International Student Funding: Expert Advice

QS Staff Writer

Updated January 24, 2022 Updated January 24

Higher education experts share their top advice for international students seeking funding. The dream of studying in a foreign university may seem a distant one when hefty tuition fees and the cost of living abroad are taken into account.

For some, this obstacle can be the end of their dream, but if you plan your moves carefully, you could be laughing.

Plan your student funding in advance

Students who wish to go abroad for their higher education should start planning their student funding as early as possible, and look for scholarships and student loan schemes well in advance, says Julie Rolls, of University College London’s (UCL) International Office.

“Having enough funding to pay for tuition fees and living expenses is essential, not just to satisfy visa requirements but also for peace of mind. All applicants should investigate scholarship options, other sources of funding, and start the process as early as possible."

“The university is usually the best place to get information on institution specific financial aid,” says Harmeet Pental, Regional Director–South Asia for IDP Education, a well-known international student placement service. Most universities offer some sort of scholarship for international students, about which information is usually freely available online.

Be sure to apply to as many scholarship schemes as possible. You can choose from merit-based, need-based, career-specific or student-specific scholarships depending on what you are looking for.

The criteria for each scholarship may change with the country, university and even the course you apply to, so be sure of what the scholarship eligibility criteria is and whether it matches your requirements or not.

Show off your strengths

Also, be ready to face some competition. “Scholarships are very competitive in nature. Hence, every applicant needs to highlight their exceptional achievements to stand out from a pool of talent. Avoid the common mistake of applying too late or sending your application piecemeal,” says Pental.

He adds that a student who is applying for a scholarship at master’s or PhD level should highlight any dissertations, seminars or papers they may have contributed to.

Again, get in touch with the university’s faculty or the funding body well in advance. Students opting for graduate studies abroad find it easier to find a scholarship compared to those looking for grants at undergraduate level.

“Places to start include your own Ministry of Education. Many universities will provide links to known funding bodies from their scholarship pages or international pages,” says Rolls.

Consider part-time work

Students should also look for part-time work, provided their visa permits it. Students can work at a local shop or cafe for example, or even as a research assistant at the university to earn some extra money.

"Part-time appointments as a graduate student tutor or student researcher are for selected students who wish to gain research and teaching experience," says Professor Thiam Soon Tan, Vice Provost (Education) at the National University of Singapore.

Though part-time work is a possibility, it should not be something students should blindly bank on. “There are no guarantees that you will find a suitable part-time job and therefore you shouldn’t depend on this anticipated income. You also need to be sure that the part-time work won’t interfere with your studies,” says Rolls.

All prospective international students are advised to budget and plan their expenses beforehand, remaining prepared for any exigencies. Careful planning and budgeting are the “keys to success” according to Rolls.

“We encourage students to use tools like the International Student Calculator. It gives you an idea of the kind of day-to-day living costs you will incur and therefore how much to budget,” she says.

Some final tips include making realistic estimates of how much you will be spending on basics such as food, travel, accommodation, entertainment and so on.

You can also ask universities if they you are required to pay the entire fee before the course begins or whether you can spread the cost by paying in instalments.

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in January 2020