Can an International Student Apply for Federal Financial Aid?

by Jennifer Calonia | In Guides and Tools | 4 April 2023 | Updated on: April 13th, 2023

You’ve likely heard that filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step to qualifying for financial aid, but what if you’re an international student?

Federal aid, including Pell Grants and federal student loans, is limited to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. You also need a valid Social Security number to fill out the FAFSA online to qualify for other forms of aid.

However, there are some instances where international students can complete the FAFSA . Even if you aren’t eligible for federal student aid, you may still qualify for financial aid in the form of institutional scholarships, grants, and education loans for international students. In fact, a recent study from U.S. News found that nearly 48% of colleges awarded financial aid to international undergraduate students, with the average award totaling US$22,000.

Continue reading to learn how to get the maximum amount of aid.

Should International Students Fill Out the FAFSA? 

The FAFSA is a form issued by the U.S. Department of Education. College and graduate school students must complete it to qualify for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and federal student loans. And many universities use the FAFSA to determine students’ eligibility for other forms of aid, such as institutional grants or work-study programs. 

However, you must meet the U.S. government’s eligibility requirements for federal student aid. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (meaning you have a Form I-551, I-151, or I-551C, also known as a “green card.”) And a valid Social Security number is necessary to fill out the FAFSA. International students and undocumented students without Social Security numbers cannot complete the FAFSA. 

There are some cases where non-citizens can fill out the FAFSA and qualify for federal aid. For example:

  • You have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) showing one of the following statuses: 
    • Refugee 
    • Asylum granted 
    • Cuban-Haitian entrant
    • Parolee
  • You or your parents have a T-visa for victims of human trafficking.
  • You are a battered immigrant-qualified alien.
  • You are a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.

How to Apply for Financial Aid as an International Student

If you aren’t able to fill out the FAFSA, you can still qualify for financial aid in other ways. To qualify for grants, scholarships and institutional loans as an international student, you may need to complete one or more of the following applications. 

  • International Student Application for Financial Assistance (ISAFA): The ISAFA is a form that many colleges and universities use to determine your eligibility for institutional aid. The form is free to complete, and you can access the application online
  • CSS Profile: The CSS Profile is another commonly-used application used by schools all over the U.S. It collects information about your family’s income, assets and expenses in your home currency. 
  • Institutional Applications: Some schools have their own financial aid applications for international students. For example, the University of Pennsylvania requires the CSS Profile and a separate Penn Financial Aid Supplement application. 

Contact your selected college to find out what the financial aid application process is for international students. 

Financial Aid Options 

As an international student, you may be eligible for one or more of the following types of financial aid: 

Scholarships & Grants

There are many grants and scholarships for international and DACA students; unlike student loans, they don’t have to be repaid. Scholarships and grants can come from universities, non-profit organizations, government agencies and private companies. 

For example, the Fulbright Foreign Student Program provides funding for graduate students and young professionals to study and conduct research in the U.S. and MPOWER offers a variety of scholarships for students from around the world. 

You can search for scholarship and grant opportunities with databases like and

Fellowships and Assistantships

Fellowships and assistantships are typically for graduate and doctoral students. They are paid opportunities for students to complete research projects or provide lab assistance. 

Some fellowships are specifically designed for international students. For example, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can apply for the Josephine de Karnan Fellowship. The fellowship provides up to $25,000 in funding for students completing dissertations. 

To find out if there are fellowship opportunities at your university, contact your department head or your financial aid office. 

Student Loans for International Students

Federal student loans are only issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and eligible noncitizens. However, there are education loans for international students available from private lenders. 

Many lenders require international students to have co-signers that are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to qualify for a loan. However, there are a few lenders — including MPOWER — that offer student loans for international students that don’t require co-signers. 

Through MPOWER, you can borrow up to US$100,000 to finance your education, and you’ll only have to make interest-only payments while you’re in school and for six months after you graduate. After this six-month period ends, your outstanding balance will be amortized over the next 10 years, and monthly principal and interest payments will be due. 

MPOWER has fixed interest rates, and you can qualify for a 0.25% discount by signing up for automatic payments. 

Financing Your Studies in the U.S.

Although students are usually encouraged to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible, that’s not the case for international students. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or eligible noncitizen with a valid Social Security number, you cannot complete the FAFSA or qualify for federal financial aid.

Even though you can’t take out federal student loans, there are financial aid options for international students that can help you manage the cost of studying in the U.S. Scholarships, grants, fellowship opportunities and private student loans can all help you finance your education.

Research your options and contact your university’s financial aid office to find out what types of aid you may qualify for as an international student. If you’re ready to apply for a loan, you can start the process online


Author: View all post by Jennifer Calonia

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DISCLAIMER – Subject to credit approval, loans are made by Bank of Lake Mills or MPOWER Financing, PBC. Bank of Lake Mills does not have an ownership interest in MPOWER Financing. Neither MPOWER Financing nor Bank of Lake Mills is affiliated with the school you attended or are attending. Bank of Lake Mills is Member FDIC. None of the information contained in this website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by MPOWER Financing or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.

2022 © MPOWER Financing, Public Benefit Corporation NMLS ID #1233542. 1101 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 900, Washington, DC 20036