Students may be able to use US federal student loans to finance
studies outside the United States for a semester or an entire degree.
The type of aid a student can obtain and the process for applying
depends on the type of program they intend to enter.
Types of Aid: Hundreds of universities around the world participate in the US William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.
Students planning to attend one of these schools may be eligible to use
either a Direct Subsidized Loan or Direct Unsubsidized Loan to finance
their undergraduate education.
Parents also might be able to borrow on a student’s behalf, via the
Direct PLUS Loan program for parents. International universities do not
participate in the US Department of Education’s grant programs, so US
students may not use Pell Grants to finance studies at an international
Some institutions accept GI Bill funding. The US Department of Veterans Affairs provides guidance
for military veterans who wish to attend schools outside the United
States and a search function to find participating foreign institutions
Students should contact the student financial aid office at any
international institution they are interested in attending to confirm
its participation in the federal aid program and to learn about
application policies and procedures.
Amount of Aid: The annual limit for Direct
Subsidized Loans plus Direct Unsubsidized Loans for undergraduate
students varies from $5,500 to $12,500, depending on a variety of
factors, such as year in school, and whether a student receives
financial support from his or her family. Check annual and aggregate
limits for subsidized and unsubsidized loans on the Federal Student Loan website
Steps: The application process to obtain student
loan funding for undergraduate studies at an international university is
similar to that used for US schools. Generally, the student must take
the following steps:
Students select the international university they plan to attend in the question about Federal School Codes. The FAFSA site includes a search tool
to help locate the appropriate institution and its code. Select
“Foreign Country” in the required “State” field. The international
institution will gain access to a student’s FAFSA information
electronically once it is submitted.
Note: The award year and the academic year at the international
institution can differ depending on the country; questions about timing
and process should be directed to the institution’s financial aid
Students borrowing federal funds for the first time must complete
entrance counseling to learn about their loan responsibilities. This
must be done before funds are released. Depending upon the school,
entrance counseling might occur electronically before a student leaves
the United States. It could also be administered once the student
arrives in the host country electronically or by the host institution’s
financial aid office or admission staff. Students should be prepared to
advocate for themselves and proactively seek out the information they
need once abroad. A good deal of perseverance may be needed to connect
with the right person and/or office at an international university.
The Master Promissory Note (MPN) is a legal document that obligates
students to repay their loan(s), plus the accrued interest and fees, to
the US Department of Education. Students complete the MPN online.
Note: One MPN must be completed per loan. Thus, separate MPNs must be
submitted for student borrowers whose parents are also taking a PLUS
Once steps 1 through 3 have been completed, the student should notify
the university to confirm and inquire about next steps. This will
typically entail the completion of a loan application form by email or
via the institution’s online portal.
The university will calculate the student’s estimated cost of
attendance. Students deemed eligible for loan funding will receive an
award letter indicating the maximum amount they may borrow.
Following instructions accompanying the award letter, students can
opt to formally accept loan funding, specifying the total amount they
wish to borrow. The institution will then originate the loan, and in
most cases the money will be electronically applied to the student’s
university account to pay for tuition and fees. The remainder will be
available to the student.
Note: Funds are likely to be rendered in the local currency. And,
depending upon timing, funds might not be disbursed before a student
departs the United States. This means travel and initial expenses will
need to be self-financed.
With the exception of entrance counseling, this process must be
completed each year a student accepts loan funding. Entrance counseling
is only required before the first year.
Advice from the Field: Assessing the cost and value
of pursuing a full degree program at an institution outside of the
United States should be part of the financial aid discussion counselors
have with students. For students interested in institutions outside of
the United States, travel may represent a significant expense. So can
renting an apartment, as not all universities offer dormitories or
student housing. If not bundled with the tuition, families should also
be aware of fees for visas and international health insurance costs.
Students should be mindful of school breaks. Not all students
receiving financial aid can afford to come home for long holiday breaks
and perhaps not even the summer.
Currency fluctuations are another consideration. The value of most
foreign currencies relative to the US dollar is in continual flux. While
short-term changes are unlikely to be significant, costs can increase
or decrease considerably over a period of years. Students and families
should budget with this in mind.
Any school that participates in federal student aid programs is
required to provide information on its cost of attendance and to offer a
net price calculator on its website, although this requirement is still
being phased in at some institutions.
If a student is interested in pursuing a study abroad program for a
semester or a year during their undergraduate program, they should
contact the financial aid office at the US colleges or universities they
are considering. Note that the US institution must participate in the
federal student aid program for a student to be eligible to use federal
aid for their study abroad program.
State and local financial assistance programs, including private
scholarships, may be available to help with study abroad and overseas
study. Students should take the time to check carefully, calling or
emailing the funding agency and asking specific questions well in
advance of committing to a course of study outside the United States.