Types of Aid and Funding

There are numerous ways you can finance MPA/MPP education in the U.S. or reduce the cost of your education. Before you plan your studies, consult with the local Education Information Center nearest you about available options for financing your U.S. education. These centers exist to serve as the first stop resource on all matters (financial aid, application process, choice of schools, visa process, preparation for GRE, TOEFL or GMAT, etc.) concerning education in the U.S.

Personal Funds
One of the first sources you should explore for financing your education should be your personal funds or family sponsors. Try to secure as much as possible for your education from personal or family funds, because most scholarships cover only part of your educational and living costs.

Home Country Funds
Often part of the funding for your graduate studies can come from your national or local governments, corporations, foundations or individual sponsors. You can reduce your educational cost with financial aid from these sources. You will have a better chance of raising funds in your home country if you have a letter of admission from the school of your choice.

You can receive scholarships from governments, foundations, or corporations that will cover the cost of all or part of your MPA/MPP education. Scholarships or fellowships generally do not have to be paid back. In order to receive a scholarship you will need to apply separately to each scholarship program. However, before applying to a scholarship program, make sure that you meet all eligibility requirements. All scholarship programs are highly competitive and are awarded based upon the merits of recipients. Usually more years of experience and greater achievements in or related to the academic field of your choice increases your chances of getting a scholarship. Graduation with honors, excellent grades from your previous studies, high TOEFL GRE or GMAT scores, and distinguished performance in other areas such as leadership and community service make you a desirable and highly competitive candidate for a scholarship. Some U.S. universities also provide scholarships, but their number is usually limited.

National Education Information Centers maintain up-to-date list of available scholarship and fellowship opportunities. Consult with the center nearest to you to find out scholarships that you are eligible. You can also find the latest scholarship and fellowship opportunities here.

There are two types of student loans in the U.S.: federal and private. Federal loans are guaranteed by the U.S. government and offer much lower interest rates, but they are not available for foreign students. Private loans offer higher interest rates and you usually should have a U.S. citizen co-signer to act as a guarantor. A letter of admission from an MPA/MPP school will significantly enhance your chances of getting loans.

Many foreign graduate students in the U.S. finance their education with financial aid from their university. At the graduate level it is the program/department which decides who will get the financial assistance. In your case this program will be an MPA/MPP school. Usually, a decision about who will get financial assistance is determined before a student starts his/her program. Therefore, you need to apply to your MPA/MPP school for financial aid at the same time that you apply for admission.
As an international student you will have a greater chance of obtaining financial assistance if you have:
  • good academic standing
  • strong quantitative knowledge
  • high standardized test (TOEFL, GMAT or GRE) scores
  • funding from private or other sources to cover some of the education cost
  • teaching experience in a subject offered at the undergraduate level (opportunities for teaching assistantships)
  • interest and experience in research
Generally, the financial aid from universities for foreign graduate students comes in one of the following forms: Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, Administrative Assistantships and Fellowships. Many foreign students finance their U.S. education through assistantships.

ASSISTANTSHIPS are the most common form of financial aid in graduate programs. Assistantships require you to work or perform a service for your program for about 20 hours per week throughout the semester. Sometimes an assistantship carries a waiver or reduction of tuition. You need to apply for assistantships as part of your application for admission. Typically, all awards for graduate study are made one year at a time. Renewal of assistantships usually depends on performance.

are based on academic qualifications and preference is given to advanced students. In MPA/MPP schools with large numbers of undergraduates in introductory courses, teaching assistantships may be available, even for those in the first year of graduate study. Teaching assistants work about 20 hours per week. They may supervise undergraduate laboratory classes, lead discussion groups, teach small classes or help professors in grading homework assignments. Students are usually paid a salary or stipend. If you are interested in applying for a teaching fellowship, mention any previous teaching experience you may have.

RESEARCH ASSISTANTSHIPS are based on academic qualifications and research interests and are rarely given to first year students. A Research Assistant closely works closely with a professor and conducts research on themes assigned. He/she works for about 20 hours per week. The student is usually paid a salary or stipend. You can apply for research assistantships at any phase of your studies. Consult your academic advisor or professors about research assistantship opportunities. Your proven research experience, good academic performance and qualitative and/or quantitative research skills enhance your chances for receiving research assistantships.

ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANTSHIPS are based on financial need and academic qualifications. Some administrative offices of your school, such as the Foreign Student Advising Office or Libraries, may offer administrative assistantships requiring work of 10-20 hours per week. Apply for administrative assistantships through the Graduate Admissions Office rather than the department.

The financial aid in the form of fellowships is given based upon academic merits and usually awarded after the first year of study. Fellowships usually do not require teaching or research work from the recipient. Graduate fellowships are generally modest and cover only tuition and fees. However, sometimes they can be full grants covering the cost of tuition, fees and cost of living. Please check with the MPA/MPP school of your choice to find out if they have fellowship programs.

If you are thinking about supporting yourself while you're in school, research your options. Employment opportunities for international students exist but they are very limited. Campus jobs may include working at the university's bookstore, library, or within the university's administrative offices. You can earn enough to pay for your clothing, food and other personal expenses by this type of employment. But earnings from this type of employment are usually not enough to pay for your tuition and fees.

Current employment and immigration regulations permit you to work up to 20 hours per week. Please note that you can work only on campus during your first year of study. After the first year of study you may apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for permission to work off campus for up to 20 hours a week. If you hold a J-1 visa, your spouse is allowed to request a temporary work permit and work in the U.S. This opportunity is not available for spouses of F-1 visa holders. For more information on visas, click here.

You can pursue your MPA/MPP education at a cost much less than the price you find on a school web page, searchable databases and brochures. There are three main ways you can reduce your educational cost in the U.S.

Cost at City/Location
Look for schools with lower tuition, and locations with lower cost of living to find an MPA/MPP school that provides quality education at affordable cost. Please note that the cost of living in suburban campuses is usually much lower than the cost of living in urban locations. Also check with your MPA/MPP school of choice if in the second year of your studies you qualify for residential tuition, which is much lower than the tuition rate for international students.

Accelerated MPA/MPP Programs
You can save thousands of dollars choosing accelerated MPA/MPP programs (such as an Executive MPA programs or a one year MPA/MPP programs) or completing regular MPA/MPP programs in less than the usual time. You can accelerate your regular MPA/MPP program in the U.S. in following ways:
  • Transferring credits completed in the home country to the MPA/MPP program of your choice
  • Getting a waiver for similar classes you have already taken before
  • Attending classes during the summer if they are available
  • Taking one additional course each semester
These programs are limited and vary widely, so consult your school for more information.
Tuition Waivers
Some MPA/MPP schools can grant you full or partial tuition waivers based on your distinguished professional and academic achievements either before admission or at any point during your studies. A tuition waiver can provide you an opportunity for considerable savings. You should request a tuition waiver when you apply to the MPA/MPP program of your choice. If you have already started your program, please consult your academic advisor to see if the program can grant you partial or full tuition waiver.