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How to enroll in an American university for free tuition

Education in America is one of the most expensive in the world. Indeed, in the USA there is not what is commonly called budget places in Russia. All applicants apply on an equal footing, but after enrollment everyone can apply for financial assistance - a scholarship that will fully or partially cover the cost of training, reports Life hacker.

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Most universities in the United States have multimillion-dollar funds, and they are ready to provide payments, including to foreign students. We will tell you what you need to know about education in America and financial assistance to students.

What types of higher education are there in the USA

In America, there are several levels of higher education: community college (community college), undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate courses. Undergraduate and community college are options for graduates, the remaining steps are suitable for those foreigners who have already graduated from high school in their homeland.

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Community College

This is something like Russian technical schools and colleges. Students of such an institution go through the first two years of the educational program, after which they can transfer to the third year of the university. This direction has its advantages: there are practically no exams (only tests for knowledge of the TOEFL or IELTS language), so it’s very easy to do, and the training is relatively cheap. For comparison: a bachelor's degree at a state university costs from 30 thousand dollars a year, in private - from 60 thousand dollars a year. Whereas for tuition in community college you need to pay in the region of 8-10 thousand dollars a year.

It is worth considering that the reputation of community colleges is worse than that of universities. And to graduate from the undergraduate, after the second year you will need to go to university. Moreover, no financial assistance will be provided for international students.

Bachelor's program

They come here after school, as well as after graduating from a Russian secondary school or community college (after an American college, they go straight to the third year). Undergraduate studies last 4 years.

An important fact: when entering American universities, you do not need to choose a specialty. At the undergraduate level in the USA this can be done in the first two years. So, if you do not yet know what you would like to specialize in, American universities allow you to calmly study, try, choose classes and decide only at the end of the second year.

To enter the baccalaureate, you need to pass the English language exams TOEFL / IELTS and SAT / ACT. At will - SAT Subject.

SAT is a test for knowledge of the school curriculum. It is similar to the Russian Unified State Examination, but includes questions in two subjects at once: in English and mathematics. ACT is an analogue of SAT, but this test includes an additional section with questions from several areas of science: physics, chemistry, geography and others. All American universities take both the one and the other exam. None of them give any advantages.

SAT Subject - an optional exam, it is something like an exam in the elective. The results of this test can be attached to the application for admission if you want to demonstrate brilliant knowledge in one of the subjects.

Each exam has an expiration date. SAT and ACT results are valid for 5 years, TOEFL and IELTS - for 2 years.

If you are already a student and have completed 1–2 undergraduate courses in Russia, then you will not be able to start studying at an American university from scratch. A transfer is suitable for you - transfer from one university to another. Students who used the transfer cannot apply for financial assistance.


The next step after undergraduate studies. This is training in a particular specialty, and it lasts a year or two years. You can choose a magistracy in any direction: medicine, law, creative specialties. A very popular area of ​​business master's studies is MBA.

For admission, you must also pass a language proficiency test (TOEFL or IELTS), as well as GRE - an exam in English and mathematics. It is similar to SAT / ACT, but more difficult, as it is intended for those who already have higher education. There is a GRE counterpart called GMAT, designed specifically for the Master of Business. But it is accepted on other programs.

GRE and GMAT certificates are valid for 5 years.

Graduate School

An option for those who want to become a teacher and work at a university. Postgraduate study lasts at least four years, you can enter after a Russian magistracy, and in some cases after a bachelor's degree (to be specified in a particular educational institution).

This program is always free, but during the training you will need to teach and seriously engage in science. Therefore, before choosing graduate school, you should decide whether you are ready to devote life to it.

Required exams - TOEFL or IELTS and GRE.

What documents are required for receipt and when to send them

Acceptance of applications and selection of future students in America begins much earlier than in Russia. For example, if you plan to begin training in September 2021, then documents must be submitted before the end of December 2020. Answers from universities come in April.

Here is what is included in the application:

  • Recommendations from teachers. Not formal phrases about good behavior during the lessons, but a text in the style of a “letter to a colleague” in which your Russian teacher talks about how you showed yourself in studying subjects, what projects you did, extracurricular activities and personal qualities.
  • Transcript. This is a list of your school or university grades. Since the documents must be sent in the middle of the school year, these will be preliminary marks: if you are a student, then for the 10th grade and the first half of the 11th grade. For those who enter the magistracy - grades from a diploma. The transcript is sent online in the form of a table compiled according to a certain template: the name of the subject, the number of hours and a grade mark. It is confirmed by the seal and signature of the school or university management.
  • Profile. Provides basic information about you, including education, awards, and other achievements. The questionnaire also contains information about the parents: name, date of birth, education, place of work. Here you also need to attach the results of exams and a motivational essay (or letter). The questionnaire is filled out on the university website at the time of application.
  • Summary. This is an optional item if you are applying for undergraduate studies. But applicants for a place in a magistracy or graduate school should make a detailed resume showing your personal and professional development. The American version has its own peculiarities: for example, you do not need to attach a photo, indicate gender and date of birth - this is superfluous information. In the USA, resumes are dry data about education and work experience. There are many good examples on the Internet, you can focus on them when compiling your own.
  • Portfolio These are examples of creative work, and it is not necessary to apply them. But if you enter a creative profession and paint, make music or play in the theater, then your drawings and recordings just need to be included in the portfolio.

