How to Study in the United States for Free (9 Steps)

For many students, studying in the United States is a rite of passage. The US has a particular allure to many international students not only because of its world-class education and its prestigious universities; also because of the vast array of job opportunities an American university graduate is privy to.

The flip side of the coin is: universities in the US are also known to have extremely high tuition costs. It is common knowledge that many students are left with jaw-dropping amounts of student loan debt upon graduation. In our article today, we will look at some ways to help lower your education costs, and hopefully, study in the USA for free. So, let’s get started.

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Study in the United States for Free

1. Start your application early

Allocating sufficient time and starting your applications in advance will allow you more time to go through each application component carefully. Take the time to gather the information you need to make sure that your application materials are the best that they can be.

2. Make sure that you have an amazing application

Especially for highly sought-after universities, gaining admission can be competitive, even more so when it comes to applying for a scholarship. To increase your chance of admission or your chance of obtaining a scholarship, you need to have an application that will set you apart from all other applicants. Having a great application is the most important way of studying in the USA for free.

Aside from having an excellent GPA score, you should also try to include these in your application – awards and achievements, non-school activities such as volunteer experiences and unique work experiences, and others. Remember to also prepare admission essays that can capture the attention of the admission officers who are reviewing hundreds of applications each day.

3. Look for scholarships from the government

Even though there is minimal financial aid from the US government for international students who are pursuing their undergraduate studies in the US, many countries offer institutional aids for their citizens who wish to study abroad. Be sure to look for these funding opportunities from the education authorities in your home country.

If you are a graduate student seeking to pursue your postgraduate studies in the US, you could apply for some scholarships from the US government. For example, the Foreign Fullbright Student Program

4. Make use of available scholarships from the universities in USA

Some universities in the US offer scholarships or financial aids for their international students. Note that different programs will entail different requirements, so be sure to read up and check if you are eligible for the programs.

Depending on the nature of a scholarship, you may receive full or partial tuition support. For example, Michigan State University offers a few partial scholarships of various amounts for its international students with non-US residency status.

At the University of Oregon, international applicants will be automatically considered for a few merit-based, partial-tuition coverage scholarships. Students can also apply, by themselves, for the International Cultural Service Program Tuition Scholarship which provides partial to full tuition support. Make sure to apply for university scholarships for you to be able to study for free in the United States.

5. Don’t forget to look for external scholarships as well

Many businesses, private foundations, or non-profit organizations, be it in the US or your home country, offer scholarships or financial aids to students who are looking to study in the US.

If you are chosen to receive any of these financial aids, you not only get to undergo your education at a subsidized fee (or for free if the scholarship covers your tuition fully), you may also have secured a future job before you even started your freshman year! So be sure to check out what the available scholarships or financial aid opportunities are out there.

6. Choose an affordable or even free university in USA

On average, international students are paying about USD 27,000 per year for an undergraduate program at an American university. Some universities will cost even more at USD 50,000 or more a year. While these are some daunting figures, don’t be discouraged even if you did not manage to secure any grant or scholarship for your studies. Try to look for the more affordable universities in the US and fund your studies using other resources.

The good news is that they are affordable, and even yet, free universities in United States for international students. Check out the list of 20 Free Universities in USA for International Students.

7. Take action and begin your application

The most crucial step is to send in your applications! Even if you feel that a certain university or scholarship is too competitive or out of your reach, you should still give it a try. As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

8. Earn money while studying in USA

With an F-1 student visa, international students can work on-campus for up to 20 hours per week when classes are in session and up to 40 hours per week during school breaks. Remember to check out the university website for more information on the types of jobs and how you can apply for one. On-campus jobs usually include tutoring or part-timing at the school cafeteria, library, or other university facilities. Working while studying can be a great way to help you to study in USA for free.

If you wish to work off-campus, you must complete your first academic year and obtain an authorization from the Designated School Official (DSO). In general, international students will only be allowed to work off-campus for any one of the following reasons:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

This is a program that allows temporary work for students with F-1 visas to gain practical experience in fields that are directly related to their majors. The training has to be part of an established curriculum.

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a program that temporarily allows students on an F-1 visa to be employed for jobs related to the students’ field of study. Students eligible for this program can choose to complete their OPT before or after graduation, for a total duration of 12 months.

  • Severe economic hardship

This is for students who are suffering severe economic hardship due to unforeseen changes in the student’s financial circumstances.

For more information on working off-campus, please refer to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

9. Keep your expenses low

Your living expenses will probably range between USD 700 to 1,000 each month depending on the city you live in and the lifestyle you partake in. There are a few things you could do to keep your cost of living low. For example, choose to live on-campus, share a room with another fellow student, cook your own meals, rent your textbooks instead of buying them, etc.


I hope that this article was helpful. If you are interested, visit the USA Scholarships Page!