however they are listed as providing significant financial aid without student loans.

We encourage you to also use search engines such as which allow you to search for universities, based on whether they offer funding to international students. Additionally, you may wish to use the scholarship searches on the EducationUSA, Hotcourses Abroad and IIE's Funding US Study websites.

Financial Aid Forms

Many universities will use the College Board CSS Profile in order to assess financial need (as mentioned above) - however, not all of them do. 

You ALWAYS want to check on the university website to see the forms they require. Some may also require supplemental information in addition to the Profile for non-custodial parents or business owners. Others may use their own form. 

For each university accepting the online CSS Profile for international students, you should also print the finished application out and mail it in with supporting documents to the university. 

You MUST verify they accept the CSS Profile for international students on their website and see what other documents they need. The reason we stress this is that they will list specific documents they’d like. Of course, many will be similar, but you do need to check on each. 

Download guidance on filling out the CSS Profile form.  

Sports Scholarships and the Athletic Recruiting Process

Please note there is a separate timeline and steps for pursuing sports scholarships through the athletic recruiting process. For more information, please see our page on Sports Scholarships and the Athletic Recruitment Process.

Application Process

Funding options will vary from university to university. Therefore, you will need to investigate the funding available and application procedures for each university you are considering. This information should be readily available on the financial aid or undergraduate admissions webpages.

Often the process for applying for university scholarships is straightforward and integrated into the admissions application. In fact, it may be as simple as submitting your admissions application by an earlier date or writing an extra essay or two.

Keep in mind the key to getting scholarships is starting early and working hard to find opportunities and submit applications. Additionally, you may need to be flexible in choosing universities at which you will be competitive for funding opportunities.