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How To Pay For College: Navigating The US/UK Minefield

02 APR 2017

If you're thinking about studying abroad, there are some concerns that you and your parents may have, naturally.

Many perceived roadblocks that lie in your way such as:

Being separated from home, your safety, whether you're good enough, and, of course,

The cost. Cue dramatic thunderclap

While all of these are natural concerns to have, once you begin to look into these roadblocks, you discover that a lot of the time they stem from myths, mistruths or exaggeration.

Studying abroad is simpler and more achievable than you may have ever thought. Especially in the connected world we currently live in.

Even so, it's completely natural to have questions and concerns before considering an overseas college education.

A common belief that prevents plenty of talented students from ever applying to study in the US or the UK is that it's too expensive.

Many students go without applying to the world's best colleges because they simply assume they could never afford it.

But it doesn't have to be this way!

Most US and UK universities have systems in place to make education affordable and accessible for all.

How could I possibly afford it?

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You've probably heard plenty of whispers about students being crippled by debt after completing their education or students having to work full-time while studying just to pay off their tuition.

A lot of the time, these less than ideal situations are avoidable for students... Especially international students!

Governments and education institutions often try to make it as easy as possible for students to afford studying abroad and as such, there are plenty of options to help you get there!

So don't be the next missed opportunity.

Understand that in certain situations, studying in the US or UK can be more affordable than studying in your home country!

There are a plethora of scholarships, grants, financial aid, awards and loans available, so quit sitting around, it's time to start researchin'! Let's find out how you can study abroad without leaving a giant hole in your wallet.

How to study abroad without breaking your (parents') bank.

The US

Financial Aid

Despite its reputation, the US college system can be a financially realistic option for driven and talented students.

There are plenty of financial support options on offer – even for international students! Most US colleges understand that a lot (most) people in the US can't afford a full-fee paying place, so they offer some options to curtail the threat of crippling debt and provide equal opportunity.

Firstly, the US offer various kinds of financial aid packages.

The amount of aid which you receive through these packages are determined by the colleges assessing your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

To a foreign student, something like the EFC can seem hard to comprehend, but put in layman's terms, it's basically a scaling of the total value of aid offered in relation to your family's assets and wealth.

Essentially, the more your family earns, the more you pay.

And conversely, the less your family earns, the less you pay.

Makes sense, huh?

This system gives students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who are worthy of admission, the opportunity to attend some of the world's best colleges without having to feel the wrath of student debt!

Seems fair, right?

It sure does, and that's because it is!

Although that's the basic principal, the EFC is a little more complicated than just giving money to the poor. You still need to prove that you're worthy of admission.

And just as anything involving money does, gaining financial aid support involves filling out some forms upon college application.

I know, what a drainer!

Can't they just, like, give us money already?

When you apply for a school, unless you're going to be a full-fee paying student, you need to make sure you fill in a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

These forms rank your EFC on a number scale:

Zero being the lowest possible number and 99,999 being the highest.

If you're at the lower end of the scale, you'll pay less (a score of zero means you are expected to contribute nothing).

If you're at the other end of the scale, sitting at 99,997, you'll receive very little funding and you've wasted everyone's time because your parents are FREAKING LOADED!

Thanks a lot, rich boy!

Lol, nah, you're alright.

Besides, even if you're loaded, colleges may be able to lower your final EFC score in some unusual circumstances.

For example, God forbid your parents might lose their jobs, get a divorce, or something much worse happens... you get the drift.

Even for cheaper colleges, going through those circumstances ain't worth it. So make sure you're getting your forms in on time and applying early for financial aid support.

Following this startling revelation that college can actually be affordable in the US, we have some good news and some bad news.

The good news:

There are three different types of financial aid available! More than enough to suit everyone.

They are:


Full-need is self explanatory, really. Basically, as you might've guessed, it means the college will provide financial aid to sufficiently cover the family’s need (as determined by the calculated EFC).


Need-aware means a colleges takes your financial situation into account when assessing your application. All colleges in the US are need-aware for international students, bar the five colleges listed below.


Need-blind colleges are what you want to be aiming for, because they don't take your financial situation into account when considering your application. And while it doesn’t mean that they'll help you out 100%, they won't deny you admission because you can't pay.

Need-blind colleges need to be rich in order to give out funding, well, blindly. Unfortunately, this means that there aren't many of these options available to international students, and the institutions that do offer need-blind admissions also happen to be among the most competitive in the US.

And that's the bad news...

There are only five colleges in the US that offer need-blind admissions for international students:

  1. Harvard
  2. Yale
  3. Princeton
  4. Amherst
  5. MIT

Either way, you're going to need to work your butt of in school to gain admission.

