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Funding Your U.S. Education

Fellowships, assistantships and grants—international students have a range of options to choose from.

The prospect of attending a university in the United States can be daunting for many Indian students. Being accepted to a U.S. university is only the first step. After that, it can be difficult to put together the funds needed to attend a school abroad. The cost of undergraduate education in the United States can range from $15,000 (approximately Rs. 10,07,000) to more than $40,000 (approximately Rs. 26,87,000) per year. International students are not usually eligible to receive most types of governmental financial aid available to American students.

However, through creative use of the Internet, Indian students can find a myriad of options for scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, need- or merit-based awards and other grants available to qualified international students. The competition for these forms of financial aid can be fierce. Loans are another option, but should be considered only after the “free” options have been exhausted.

There are broadly two types of financial aid: internal institutional aid, which is made available by a particular college or university, and external financial aid, which is offered by nonprofit organizations, foundations, corporations or even individuals, and can be used at a range of institutions.

Internal financial aid
With respect to institutional aid, some U.S. universities offer special scholarships and fellowships specifically to students from India. Every year, Cornell University’s Tata Scholarship Fund helps up to 20 Indian undergraduate students, regardless of their financial status, attend the prestigious university.

The University of California, Berkeley, also offers fellowships for Indian students. The Guru Gobind Singh Fellowship, for instance, is intended for students from a specific area of India currently pursuing a graduate degree at the university.

In addition to scholarships and grants, international students have another option which enables them to exchange their time and expertise for reduced or free tuition—assistantships. But, the availability of this option at any given institution or department within the institution can vary greatly, depending on enrollment, department funding and other factors.

Assistantships are coveted positions at any college or university because they offer the double benefits of financial support and career-related work experience. These temporary jobs also save students the trouble of looking for a job outside their campuses. Assistantships are a preferred option among international students because they cover their tuition fees and provide a stipend for everyday living expenses like housing and food.

There are three common types of assistantships—teaching, research and graduate. Teaching assistants help professors in the classroom environment with instructional responsibilities like grading, proctoring tests and assisting with lectures, laboratory sessions or discussions. Graduate assistants may have roles similar to teaching assistants, or they may help with other university departments. They, too, receive stipends. Similarly, research assistants are temporary university employees who assist in the academic research efforts of supervisors or principal investigators.

Generally, there are more assistantship opportunities at public universities than at private ones. To earn one of these competitive spots, international students should work hard on their application and proofread it to avoid errors. Excellent GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores can also increase a student’s odds of being offered an assistantship. Try to get a high score on the TSE (Test of Spoken English) exam as well, to prove your English is strong.

External financial aid
External financial aid is yet another option for international students. For example, the East-West Center Graduate Degree Fellowship offers funding for master’s and doctoral students from Asia, the Pacific and the United States to participate in different development programs at the East-West Center, while pursuing graduate study at the University of Hawai’i.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs administers the Fulbright Program, with the assistance of binational commissions and foundations, and U.S. embassies. The Fulbright Program offers international education exchange opportunities, including fellowships and grants. More than 360,000 people from over 160 countries have participated in the program since its inception in 1946. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program gives opportunities to about 4,000 graduate students, artists and young professionals from more than 155 countries, annually, to study and research in the United States.

The Fulbright Program in India is administered by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). Qualified Indian graduate students may apply to conduct post-doctoral research at U.S. institutions. Other opportunities include Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Program, the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program, the Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship, the Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship and Fulbright-Nehru CII Fellowship for Leadership in Management.


Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.