How To Get A Scholarship In The U.S. [For Indian Students]

The U.S. is expensive.

As an international student, you’ll most likely need a scholarship to fund your education.

Getting a scholarship in the US is complex, but once you know:

1. The type of scholarship for which you’re eligible.

2. How to apply for a scholarship as a foreign student.

I can show you how to realistically land a scholarship in a US college.

Scholarship Illustration of two students filling scholarship forms

First, here are some quick stats about scholarships in the US

A lot of websites list the same 10 scholarships as if they are the only ones you can get (Hubert Humphrey I’m looking at you..!)

However, the good news is that there are no limited number of scholarships to which you can apply. 

Based on this data from Thinkimpact and Research:

1. There are close to 1.7 million private fellowships and scholarships in the US.

2. The total value of student grants in the U.S. was 138.6 billion in the fiscal year 2020 – 2021.

3. The average scholarship aid awarded to undergraduate students was $10,050 and $8,860 for graduate students.

4. Only 4% of the available scholarships are awarded to students with a GPA of 3.5 to 4 and 30% of scholarships are given to students with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.4

5. A student in a private 4-year college will receive on average $7,834 more than a student in a public 4-year college in scholarships and grants.

6. Scholarship percentages attributed to different fields of study in 2021.

Scholarship percentages attributed to different fields of study in 2021

7. Only 0.2% of students get a scholarship of more than $25000 a year.

8. You can apply to college and government scholarships.

Can you study in the U.S. for free?

Yes, if you’re a PhD student.

Most full-ride scholarships go to PhD candidates.

A full-ride scholarship is a fully-funded scholarship that covers all aspects of your education in the U.S., including your tuition fees, living expenses, allowances and travel costs.

Currently, the U.S. has close to 1500 full-ride scholarships for international students. They provide an average monthly stipend of $1000, along with your tuition fees and health insurance.

However, only a select few students who are not PhD candidates get a full-ride scholarship, 1.5%, to be exact.

That is why these scholarships should not be at the top of your priority list.

You can definitely apply for them, but don’t drive yourself crazy preparing for them.

Instead, put that effort into applying to the most suitable colleges, as you are much more likely to get a scholarship from them.

With that, I’m going to show you the two main types of scholarships, and how to apply to them.

College scholarships are always better than government scholarships

College scholarships vs Government scholarships difference

How to find a college scholarship for U.S. Universities?

Every college has its own set of scholarships for its students. 

You can get scholarships for being a meritorious student, an exceptional athlete or musician, having a military background, etc. 

To better explain how this works, let’s take the University of Oregon for example. 

Step 1 – Let’s say you apply to University of Oregon, and they accept your application.

Step 2 – Now, in order to start looking for scholarships you first need to go to their website and look for a scholarship on the financial aid page.

Step 3 – Once you get on the financial aid page, navigate to the scholarships tab.

Step 4 – You will find scholarships mentioned under 4 categories. Not all of these categories mentioned will be available to international students.

You will need to manually go through the scholarships on each tab and list the ones most suitable to your profile. 

I would advise starting with international students.

How to find a U.S. government scholarship

Step 1 -

First, you need to decide which scholarship you want to apply for. Once you have a list of currently available government scholarships. 

Step 2 -

Compare your profile with the list of available scholarships to find the scholarships for which you are eligible.

Step 3 -

Visit the scholarship’s website and fill out your application.

Here’s are some of the most common scholarships provided by the U.S. government for Indian students.

  • Fulbright-Nehru Research Fellowship
  • The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program
  • Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation Scholarships

U.S. Government scholarships are easy to find but hard to land

Apart from college-based scholarships, the U.S. government also offers some scholarships that help international students.

However, these scholarships are really hard to get. 

Chart showing number of applicants end up actually getting the scholarship.

Only the top 0.1% of applicants end up actually getting the scholarship.

