When I was in Malaysia applying to study in the U.S., I?d looked up financial aid and scholarships on my university?s website. I quickly became disheartened when I found that nearly all of the funding options they had available would require me to be a citizen of the United States. And I knew that I was not eligible for the federal financial aid and loan programs (like Pell Grants, Stafford loans, and work-study programs) that U.S. students often pursue.

financial aid in a bag

In my naivety, I almost gave up coming here. I got accepted into California State University, Chico for Fall 2008, but I decided to decline the offer at first. In my mind, all I could see was how much of a burden it would be to my family. I continued for a semester at INTI College, a college I attended in Malaysia. In the end, my family convinced me that not taking this opportunity would be a big mistake. Even though my diet now mostly consists of Top Ramen (the staple food of broke college kids) and eggs, I have no regrets whatsoever.

What I didn?t realize then was how many other opportunities there were to get funding for my education.


Working is always an option. Of course, student visas come with strict rules about working, particularly working off-campus. But part-time, on-campus jobs are available to all students -- all you have to do is be persistent. Openings won?t always present themselves, especially in today?s slow economy. Be prepared to always be on the lookout. It took my roommate, who is also an international student, about four or five months to find a job. Planning to have some money in the meanwhile is always useful.

Public Scholarships and Programs

Then there are U.S. government-funded scholarships like the Fulbright scholarship. One of the reasons I didn?t apply to a program like this was my misconception that international students were not eligible for any federal scholarships at all. Then again, back then I didn?t know anything about federal financial aid programs and scholarships.  In fact, these scholarships, funded through the State Department, are specifically for international students coming to the U.S.  They can be highly competitive though, so it shouldn't be your only option.

Private Scholarships and Programs

There are also a multitude of private scholarships that are funded by community organizations, local and national foundations and private donors. All it takes is a little digging -- which can be done at sites like http://www.fastweb.com/, http://www.scholarships.com/ and https://www.brokescholar.com. Even a simple Web search might bring up a few interesting links. Checking with your department advisors at your university might bring up some interesting options.

Editor's Note: Or look at our Resources section for useful links to services for learning about and researching financial aid options.  For more discussion on whether or not to apply for State Department or privately-funded exchange programs, read our previous post on advice for funding your studies.

In today's global age, it's possible to start your degree in one place, and finish it halfway across the world. Twinning programs are cropping up all over the place, and a multitude of colleges and universities around the world now allow their students to transfer to U.S. universities. One such program which I did in Malaysia was the American Degree Program. It's basically like a 2-year, community college experience, after which you can apply as an international transfer student to the U.S. These kinds of programs make finishing your degree in the U.S. a bit cheaper, as you spend only half the time here. But be aware that not all universities accept international transfers like that.

Also, remember that there might be centers in your country dealing with education in the States. For anyone in Malaysia, a great resource is MACEE, which stands for the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange. If not, trying the American embassy and/or EducationUSA center in your country is always a good bet.