1. What is financial aid? Are there different types? Do international students qualify?
2. What is the difference between merit-based and need-based aid?
3. What kind of aid can I get from UC Berkeley?
4. What is work-study? Are international students eligible?
5. Who is available to help and give advice in finding financial assistance?
NEED-BASED AWARDS FROM BERKELEY INTERNATIONAL OFFICE (BIO)
6. What is the BIO Financial Aid Program?
7. Who is eligible?
8. What are my 'chances' of getting financial aid from BIO?
9. How much financial aid from BIO can I expect?
10. What is the minimum GPA for the need-based undergraduate scholarship?
11. Can international students apply for scholarships?
12. What is the difference between a grant, scholarship, and fellowship?
13. When should I begin thinking about applying for scholarships and fellowships?
14. How and where do I search for a scholarship?
15. Should I pay money to use a scholarship database or apply for a scholarship?
16. How much time do applications take and what is required?
17. What do scholarship committees look for in an applicant?
18. How important are grades?
19. How do I get my scholarship money?
Answers by topic
The term "financial aid" has several definitions and uses. Generally, financial aid refers to money for educational purposes. When searching for financial assistance, it is important to understand the differences to know whether or not you qualify.
Federal & State Financial Aid: This type of financial aid includes US federal grants, work-study funds, and loans, as well as state grants, and is given only to U.S. citizens and certain non-citizens. This is the definition that is used by UC Berkeley Admissions and Office of Financial Aid. F-1 and J-1 international students are NOT eligible to apply or receive federal & state financial aid.
Institutional Financial Aid: Funds that come from the school are usually offered as part of a student's admission package. This is different than federal or state financial aid but may still be restricted to U.S. citizens, especially at public institutions.
External Financial Aid: This consists of anything not covered by the above and may include scholarships, fellowships, need-based awards, merit-based awards, private grants, private loans, and even some federally-funded government programs. Sources may be corporations, foundations, fraternal and religious organizations, or individual donors. Some are still limited to U.S. Citizens, but international students can find external aid. Those which are open to international students are usually very competitive.
Merit-based financial aid is generally given as a scholarship and is usually awarded for outstanding academic achievements, special talents, leadership potential, or other personal characteristics. Students need to show that they deserve the money based on ability/category. It is common for merit-based external aid for international students to be given based on nationality.
Need-based financial aid is awarded based on the financial need of the student to pay for school. Usually, students will need to show that they need the money to continue their studies. Bank statements, tax reports, and personal essays are usually required. Students will be awarded funds based on their economic standing or situation. This can be difficult for international students as they are required to show proof of funding for their education in order to obtain their visa and thus, must also show that there has been a change in their financial situation.
There are many types of aid that combine both merit and need to determine eligibility and awards.
For a list of UC Berkeley Aid sources, see List of UC Berkeley Aid for International Students and the Berkeley International Office Financial Aid webpage.
Work-study is an on-campus federally subsidized hourly wage job program. Colleges, schools, departments, and offices on campus are awarded "work-study positions" and can only hire students who have been awarded "work-study" as part of their federal/state financial aid package. International students are NOT eligible. However, if departments are unable to fill work study positions, they may open up the position.
Please see the BIO Financial Aid page for details. International student advisers are available during drop-in hours advising hours to discuss available financial aid options; however, advisers are not experts in the many kinds of aid, scholarships, or grants given by UC Berkeley or by external sources. Students facing an emergency financial situation are encouraged to speak with an adviser as soon as possible. Graduate students should contact their department and the Graduate Fellowship Office. Undergraduates may review the Scholarship Connection website for tips and advice.
Yes, there are scholarships available for international students. Graduate students may have an easier time finding fellowships, as many undergraduate scholarships are available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, those open to international students are usually very competitive.
In reality, there is not much difference and the terms are often used interchangeably. These types of aid are generally merit-based, but can also take need into consideration. In addition, because the terms are fluid, you should not assume you do not qualify without reading the description.
- A grant is any money given in exchange for a purpose or a project.
- Scholarships provide support for undergraduate and graduate education.
- Fellowships typically support post-graduate projected by a foundation or institution.