Indian government scholarships are almost never worth it

Over the years, the Indian government has also partnered with Indian businesses to come up with scholarships for Indian students to study abroad.

However, most of these scholarships are loan scholarships. 

This means that you have to return the scholarship amount once you start earning. 

Some of these scholarships might have a grant amount as well as a payback scholarship amount, usually in a 50/50 split.


Chart showing grant scholarships and payback scholarships in India

These scholarships can be a last resort to secure funding if you are not able to get a traditional scholarship.

The interest rates for these are generally low and you can return the money back in easy installments.

However, just like the US govt. scholarships, these scholarships are really hard to get. 

The competition is insanely high and very few students are realistically able to get these scholarships.

Eligibility criteria for college scholarships in the U.S.

Illustration showing the eligibility criteria of a scholarship in USA

Now that you know what the different types of scholarships are and what their application process looks like, you need to build your profile around them to match the eligibility criteria. 

Here are some basics you need to have locked down:

  • A high GPA over all or most semesters.
  • A high TOEFL/IELTS score (100 points or 7 bands).
  • A hard-hitting essay that justifies your need for the scholarship. 

Sport scholarships might allow some leeway if your academics are weak

If you want to apply under a special scholarship like sports, you will need to show proof of your expertise via video or the college coach might want to see you play before signing off on the scholarship. 

With sports scholarships, national or state rankings are also effective in proving that you’re a high-level athlete. 

To maximize your chances of getting the scholarship, every part of your application should point to your skills and experiences as a sportsperson. 

For example, your SOP and scholarship essays should all have the common theme of your experiences as a sportsperson.

Some things you would need to write in your SOPs and essays for a sports scholarship are:

1. How playing your sport is an integral part of your life.

2. The things it has taught you, like discipline and teamwork.

3. Highlighting your achievements, to prove that you are a recognized athlete.

Essential elements of a sport scholarship essay

How to apply for scholarships in the U.S.?

First off, the easiest way to ask for a scholarship is by sending an email out to the admissions team. 

You need to be clear and concise about why you need a scholarship, and how you will be an asset to the college if you get one. 

Most colleges will be happy to grant you a scholarship if your profile is good enough, and your reason for seeking a scholarship is valid. 

However, if you can’t identify the right scholarship for you by yourself, you can always just write to your college’s admissions team, and tell them you need help identifying scholarships that suit your profile.

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If your college admissions counsellor really liked your profile, they might even offer you a special scholarship, which might not be super suited to your profile but are just valid enough to get you the financial aid you want.

Flowchart of Scholarship Application process

Some colleges have straightforward online scholarship applications available on their website, in which case you don’t really need to write an email to the admissions team. 

Once you submit the application or write to the admissions counsellor, the admissions office will reach out to you with either a decision on your scholarship or further instructions on how to proceed. 

If they don’t send a decision, the next step will involve essay submissions and a potential interview round with a counsellor.

If you are applying for a sports or music scholarship, the college coach or professor might want you to send them videos of you performing or even see you live before making the final decision. 

This might seem cumbersome, but if you can provide proof that you would be an asset to the college by representing them in sports or music, the college is more likely to offer you a scholarship.

Apply as early as possible

Most U.S. universities conduct admissions in rounds. 

Make sure you apply as early as possible (Round 1 and 2) because this is where you have the highest chances of being accepted and offered a scholarship. 

By the time Rounds 3 and 4 come around, most colleges have already exhausted most of their scholarship funds and get very picky about giving out scholarships.

Scholarship Rounds and Chances Chart

You will need to write a hard-hitting scholarship essay

When colleges ask for an essay it is basically going to come down to this essay determining whether you’re going to get your scholarship or not. 

To write a hard-hitting essay, you need to understand the scholarship provider’s mission and prove that you will be an asset to the university.

Any scholarship will have a mission or purpose behind providing the scholarship.

You need to align yourself with that mission and provide real-life experiences related to it. 

As an example, let’s say you are applying to a scholarship for women in STEM. 

