What is important to know about scholarships in the USA?

  • Scholarships in the United States are provided by universities, the government and private organizations.
  • The average size of university scholarships is 25-50% of the tuition fee. Full coverage is extremely rare and requires outstanding achievements.
  • Scholarships are designed for all levels of education — for undergraduates, for graduates and for PhD. But for the last two, it will be easier to get a scholarship — the competition is lower.
  • Scholarships come in a variety of forms: public and private, for academic excellence and need-based. There are even sports scholarships, and they too can fully cover the cost of education in the United States.
  • Need-based scholarships at universities provide financial assistance to those in need. They cover up to 100% of the cost of tuition, accommodation and meals. Large scholarships are available at the Ivy League and other prestigious universities.
  • Assistantship programs allow undergraduates and doctoral students to work on campus and receive a tuition discount for doing so.
  • The most famous government grants are The Fulbright Program for Master's degree programs and the Global Ugrad for the Bachelor's. They fully cover tuition, accommodation and meals.

Scholarships in the USA

There is no free higher education in the USA. For four years of study at a not very prestigious university, you will have to spend about 185,000 USD, including accommodation and meals. But this does not mean that American universities are closed for a person from a country with a lower average income. Costs can be reduced by winning a scholarship. They can be provided by:

  • Universities;
  • The state;
  • Private organizations.

The average coverage for most scholarships is 25-50% of tuition fees. But some cover all expenses: tuition, accommodation, and meals. It will be more difficult for undergraduates to receive funding — there are many more applicants, making the competition higher.

Scholarships in America are not given for nothing. With their help, the state and universities attract the most talented students from all over the world. Once they graduate, they will develop the American economy. Or spread American culture and values ​​in their home country, improving the attitude of people towards the United States. Therefore, to receive a scholarship, the candidate needs to show the committee that the investment will not be in vain.

Tuition and living expenses in the United States
The average tuition fee for a year of study in the United States is 26,000 USD in a public institution and 35,000 USD in a private institution[1]. Room and board will average at 20,000 USD. Below is a table with possible additional costs.
Language exam260 USD
Application fee50-100 USD
Evaluation of the certificate / diploma160 USD
Being added to the foreign students’ base (SEVIS I-901 fee)200 USD
F-1 student visa360 USD
Flight380 USD
Study materials800-1,200 USD
Accommodation and meals6,000-14,000 USD/year
Medical insurance1,000-1,500 USD/year
Public transport900-1,300 USD/year

University scholarships

Merit-based scholarships

There are two types of scholarships from universities. The first is merit-based scholarships. They are given to applicants for excellent academic performance and other academic achievements. To apply for a merit-based scholarship, the student will need:

  • Schools certificate or university degree with a transcript of grades;
  • SAT and TOEFL certificates for undergraduates, GRE / GMAT for graduates;
  • Motivation letter;
  • Participation in conferences;
  • Scientific publications;
  • Work or volunteer experience.

The amount of the scholarship depends on the institution. At the University of Iowa, for example, students are paid up to 10,000 USD, which is 40% of the tuition fee. And at Emory University, the merit-based scholarship covers the entire tuition. Still, the most common amount is up to 30% of tuition fees.

Generally, the higher a university is in the rankings, the more generous scholarships it offers. But getting these generous scholarships is much more difficult.

In the United States, there are only two universities that give one hundred percent discount on tuition to all applicants who enter — Berea College and Curtis Institute of Music. The enrollment rates at these universities are very low: 30% at Berea and only 4% at Curtis. Curtis, by the way, is one of the best music schools in the country.

Examples of merit-based scholarships

Information on the conditions for obtaining scholarships can be found on the websites of universities.

UniversityPercentage of recipients[2]Average scholarship size[2]
Duke University1%76,181 USD
Trinity College2%58,374 USD
Washington and Lee University13%54,293 USD
Swarthmore University2%54,256 USD
Webb Institute100%49,750 USD
Wesleyan University0.66%43,624 USD
Hollins University100%40,131 USD
Whitworth University99%38,684 USD
Beloit College97%36,511 USD
Hendrix College100%34,937 USD

Need-based scholarships

The second type of scholarships — need-based scholarships — is financial assistance to the financially challenged. Most good universities provide full assistance to all students who cannot afford to pay tuition fees. The amount of assistance needed is calculated using a simple formula: "tuition costs minus the possible contribution of the family".

