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Overcoming the Financial Challenge of Higher Education

This blog post was written by Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) and is included as an archived post on the Switchboard blog.

Are you one of the 3.8 million college-aged immigrants in the U.S.? Although a college education that may not have been available in your home country is now a possibility, you may still be worried about how you are going to pay for school.

Before you apply
Meet with your high school guidance counselor who can help you navigate the college application process (ACT, SAT, searching for a school, essays, recommendations, application packages, etc.) If you are already a U.S. citizen, remember that in-state tuition is less expensive than attending a college out-of-state.

You’ve been accepted to college(s), now what?

If you’ve gotten your acceptance letter(s), your prospective school(s) may have also already offered you a scholarship or two based on your academic performance alone. The next step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA).  The FAFSA is used to compile information about you and your family that helps gauge your level of financial need relating to college. Your personal income, your parent or guardian’s income and assets, as well as the size of your family are used to project your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  Your EFC and the estimated cost of your education are used to create a personal Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is then used by your prospective schools to evaluate your eligibility for grants (ex: Pell, FSEOG, TEACH), loans, and other forms of assistance, such as federal work study. U.S. Citizenship, full-time enrollment, and sometimes an above average GPA are typically requirements.  Your high school guidance counselor and/or the financial aid department at the schools you are interested in attending, can help you navigate this process.The following opportunities are available specifically for newcomers and are not limited by ethnicity, area of study, or location. Please be mindful of differing immigration status requirements.

ScholarshipTypical Deadline
Coca-Cola Scholars ProgramOctober
Graduate Women InternationalDependent on national headquarters
Hegg Hoffet FundOngoing
Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New AmericansNovember
The Red ThreadApril
Western Union Foundation Family Scholarship programMay

*If you know of additional scholarships, please email

Don’t limit yourself! 
Filing your FAFSA is an important first step toward deciding which college to attend and pulling together the financial aid you need for college, but it is up to you to uncover additional funding sources. Here are some tips:

  • Colleges and universities are actively promoting diversity through minority recruiting efforts which can provide a leg up for newcomers seeking an education beyond high school. Don’t forget to see if your school of choice offers additional scholarships such as refugee and asylee scholarships, bilingual scholarships, cultural diversity scholarships, merit scholarships, sports scholarships, etc. Talk to your prospective school’s financial aid department to see what is available.
  • Don’t forget to search for ethnic-specific foundations and scholarships in the U.S. and your state (ex: Hispanic College Fund “First in My Family” Scholarship; Adelante Fund; Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Scholars; Momeni Foundation Financial Assistance Scholarship Program)
  • Don’t forget to search for scholarships, grants, internships, and foundational support in your field of study! There are plenty out there for students studying to be teachers, nurses, graphic designers, engineers, and more, that aren’t limited by ethnicity.
  • Don’t forget to search for essay contests in areas of interest or that highlight your life experiences (ex: Platt Family Scholarship Prize Essay Contest, Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest, Ayn Rand Essay Contests)
  • Don’t forget to search for scholarships in your city and state. For example, your local YMCA may offer an opportunity that other states do not.
  • Don’t forget to search for national and international scholarships from nonprofits and corporations that may have international ties or areas of interest such as cultural understanding, world peace, diversity, global consciousness, etc. (ex: Davis Putter Scholarship Fund, Xerox, Clorox, Discover)

Here are some search terms that can aid you in your search: “scholarships,” “grants,” “financial aid,” “internships,” and “fellowships” for “immigrants,” “refugees,” “asylees,” “newcomers,” “new Americans,” “first-generation Americans,” “first-generation students” and “bilingual students.”

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