Give examples of how people around you think that the STEM fields are only suited for men. 

Then talk about how you plan on changing that narrative once you graduate. 

This is the part where you actually make a direct pitch to the university.

You need to prove that you are going to be a future asset to the university.

Idea bulb showing Pro Tip

Tips for writing a scholarship essay:

  • Follow the tried and tested Intro, Body, and Conclusion template. 
  • Make the intro as punchy as possible, because this is the ‘hook’ of your essay. 
  • Use short, precise paragraphs because they are much easier to read.
  • Don’t add unnecessary fluff to your essay like, “I don’t care about making money as long as I get to help other people” Admissions counsellors have already read that a thousand times and it just does not work. 
  • Be direct, honest and genuine. 
  • There is no harm in mentioning that you want to make money once you graduate, but display more substance to your character than just making money. 

Understand that finding and applying for scholarships will be time-consuming.

Be mentally prepared to spend at least 20 – 30 hours finding scholarships and then writing the essays to apply for those scholarships

Here’s a list of the actions you will need to take to land a scholarship:

1. Research and create a list of scholarships you want to apply to.

List of Scholarships illustration

2. Once you have your scholarships listed down, make an Excel sheet with all the necessary details regarding the scholarship like required documents, essay topics, its deadline, interview dates, and other important items.

Excel sheet with all the necessary details regarding the scholarship like required documents, essay topics, its deadline, interview dates, and other important items.

3. Write compelling essays for your scholarships of choice from the list you’ve created. 

4. Submit your scholarship applications

5. Track your applications.

Tracking your scholarship application

When to speak with an admissions consultant

The process of identifying scholarships can be overwhelming since a lot of universities offer over 100 different scholarships. 

If you are an undergraduate student or a working professional, it is even more difficult for you, since you already have a lot on your plate.

And to be honest, improving your GPA or your GMAT/GRE is a far better way to utilize your time than going through hundreds of college websites and keeping track of all the different scholarships they offer.

If you get stuck in this loop of finding the best possible scholarships. 

You will likely end up getting lost and frustrated due to the immense amount of research you will have to do and give up on your dream of studying in the US, altogether.

If you are drowning in research and feeling frustrated, I would advise discussing your case with an admissions consultant.

Admissions consultants usually yield better results

Admission consultant talking to a student illustration

An admissions consultant will help you by doing most of the heavy lifting for you.

However, their experience also puts them in the optimal position to guide you.

Let’s take Raj’s case. 

Raj completed his engineering from PEC Chandigarh with a 6.0 CGPA and went on to work for JSW steel for 3 years.

When he made up his mind about pursuing an MBA abroad, he chose to go to 360CollegeReview for help. 

He was a working professional and didn’t have enough time to research colleges, manage applications, and write SOPs all on his own. 

360CollegeReview helped him by:

  • Matching his profile to the most suitable colleges.
  • Brainstorming essays and final edits on SOPs and LORs.
  • Assisting with post-application follow-ups required by the college.
  • Preparing him for the final application interview.
  • Helping him manage application and scholarship deadlines

All of this finally led to him getting an admission into the Harvard Business School with a 95% scholarship!

You will still have to work with your admissions consultant to find and apply to the right scholarships, but it should reduce your workload from 20 – 30 hours down to 2 – 3 hours.

This will leave you free to focus on things like your SOPs, GPA, and GMAT/GRE scores, which is what will help you land an admissions offer. 

Because what good will a scholarship do if your applications end up getting rejected? 

Chart showing the workload before and after consulting 360 College Review

What your next steps should be

You should now be able to understand how scholarships work, as well as, how to find and apply to college and government scholarships. 

The next step now is to start the process as soon as possible, so you can increase your chances of getting a scholarship. 

If you need to talk to an admissions consultant, you can fill out the form below. 

360 College Review consultants follow this exact process and more to land you a scholarship!

Get in Touch