A family's contribution is assessed based on many parameters, including the number of children and how many of them are currently pursuing higher education. Family income, in turn, must be below a certain amount. For example, at Harvard, it is 65,000 USD per year.

To collect the necessary information, many universities use common forms: CSS profile and IDOC packet. You can read more about the required documents on the respective sites.

The application for the scholarship is submitted along with the application for admission to the university. For those in need of financial assistance, it will be more difficult to pass the competition. If two students are equal in terms of academiс performance, most universities will choose the one who can fully pay for their tuition. This is the case, for example, at Williams College. To increase chances, you need to submit as early as possible — in the first days of accepting applications, and even better — during early admission. At these stages, the funding budget is being allocated. The chances of getting the scholarship later are close to zero.

Often, financial aid from a university includes not only a scholarship but also a paid campus job and an education loan. This is how the full coverage of the applicant's expenses is achieved at Wesleyan University. However, not all universities provide full financial assistance. Most give only a discount on tuition or partial cost coverage.

A separate category is need-blind universities. In the competition, they take into account only the portfolio of the future student and do not take into account their financial situation. Therefore, the chances of admission for rich and poor students are equal. Need-blind universities cover up to 100% of the costs: tuition, accommodation, meals and teaching materials. For international students, the list of need-blind colleges includes the 5 best universities in the United States. However, it is very difficult to get admitted there.

Examples of need-based scholarships

Below are the universities with full need-based scholarships. This means that they cover all expenses, including room and board. But to get financial assistance, you need to win the competition. These universities are not need-blind for international students. They give preference to wealthier applicants, all other things being equal. Therefore, for international students in need of assistance, the competition will be even higher. Some universities provide only 25-30 scholarships per thousand foreigners[3].


Another way to reduce the cost of education in the United States is to get an assistant position at a university. It implies working on campus up to 20 hours a week. In exchange, the university may reduce tuition fees by up to 100% and grant a scholarship to cover personal expenses.

Assistantship can be of two types:

  1. Research assistantship;
  2. Teaching assistantship.

Only graduate and PhD students can work as assistants.

To receive financial assistance, you need to win a competition. The requirements depend on the university, but in general, you will need:

Assistantship with a 100% discount and an additional scholarship can be obtained, for example, at Georgia State University and the University of Michigan. There are similar offers at the University of South Florida, University of San Francisco, University of Illinois, Texas A&M University, and many others. Information about Assistantship should be checked on the university websites.

Want to study for free?

Fulbright Program — for graduates

Conditions and requirements

In addition to university scholarships, there are government programs. The most famous of them is the Fulbright Program. It is a grant for graduate students and young scientists. It can be obtained by graduates, teachers and researchers from 155 countries of the world.

The program covers all expenses:

  • Master's degree education — from 1 to 3 years;
  • Tests, medical insurance, flights, educational materials;
  • Accommodation and meals — from 1,200 USD per month, depending on the university.

The program has only two main requirements:

  1. A bachelor's degree in a related specialty. It should have been received no more than four years ago. If more, you can apply, but the chances will be lower;
  2. Correctly completed application.

The Fulbright program is available for a specific list of specialties. It depends on the country of the applicant. You can check the available specialties on the official website of the program.

The ultimate goal of the program is to build cultural ties between the United States and the students’ homelands. Therefore, the program graduates must return home to apply the acquired knowledge in practice. It will be possible to apply for a migration visa no earlier than two years later.

Before applying, you need to choose three universities. The future place of study is ultimately determined by the admission committee, but it also takes into account the wishes of the student. The choice must be approached consciously. It’s better to look into the American education system, find out which universities are leading in the area of your ​​interest, and, most importantly, choose a program where you fit the requirements. The decision of the committee will depend on that.


The application itself consists of:

The resume should include work experience, publications and participation in scientific conferences. Also, the committee will take into account the GPA of the Bachelor's degree.

The essay is the most important part of the application. The final decision depends on how well you illustrate your experience there.