Much like applying for school, planning for a scholarship search begins long before you sit down to write your first personal essay. You should be using your time at Cal to develop yourself into an extraordinary candidate. GPA is rarely the only important factor and this may mean getting involved in research, public service, or taking a leadership role in a club. These meaningful activities often provide excellent preparation for future research or study and strengthen fellowship and scholarship applications.
You will also need to develop relationships with faculty in order to obtain excellent letters of recommendation. In addition, deadlines can occur as much at 12 months before the scholarship is awarded and you will need adequate time to prepare your application (see #16).
Graduate students can start their search by contacting their program/department and the Graduate Fellowship Office.
Undergraduate students are much more limited in this area and can start by accessing UC Berkeley's Scholarship Connection Database. It is recommended that you search by Type of Award and select Citizenship: Other Visa Status in this database. There are also numerous free databases online that are very comprehensive. A few of the most popular are listed on the BIO Financial Aid webpage.
You may also want to explore different student and professional organizations for funding. These may be campus, community, national, and global associations. Some community organizations, religious groups, and cultural associations may also provide scholarships or aid. And don't forget about your own home government.
It is very important that you define your search well and filter out awards that you do not qualify for. When choosing which scholarships to apply to, be selective! Think about what the scholarship committee might be looking for and whether or not the money is worth the time that you will spend on it. Remember, scholarships for international students can be very competitive, so do not waste your time on an award that is not a perfect "fit" for you. For more pointers, see Tips for Applying.
Some databases will ask for a fee to search their listed scholarships, but the vast majority of information can be found for free in other databases. In fact, the largest and most comprehensive databases are free. It is not recommended that students pay to apply for a scholarship. Be aware of dishonest scholarship offers: do not send money, bank account numbers, or credit card numbers to any organization that promises a scholarship in return. EduPASS offer tips and resources to protect students from dishonest organizations.
Scholarship applications can take an enormous amount of time and energy, even for small grants. Every application has its own process and requirements, but they may include several personal essays, a project proposal, obtaining official transcripts, getting 2 to 3 letters of recommendation from professors, and even an interview. If you have prepared yourself and have developed good relationships with faculty, this process should be smoother but still time consuming.
Academic excellence is needed for most awards, but it is rarely the only important factor. Depending on the award, personal qualities and individual merits such as the range of your interests, a record of leadership, involvement in public service, research experience, meaningful participation in extra-curricular activities, and a demonstrated commitment to the mission of the scholarship are important.
A strong application will connect your strengths, commitments, and interests to give a holistic picture of your qualifications and "fit" for the award. The letters of recommendation can be extremely important and should offer a personal view of the student that matches the rest of the application materials.
Grades alone are less important than the overall combination of qualities (which might include research, service, leadership, and so on), but they are still significant.
That depends on the scholarship. The money might go directly to your student account, where it will be applied to any tuition, fees, or other amounts you owe, and then any leftover funds given to you. Or it might be sent directly to you in a check. The scholarship provider should tell you what to expect when it informs you that you've been awarded the scholarship. If not, make sure to ask.
Non-federal/state loans are scarce at a public institution, but students may inquire with their departments. Two available loan programs for international students are:
Short-term Emergency loans offered by the Financial Aid Office to help students with registration fees and living expenses. This process is relatively straightforward. See Emergency Loans for details.
The Shih Loan Program by Berkeley International Office provides long-term loans that are interest-free while the student is pursuing his/her degree. Loans must be repaid beginning six months after the completion of studies.
- The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) maintains a Preferred Lender List. Click on the link, choose UC Berkeley and then search "International" on the left-hand Program Type menu. This should populate a list of lenders that will loan to international students. Most likely, a US co-signer and SSN will be required.
Though rare, there are loans available to international students who meet certain criteria. Most loans require a cosigner (see #22). A variety of organizations and institutions provide private loans to international students. Many provide assistance that is targeted to students from specific regions or countries and who meet certain criteria. The best ways to search for a loan is by contacting your bank and by doing online research. It is essential that you read and understand all loan terms before signing a contract. UC Berkeley's Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships also keeps a list of preferred lenders for international students.
A cosigner is someone who guarantees and is responsible for payment to the loaning institution if for any reason you are unable to pay back the loan. Most loans in the U.S. will require that your co-signer is a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident and have stable employment and income.