Home > NewsRelease > For Prospective International Graduate Students, Part 6: Financial Considerations and Securing a Student VISA By Dr. Don Martin
For Prospective International Graduate Students, Part 6: Financial Considerations and Securing a Student VISA By Dr. Don Martin
Dr. Donald C. Martin -- Graduate Study Expert Dr. Donald C. Martin -- Graduate Study Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Chicago, IL
Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Financial Considerations
Before mentioning anything else let me emphasize the importance of planning ahead financially for graduate study. In this day and age most every student, whether international or domestic, needs to have funding of her/his own – funding that is entirely independent of what the enrolling institution might offer.
One of the major misperceptions held by a large number of international students is that once admitted, their institution will fully or largely fund them. This is often not the case. Most institutions do have financial aid, but these resources have to be divided among well deserving students in the entire incoming class. It was my experience at each of my employing institutions that we never had enough funding to assist everyone we wanted to help.
Educational costs increase every year, and in many cases the percentage of tuition increase is higher then the percentage of financial aid increase. This means that those making financial aid decisions may actually be working with less in determining who will receive financial help.
It is a known fact that international students are eligible for far fewer loans than their U.S. classmates. This has resulted in inquiries about why international students do not receive larger amounts of scholarship assistance than U.S. citizens. While this seems like a fair question, let’s look at the implications of what is being suggested: Should a practice of this kind be implemented, it would mean that U.S. graduate students who have worked just as hard and whose credentials are just as strong would not benefit from scholarship assistance – instead, they would be asked to rely largely on loans. My practice when making financial aid awards, and that of most U.S institutions, was/is that all admitted students should be eligible for scholarship help. But in addition, while employed at The University of Chicago and Columbia University, we did secure some loan funding for international students. Other institutions have made similar attempts to help international students fund their education in the U.S. However, my sense is that there will always be less in loan dollars for international students studying in another country.
But do not despair. There are many opportunities for financial assistance to international students! Let me mention several of these:
  • Employment at the Institution. Most international students are not permitted to have full or part-time employment positions in the United States. However, many are able to secure employment where they are earning their degree. This allows for a steady income, and in many cases, a reduction in tuition. Upon being admitted it is wise to check on this option right away. It could be that you would be able to secure a position for the entire length of your academic program.
  • Fellowships or Assistantships. The first thing to remember about fellowships and assistantships is that they are often renewable. This means that it is possible to receive a fellowship or assistantship for more than one year, provided the recipient does very well academically.
    Fellowships are reserved for the most highly competitive entering students, and are used as a means of persuading these students to enroll. A fellowship usually covers a portion of tuition, and may also include some help for living expenses. In addition, the student receiving a fellowship does not normally have to provide any services to the institution in return. Due to the fairly large sums of money they provide, fellowships are usually few in number.
    Assistantships are like fellowships, but usually with one exception: The recipient works in some capacity to receive the money contained in the assistantship. Most often assistantships entail working with a professor in some way. It may be that the recipient would assist the professor with his/her research, help to teach a class, or provide other help. Assistantship awards are usually not as large as fellowship awards, and therefore, there are more of them.
  • Scholarships. Unlike fellowships and assistantships, scholarships are usually awarded for only one year. As with fellowships, they do not require any services from the recipient. But unlike fellowships and assistantships, they are most always used to cover tuition and do not include living expenses. Scholarship amounts vary, from very large awards to an award that could be as low as $500.
  • Loans. It may be possible to secure a loan at some institutions. Loans for international students usually have very reasonable repayment terms, but may require a co-signer who is a U.S citizen or permanent resident. This will always be the case if the amount of the loan is high according to the lender’s definition.
  • Assistance from your home country. It is wise to inquire about overseas funding opportunities made available at the local, regional or national level. Many countries support foreign study, and to that end, provide assistance for graduate students earning their degrees abroad. Keep in mind, however, that this assistance may include a requirement that the student move back home immediately upon graduation and find employment there. In some cases, the organization/entity providing the funding may offer the recipient a job upon completion of study.
  • Assistance from future employers. In two major employment fields, business and law, prospective employers will offer starting bonuses that might include as much as full tuition, provided that the student remain with the company/firm for a specified period of time once employed. Starting bonuses of this kind are sometimes offered in other fields. In many instances, starting bonuses are not tied with tuition. They are offered as a means of persuading the individual to accept an employment offer.
  • EducationUSA. One excellent resource on funding graduate education in the USA is the EducationUSA program, which operates over 450 advising centers worldwide. The web address for EducationUSA is www.educationusa.state.gov.
In closing, let me re-emphasize what was stated at the beginning of this section: Plan ahead financially for your graduate education. Yes, there will most likely be some financial aid opportunities for you from the institution to which you are admitted, or from a future employer. But these will not cover everything. You would be well advised to have as much as possible of your own funds set aside before you enroll
Securing a Student VISA
Once admitted, one of the most important things you will need to do is secure a student visa. Please check with the international services office at your admitting institution as soon as possible about the steps to follow so that you will obtain your visa in time. While the United States government issues the visa, each country has its own process for applying for the visa. Some make the process easier than others. Be sure you know all that is involved in your country, and do not put off doing what is required of you.
Before issuing a visa eligibility document (I-20 or DS-2019), the admitting institution will require an incoming international student to document his/her ability to cover the cost of their first year of study, and also the provision of at least a description of financial resources that will be available for completion of the degree. If the admitting institution has offered financial aid, this can be used as part of demonstrating ability to pay. But in most instances what the institution offers is not enough to cover the entire annual cost of study. That is why planning ahead financially and having other resources at your disposal is so very important.
On occasion a student will do everything s/he is supposed to, only to be turned down by the visa official in the home country. Sometimes this does mean that the student cannot obtain their visa in time to enroll. While this is extremely disappointing, please rest assured that most U.S. institutions will hold a spot for a student in this situation until such time as the student can enroll. Also, on occasion, the director of admissions, dean, or even the president at the admitting institution may be willing to write a letter asking that the student be permitted to receive the visa. I did this on several occasions in my career. Most times my efforts were successful, but on occasion they were not.
If you are already living in the United States, you may decide to make application for permanent residency. Please make certain you understand the categories (called “preferences”) under which you might be able to obtain a “green card,” including the requirements and time necessary for any application to be processed. Should you secure permanent residency status before or during enrollment, you will qualify for additional loan assistance, and also have more flexibility with employment as a student.
Coming up next: Succeeding Once Enrolled (Final part of series)
Be sure to check out Dr. Don’s book, “Road Map for Graduate Study, A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students,” right here on the GSRM website. For a reduced price CLICK HERE, go to The Book page, scroll down, click on the Order Now box, and use discount code GSRM.
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Dateline: Chicago, IL United States
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