That's cool, though. The US has plenty of other viable options for students!

Financial Aid Tips

  • First and foremost, you need to gain admission in order to get financial aid, so make sure you're working hard on your application as you're trying to figure out the ins and outs of funding.
  • Reach out to the admissions offices at the colleges you're interested in and ask for their financial aid application details.

US Scholarships


Beyond financial aid, US colleges and government initiatives offer a number of scholarships and awards to national and international students to help make studying abroad a possibility.

Sometimes these are merit-based scholarships and other times they are circumstantial (background, ethnicity, wealth, etc.).

While scholarships can be competitive and come with a lot of restrictions and limitations, there is most likely a scholarship out there somewhere that applies to you!

It's well worth doing some research into your preferred colleges and finding out whether there are some helpful scholarships available to international students.

A scholarship could just be your one-way ticket to Ivy League town!

One of the most famous US scholarships is the Robertson Scholarship, which has been won by many New Zealand students, is a full ride scholarship to attend Duke University or University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. A full ride!

This is a merit-based scholarship, so it's massively competitive and you need to be incredibly talented in order to qualify.

But the sooner you start preparing the greater your chances are of securing it. So why not start now? It's worth mentioning that you can actually secure some scholarship funding and financial support from your government at home, so this is definitely worth looking into too!

Even if it's just a small sum to contribute towards living costs, every penny counts.

The UK

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Tuition Fees

The UK isn't quite as up to speed as the US in terms of financial aid support, but the system basically works in a similar way.

You have the option of being a full-fee paying student, which will definitely break that bank of yours (or your parents), or you can receive financial aid support from colleges.

For a full-fee paying spot in the UK, you could be looking at paying up to £18,000 in tuition fees per year.

However, you won't necessarily have to worry about this because most students rely heavily on funding and scholarships to get themselves through.

In saying that, there's no one size fits all type of financial aid in the UK, and funding can come from a myriad of places.

It's important to do your research before diving in and applying for a college.

Speak to current students, get your hands on as much literature as possible, and talk to an expert!

If you have already started to look into British universities, you may have noticed some large variations between locations.

It can be a lot more expensive for students to study in London, or the south of the UK, than in other areas. More affordable options are the 'university towns' in the north of England – Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

Choosing to study in a place further north can save big time on the tuition front (and leaves more money for the one pound pints at the pub on uni night).

In saying that, some UK universities do offer limited financial aid support to international students.

The best way to find out what your chances are of achieving financial support from your desired university is to contact the admissions office directly. Just flick them an email!


  • Read as much as you can about UK study and financial support options before applying
  • Talk to experts and past students who have already been through the system
  • It's not just tuition fees – don't forget to take living costs into account, too. To make life easier, create a budget and stick to it!

UK Scholarships

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Additionally, there are plenty of scholarship options available for international students in the UK.

For example, if you are a citizen of a developed Commonwealth country, such as Australia and New Zealand, then you are eligible for a range of Commonwealth-based scholarships. However, these scholarships often target post-graduate students.

Singaporean undergraduate students can apply for scholarships through this programme, but you'll need a clear research path to innovation in order to apply.

Most students don't know this, but the greatest source of financial aid for international students can actually be your home country!

Contact your local government to see what opportunities and support is available for students heading overseas to study!

Caution: It's important to note that if you go down this path, there may be a condition that you come back home after your degree to put your skills to work. So if you're hoping to stay overseas after graduation, make sure you read the fine print!

Similarly to the US, there are also global organisations that can help support students who wish to attend international colleges.

For example, the Fullbright Scholarhship is one of the most famous, and successful applicants are provided with financial support to attend an international (or national) college of their choosing.

Yeah, you read that right.

However, this is another one of those scholarships that is offered to the best of the best, so you better start working your butt of now if you're gonna get that full ride!

Scholarship Tips

  • If there's a killer scholarship available, consider it as part of your college application and work equally as hard towards gaining acceptance.
  • Make sure you submit your scholarship application as early as possible. Most winners get in quick.
  • If you find more than one scholarship that you think you qualify for, don't be shy – apply for them all! Some are easier than others, though. (Start with this list of the nine easiest scholarship applications.)

Final Thoughts

So, it looks like going to your dream college may not be such a far-fetched idea after all!

As you can see, there are heaps of ways to get around the financial hurdles of studying abroad, whether it's financial aid support, a scholarship, or just being strategic about location.

Don't let the cost put you off overseas study.

If you're a great student, you deserve to have access to the best education around. Top colleges understand this – and they want the best talent.

That's why they've created pathways for students from all over the globe to gain admission, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

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