How to get financial assistance

What are the types of payments for students.

First, let's figure out what the sum for education in the USA is made up of. It includes two main positions: tuition fees and room and board fees.

The amount of these items is the total cost of training. In private universities, this is 60-70 thousand dollars a year, in state - about 30 thousand dollars a year. Keep in mind that US state universities do not provide financial assistance to foreign students at all.

There are two main types of payments. There is the term need-based aid - it means the financial assistance that is given to those in need, that is, in a situation where the family does not have enough money to pay for education. Support for this kind when entering the bachelor's degree is also provided to foreign students. The university can reimburse you the full cost of tuition, accommodation and meals in case the family earns less than 60 thousand dollars a year, and only tuition if the family income does not exceed 120 thousand dollars a year. To get the most funding, you need excellent grades, excellent exams, an excellent essay and good recommendations.

When entering a master's program, a foreign student can, as a rule, apply only for merit ‑ based aid. This is the financial assistance that is rendered for the merits - if you, say, a talented athlete or a young scientist and you have excellent marks. This subsidy does not depend on your financial situation.

What you have to pay for anyway

There are expenses that cannot be avoided. Among the required expenses is exam fees. One attempt to pass the SAT will cost $ 110, TOEFL - an average of $ 250 per attempt. GRE costs $ 205. You will also need to pay a questionnaire - so that your chosen university will familiarize yourself with your application. In different institutions, it ranges from 30 to 250 dollars.

You also have to pay for sending the results of exams - an average of $ 20 per test result to one university. Four shipments are included in the cost of the exam, for additional you will need to pay extra.

Well, most likely, you have to spend a certain amount on tutors, textbooks and other ways to prepare for admission. But these costs are purely individual and depend on the level of knowledge in each case.

To whom financial assistance is not available

  • Students from families whose income exceeds 120 thousand dollars a year are not given out need-based aid. However, they may qualify for merit ‑ based aid — a scholarship for achievement.
  • Students who transfer, that is, are transferred from a Russian university immediately to the 2nd or 3rd year of American undergraduate studies, do not receive financial assistance.
  • Students who come to university after community college are not eligible for a scholarship.
  • There is also no provision for financial assistance to foreign students who enter US state universities. It can only be received by residents - residents of the relevant state.

How to apply for financial assistance

In order to inform universities of their intentions to receive need-based aid, you need to fill out a universal CSS form - most universities accept it. Create a page in the CSS Profile and enter the financial status of the family. In order to fill out all the points, you need to get a bank statement from the account and a certificate from the work of the parents, in which the salary for the last two years will be indicated. You will also need to enter data on the cost of the apartment, the presence of large investments, annual expenses for utilities, entertainment, food, clothes.

It is not necessary to enter all the information at once. Having created an account, you can log in at any time, and all added information is saved.

Some universities may request other documents to confirm the financial situation of the family. Such requirements can be seen on the university website. Typically, these are:

  • Income Statement - Parent income data for the last two years. The document must be translated into English. The certificate does not need to be notarized, just send a PDF file with the translated information.
  • Certification of Finances - data on the financial situation of the student. The paper must be filled in English and put your signature. After that - scan and send to the email address of the university. Or attach it to a special window while filling out the CSS Profile form, which will appear after sending an application for admission to a particular institution.

In general, all documents are sent in the form of scans following the CSS form or attached to the application of the applicant.

As for merit ‑ based aid, many universities by default consider all applicants as applicants for this scholarship. In other cases, your achievements will need to be further supported by documents. One way or another, look for information about the terms of payments on the website of a particular university.

How to choose a university for admission

You should refer to the rating of the most generous for US foreign educational institutions. They have huge scholarship funds, and these universities more often than others accept students from abroad and pay for their tuition.

The leader in this ranking is Columbia University, which in the academic year 2018–2019 provided financial assistance to 254 foreign students; the average amount is 68 thousand dollars. In second place - Skidmore College, which paid 87 students an average of 67 thousand dollars. At the third, Duke University, whose funds allowed last year to accept 213 foreign students and give them an allowance of 66 thousand dollars.

In general, the leading universities in terms of financial assistance are the Ivy League universities, and Princeton University can be highlighted among them. In the academic year 2018–2019, 60% of Ivy League university students received an average of $ 52 in payments.

Information on the amount of financial assistance for foreigners is available on the websites of universities and in open sources. For example, in the aggregator there is data on the potential of the funds of each institution. If you did not find the necessary information in the public domain, contact the university by mail or call the financial assistance department (calling to the United States via Skype is inexpensive).

On the subject: The most interesting free online courses from top American universities

Entry checklist

In conclusion, we offer an algorithm of actions required for admission to an American university:

  • Get good grades at school or university.
  • Raise the level of English to Intermediate (the minimum required for passing exams).
  • Write a motivational essay.
  • Prepare for exams and pass the necessary tests.
  • Choose a university.
  • Prepare the necessary documents.
  • Fill out the form.
  • Apply for financial assistance.
  • Wait for the result and hope for success!

Read also on ForumDaily:

College vs university in the USA: what is the difference and which one is more prestigious

Community College: What immigrants need to know about this opportunity in the USA

Without flowers, rulers and parental collections: 7 differences of the American school from the Russian

Miscellaneous education higher education Educational program free education Higher education in the USA
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