Studying in America and Canada  
5.2 The Financial Aid System

The financial aid system in America and Canada is fairly similar, yet the differences are extremely important for international students. We shall highlight the differences as appropriate. We shall first offer a brief overview of the system, before highlighting the relevant parts in detail for international students.

Financial aid can be categorized into four forms:

  1. Grants: The student is basically awarded free money for education. This award comes in the form of a scholarship, fellowship or bursary. (Note that bursary is simply a Canadian term for college-funded awards.) Grants may be funded by the government or private sources, or by the college itself. These awards are typically merit-based, but they can also be needs-based. However, some awards can be purpose-specific, targeted to promote education in certain disciplines or the well being of particular groups of people. A vast majority of these awards are restricted to local citizens and legal residents.
  2. Loans: The student is offered loans to pursue a program of studies. The recipient makes a binding commitment to pay back the loans with interest, upon graduation, on a pre-specified schedule. Local, not international, students can obtain government or government-guaranteed loans, or loans from private sources such as banks. You can understand why the government restricts the loans to its citizens and legal residents. The private sources, such as banks, do not offer loans to international students either. The reason is simple: There is no way, at least theoretically, to recover the money from international students, because international students are legally required to leave the country upon completion of studies. It is true that some, if not many, international students end up staying in the country permanently through an official change in legal status, but while being on the international student status, you are legally required to leave the country upon graduation.
  3. Assistantships: The assistance comes in the form of research assistantships and teaching assistantships. This form of financial assistance is open to all students, including international students. The selection criteria are merit based, and not needs-based; that you need money more desperately than others due to you personal financial situation has no bearing on the award. The selection criteria for assistantships are the same as for the admissions criteria. However, two elements of the selection criteria are critical for securing an assistantship: your academic performance (grades) and your score on the entrance exam.
  4. Ad Hoc Employment: Students can take up employment for an hourly wage. Availability of such opportunities is limited, and so is the potential remuneration.

As an international student, you are essentially eligible for the last two forms of financial assistance. Let us discuss them in detail.

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