The first essay is a personal statement or motivation letter. It should tell something about you that cannot be shown in the questionnaire. It is necessary to link personal history, work and academic experience with goals and plans for studying in the United States. The task is not trivial. To accomplish it, the Fulbright website advises answering three questions:

  1. Why me? Here you should describe study and / or work experience related to the selected Master's program. It is important to show what you learned from this experience, what skills and knowledge you gained, how it influenced your personality, and how it shaped your current goals.
  2. Why here? Next, you should explain why you need education in the United States and in the selected universities. What unique opportunities can they provide? Why can't you get them anywhere else? If you are interested in a specific supervisor or a faculty, it’s better to state it.
  3. Why now? What are your short and long-term plans? What will you do with new knowledge and opportunities? All of this should be related to the previous two paragraphs.

The most common mistake when writing a personal statement is repeating information from the questionnaire and resume. The committee should only be told what you have not already said about yourself.

The second essay is a study objective. This is a more specific description of your academic goals. Here you should talk about the curriculum and the graduation project, using highly specialized knowledge. It is necessary to reveal not only the scientific novelty of the work but also its benefits for your country. If you are still studying in an undergraduate program, it is better to show the research plan to the supervisor so that they comment on the weaknesses.

Read more

Competition stages

Competitive selection for Fulbright takes place in several stages. In the first, you submit your application. The deadline in 2021 was May 15. The committee dismisses up to 90% of all applications, only a few pass the competition. The results are revealed by July.

Further, successful candidates take the TOEFL and GRE exams. For TOEFL, the minimum score is 80, for the GRE there are no specific requirements. The committee will select the university based on the exam results. So you should focus primarily on university requirements. In general, a successful application looks like this:

  • TOEFL — 100 out of 120 points;
  • GRE — 160 out of 170 points;
  • Two publications in recognized scientific journals;
  • Two or three presentations at international conferences;
  • University diploma with honors;
  • Strong research plan and motivation letter.

In the second stage, around mid-September, an interview in English takes place. It lasts about 20 minutes. There the members of the committee once again ask general questions. They often coincide with what the candidate has already written in their essays. It is not necessary to agree with the committee on everything, but the argumentation should be coherent and confident. To prepare, try to think about what questions you can ask yourself and conduct a mock interview.

In the third stage, the admission panel selects finalists based on interviews and scores in TOEFL and GRE. Results come in a few weeks. Then there is only visa processing and preparation for arrival in the United States.

Global UGRAD — for undergraduates

Conditions and requirements

Another state scholarship program is the Global UGRAD. It is designed for students of 1-2 courses of Bachelor's degree programs. The program fully pays for a semester of studying in America through an exchange program. It covers transfer, exams, visa fees, room and board costs, etc. One of the conditions is that during their exchange studies, program participants must take at least one course in American culture, politics or history. The university is chosen by the program staff, applicants can’t choose the institution on their own. The goal of the program is to expand American international influence by affecting the worldview of the young educated persons from other countries, with an accent on those with underrepresented, non-elite backgrounds, who haven’t had other opportunities to study in the USA .

There are several requirements for participation in the program. An applicant must be:

  • 18 years or older;
  • A resident citizen of a country currently participating in the Global UGRAD program.
  • Studying as a full-time undergraduate student and have at least one semester remaining at their home university by the end of the exchange program;
  • A fluent user of English. The preferred TOEFL score is 500 or above, but participants DON’T have to pass TOEFL to apply — it can be done after getting approved for the program and will be paid for by UGRAD;
  • Legally able to receive and maintain the U.S. student exchange visa;
  • Approved by a doctor to participate;
  • Willing to return to their home country for at least two years after the completion of the program.


The exact conditions vary by country, so it is required to check them on the official website first. The application is done online and generally includes:

  • An application form;
  • A copy of the passport bio page;
  • Academic transcripts from the university, translated into English;
  • Two letters of reference, translated into English;
  • A USA grade equivalence supporting document.

Competition stages

In 2021, the applications are open from January 5 to February 28.

