Paying for college has been a journey of tears, sweat, stress, and anxiety, but it is also one of the things that I am most proud of. If you’re thinking, “Hey, I can do this too”, here are some of my notes specifically for international students. I’ve been a citizen in the US for quite a few years now, so the journey has some slight differences.
Topic 1: MILITARY
CAN’T DO – My first year of university was paid for by the US Navy. The deal I had with them was that they’d pay for my university and in return I’d be an officer in the Navy for 5 years after graduating. (I only ended up staying for 1 year then cancelling my contract). So it’s pretty unlikely that an international student will be able to get the US military to pay for their tuition. Even between US citizens it’s competitive to get an ROTC scholarship, and the US military is pretty cautious about international security.
CAN DO – There are several companies and governments around the world that will sponsor students instead in exchange for a commitment to work for them after graduating (relatively common in the Middle East). I would say that using that method would be the equivalent financially speaking. Either way, it’s quite competitive… so working hard during high school and making the right connections before university is imperative!
Topic 2: INTERNSHIPS
CAN DO – As an international student you CAN get internships in your field. DO THIS. I know that as an international student it’s compelling to go home over the Summer, but having at least one of two internships before graduating (for engineering students at good schools) are basically an expectation – a minimum! Three of the four internships that I had probably had more international students as interns than domestic students. Prove that you are a hard worker, technically adept (compared to peers), can communicate well, and care about the company/role, and companies will love you. Although the current roles that I recruit for don’t allow sponsorships, those are all of the things I’m looking for in a candidate, and not many can fulfill it.
As an international student, you can’t work more than 40 hours a week, but most engineering internships will pay you WELL (12 to 40 $/hour for 40 hours a week over at least 12 weeks… MONEY!). And although it’s harder to get an internship after just freshman year, it doesn’t hurt to try!
CAN’T DO – When you apply for internships, don’t waste your time talking to companies that explicitly state that they don’t hire international students. As an intern, companies don’t have to sponsor any visas, but some companies won’t hire international interns because their internship programs feed into full time roles which do require visa sponsorship (like my company’s development program) or they require exposure to potentially sensitive government information. For example, spending an hour waiting in line for the CIA recruiters at the career fair only wastes your time – the career fair only lasts for so many hours of the day, use them wisely!
Topic 3: TWO JOBS
CAN’T DO – Unfortunately, due to visa issues, as an international student you wouldn’t be able to work two jobs at the same time like I was doing. Other than internships and campus jobs, you can’t legally work elsewhere.
CAN DO – Take advantage of this time to work on communicating well, something that can help you stand out from other international students who don’t (by interacting with other Americans, picking up on cultural cues etc.) and enhancing your technical skills (learn online, join technical competitions like hackathons etc). As an international student, you need to give companies a reason to PAY for the paperwork to sponsor you instead of hiring a US citizen (it’s actually a law), the easiest way to do this is by being better at technical skills (generally strong technical skills is something the US lacks). Although online training and competitions may feel like you’re working without being paid, it can literally mean that you’ll be paid more in the future, and a lot of times it can be really fun!
You can also work part time on campus during the school year & summer. This generally gives you a US social security number and is a decent option for some side money. If you haven’t worked before but don’t NEED the money, I’d get a part time job to experience responsibility, earning your own money & what it’s like to work a minimum wage job for maybe a semester or two, but I wouldn’t extend myself so hard that I’m struggling with my academics, extra curriculars, or friends. Good companies generally will value your leadership experience and academics more than a part time job in an unrelated field.
Topic 4: SCHOLARSHIPS
CAN DO – Apply for scholarships, contests, everything… almost all of my scholarships could have been received by anyone…and applications for the honors college are open to all students & it’s looking for diversity. Technical contests seem to be better bets as you’re reducing the competition based on your own technical abilities.
CAN’T DO – Nothing. BUT scholarships can be competitive & sometimes seemingly given out at random, so I only spent so much time applying…honestly, if you’re involved and working hard, sometimes (like I mentioned in the video) scholarships and awards come up pretty naturally!
In general, paying for college is HARD. Almost unimaginable… $130,000 is A LOT OF MONEY for an 18 year old to get.. even over 5 years.
But if you’re lucky & if you constantly work, try lots of different methods, prove that your better than your peers… and open every door that you can think of (while maintaining laws & respect, of course), it’s possible. People respect hard work, and to make $130,000 you need to be smart about it!
Feel free to reach out with any questions. As I said, I’m not an international student. I immigrated to the US when I was less than 1 and became a citizen a few years later, but I worked with Penn State’s Global Programs supporting international students for years. It’s been my passion to bridge cultures and help hardworking people everywhere succeed.