Thursday, February 12, 2015

How Will You Fund Your American Education?

By Brendan Twist
World Education Services

A lot has changed in the world of international education over the past 10 years. The number of international students in the U.S. increased by over 50 percent to a record high of nearly 900,000. Universities like Northeastern and Arizona State emerged from nowhere to become major destinations for international education. And Chinese students, who represented one in every 10 foreign students in the U.S., now account for nearly one out of every three.

But one thing that hasn’t changed much at all is the way these students are paying for their American educations. For about two-thirds of international students, mom and dad are still footing the bill.

According to Open Doors Data reports from the Institute of International Education, personal and family resources served as the primary mode of funding for 65 percent of foreign students during the 2013-2014 school year. Ten years ago, that number was almost identical: 67 percent.

Prospective international students with the ability to pay for their education out of pocket are always attractive to American colleges and universities, many of which are perennially strapped for cash. It never hurts to have wealthy parents (or grandparents, or aunties).

But if you weren’t born with an economic advantage, don’t despair! Remember, one in every three international students finds a primary resource outside their family circle to fund their American education – that was over 300,000 students last year alone.

So where do they get the money?

Roughly one in five international students (19 percent) uses scholarships or financial aid as their No. 1 source of funding. Some programs, like the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship, or the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, will review applications from almost all international students. Others, however, are country- or region-specific. Check out our previous posts on U.S. scholarships for Indian students, Saudi students, and Nigerian students for more details.

So if you can’t front the money yourself, scholarships and financial aid are your best bet. Seek out as many scholarship opportunities as you can. Apply for them all.

And there are still other options. About 7 percent of students are primarily funded by their home country, or a university in their home country; that number is up from 2 percent in 2003-2004, a modest but not insignificant increase. This growth can be attributed to initiatives like the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which funds Western education – both tuition and living expenses – for Saudi nationals for up to four years, and also covers a 12-month ESL preparation period.

Similarly, 6 percent of students last year were funded by their current employers, also up from 2 percent a decade ago. More countries and corporations are seeing Western education as the key to getting ahead in today’s global economy, and so they’re more willing to sponsor their citizens and staff.

Private sponsors, international organizations and the U.S. government were the primary source of funding for a small handful of students (just over 2 percent combined). Nice if you can get it. But for many prospective students it’s more realistic to shoot for a scholarship from a U.S. institution, or to try to secure funding from an employer, or to explore sponsorship options through their home state.

That said, if you’ve got a rich Aunt Mabel, it’s never too soon to start currying favor.

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