Prospective international students researching U.S. schools may find little information about financial aid for which they are eligible. But one term students may come across often is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. U.S. students fill out the FAFSA to apply for financial aid from U.S. federal and state governments, and the form is used by schools to determine need-based awards.
Here are a few things prospective international students should know if they intend to apply for financial aid to study in the U.S.
FAFSA. While the FAFSA is the standard financial aid application used by U.S. colleges and universities, schools may have varying requirements and forms to compute financial need, particularly for international students.
Adela Penagos, president of admissions consulting firm Futuro Enlightened LLC in Boston, says schools do not require international students to fill out the FAFSA. She says the form is not intended to be used by schools for processing institutional aid to international students but for federal aid to U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens, such as lawful permanent residents.
Though international students are not eligible for federal student aid, they may be eligible for institutional aid and “should check with the institution’s financial aid office regarding eligibility,” a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson says.
[Read: Explore Student Loan Options for International Students in the U.S.]
Jennie Kent, an educational consultant for Educate Abroad, based in Colombia, says it is the school that determines who gets institutional aid and the eligibility requirements. If students need aid, she says, they should apply for institutional aid and not federal unless they are eligible noncitizens.
Kent also cautions such students against applying to colleges that do not offer institutional aid to international students.
For example, she says many international families ask her about getting a scholarship to Boston College, because without financial assistance, they cannot afford the school. “In this case I suggest they don’t even apply, as Boston College is very clear that they don’t offer any institutional aid to international students,” Kent says.
Other forms. While school procedures vary, prospective international students may be required to fill out the International Student Financial Aid Application, or ISFAA, or the CSS Profile, both of which are distributed by the nonprofit College Board. Some universities may also have their own forms.
“Institutions that offer need-based aid to international students require the family’s financial data in order to calculate need eligibility. Instead of the FAFSA, many require the CSS Profile or the ISFAA,” says Jeff Levy, an educational consultant at Personal College Admissions in California.
For example, Texas A&M University–College Station uses the ISFAA for international students. Dickinson College in Pennsylvania requires international students to fill out a Certification of Finances form as well as either the CSS Profile or IFSAA, depending on whether a student’s parents work in the U.S. or Canada.
At Princeton University in New Jersey, all students, including international students, must fill out the Princeton Financial Aid Application.
Penagos says when advising international students about applying for financial aid, she first looks for universities that award aid based on merit, then universities that have aid based on need.
“I help them fill out the CSS Profile for those universities that accept this form. The CSS Profile collects information about a family’s assets, expenses and income,” Penagos says.
Penagos says to fill out the CSS Profile, students and their families must translate all appropriate documents into English, such as tax returns or the home country equivalent of tax returns. She says the CSS system automatically converts all figures from the home currency to U.S. dollars.
[See: 10 Expenses Besides Tuition for International Students at U.S. Colleges]
Experts suggest international students contact schools directly for information about financial aid procedures, as some may not have any requirements.
Miami University–Oxford in Ohio, for example, “does not require or encourage the completion of the FAFSA for international students,” says Brent Shock, associate vice president for student enrollment services.
Shock, who handles financial aid and bursar operations, says the school does not ask international students to complete anything for financial aid eligibility and they are automatically considered for merit scholarships upon applying for admission. However, Shock says the school has two scholarships that do require a separate application — the Presidential Fellows Program and the #YouAreWelcomeHere Scholarship.
For schools that offer international students financial aid, Kent says institutional grants and scholarships are typically the largest single source. She says some institutions are generous with need-based aid and non-need-based, or merit, aid for international students.
[Read: 10 Universities That Offer International Students the Most Financial Aid]
For example, at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, international applicants are automatically considered for merit scholarships upon completing their admissions application, and the school encourages students to complete the CSS Profile to be considered for need-based grants, according to the school’s website.
Penagos recommends international students researching financial aid procedures at U.S. universities first carefully read a school’s financial aid website, which typically has answers to basic questions, or reach out to the financial aid office directly.
“They can also contact EducationUSA in their home country and see if someone there can help them,” Penagos says, referring to a network of advising centers supported by the U.S. Department of State that offer free assistance to prospective international students.
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What International Students Should Know About the FAFSA originally appeared on usnews.com