Interviews in English are held in mid-March. They take about 20 minutes. Participants who pass the initial selection receive a letter with additional information. In August or January, successful fellows are to transfer to the United States. They have to return to their country of origin directly after the conclusion of the program. Dates and other nuances may vary depending on the participant’s country, and therefore it is advised to check the exact process on the website.

Private scholarships

Scholarships in the US are also funded by private sources such as companies and non-governmental organizations. Such scholarships are often targeted at specific specialties or groups of people who cannot receive an education due to economic inequality.

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

AAUW runs an International Fellowship Program for women from around the world. The payment is 18,000 USD for undergraduates, 20,000 USD for PhD and 30,000 USD for Postdoc students.

The scholarship cuts education costs and allows women to do research at an American university so that they can become leaders in their home countries in the future. The program is open to all specialties.

Applying for the scholarship is possible after applying to an American university. Requirements for participation in the competition:

  • Citizenship of any country other than the United States;
  • Bachelor's degree or equivalent;
  • TOEFL iBT — 79 points and above, IELTS — 6.5 points and above;
  • Research plan;
  • Social work experience;
  • Returning to the country of origin after graduation.

Read more about the required documents, stages of the competition and selection criteria on the website of the program.

Open Society Foundations Programs

Open Society Foundations offers various grants, scholarships, and fellowships. Their purpose is to stimulate socially significant research. The scholarship is available for PhD students. Participants can study both at home and abroad, but they need to be a citizen of an eligible country. The list of eligible countries can be found here.

The duration and amount of scholarship depends on the particular program. Students of any social and humanitarian direction can apply, but preference is given to research from the following areas:

  • Protection from growing authoritarianism;
  • Sustainable development, combating climate change and reducing the effects of global warming;
  • Economic equality and workers' rights;
  • Information democracy;
  • Coping with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the applicant's home country.

Read more about the required documents, stages of the competition and selection criteria on the website of the program.

The Humane Studies Fellowship (HSF)

Institute for Human Studies offers an HSF Fellowship for PhD students pursuing studies in contemporary liberalism. The payout amount is up to 15,000 USD.

Candidates can apply from any country, but those who study in the USA, Canada or the UK have priority. Research in economics, political science, philosophy, law, history, sociology, and other related sciences is supported.

Required documents:

Sports scholarships

There are also scholarships for athletes. Among them, there are full-tuition ones, but most are partial, amounting to 500-8,000 USD. They are paid by the universities themselves or by third parties. The most famous is the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Student sports in America are very developed. The competitions are broadcast on TV, and the stadiums are full of spectators. Many universities make money from their sports teams. Therefore, universities are trying to attract talented athletes from all over the world with the help of scholarships.

Most scholarships are only available to athletes from the NCAA Division I and II. To receive funding, a sports resume and professional sports video footage must be submitted to the university admissions committee. The resume must include all achievements: at least 2-3 years of playing sports, participating in competitions, playing in local sports teams. Special attention should be paid to filming. It is important to show the strongest sides of the athlete.

The most popular sports at universities are soccer, basketball, hockey, golf, football, tennis and athletics. But there are others. At Stanford, for example, there are 36 sports teams, including lacrosse and synchronized swimming. And Harrisburg University gives scholarships even to e-sports players.

Other universities with full scholarships and strong teams:

In general, sports scholarships are quite rare — only 1-2% of applicants receive them. In addition, academic achievements play an important role. The athlete will still need to pass the university’s score requirements, pass the TOEFL and SAT. Moreover, in some universities, the admissions committee looks first at academic performance, and only then at sports achievements.

In recent years, the most prestigious universities have begun to cut back on their sports programs. This is due to scandals surrounding the schemes of agents and coaches of sports teams. For a bribe, they enrolled ordinary students in universities under the guise of athletes, fabricated videos from performances and SAT results. So it became even more difficult to get a sports scholarship[5].

How to find a scholarship in the USA?

There is no single portal that collects all the relevant information about scholarships in the United States. You can use sites like internationalscholarships.com or educationUSA, but most of the options listed there are small scholarships with coverage of 500-1,000 USD. In addition, the information is often inaccurate or outdated, so it must be double-checked on the official websites of the programs. The most correct strategy would be to search for scholarships on the websites of chosen universities. You can also check what scholarships your government is offering for studies abroad.

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