There is little consistency in the US admission and financial aid process. You have to go on each institution’s Web site and search for financial aid information that is specific to international students and often it can be a “major headache” indeed to find the right pages. Here are some examples:
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: http://uadmissions.georgetown.edu/international/#FAin
I don’t know which schools currently interest you, but there are some that have no aid at all for international students and there are some (e.g., MIT, Cal Tech) that do have aid for internationals but don’t permit international students to apply in the Early Action round if financial aid is required. So, as noted above, you must read each Web site carefully to see what the policy is at the colleges that interest you.
If you do an Internet search for “aid for international students+doug thompson .pdf” you will get a link to a list (now several years old) that includes many—but not all—of the US institutions that provide financial aid to international students. From this document you can also get a general idea of which colleges offer a lot of aid and which offer very little.
You can also seek this information on a college-by-college basis by using the College Board Web site. First go to http://www.collegeboard.org/Then type in the name of the college that interests you. Next, click on “For International Students” on the left-hand menu. You will see the annual amount that the university spends on aid to international students and the number of students who receive it. If there are no figures listed, it could mean that the college offers no aid to international applicants, but you should check that school’s Web site to confirm. Of course, when you see the total amount of aid awarded and the number of students who receive it, it’s impossible to tell whether some students receive a lot of that aid while others receive only a small amount. But at least this will give you an approximate sense of whether the college seems to be fairly generous to international applicants.
No matter where you are applying, please be aware that it is very difficult for international students to get financial aid. Your best bet is to apply to colleges and universities where your grades and standardized test scores put you well above the typical admitted freshman. If you are aiming for the most selective colleges in the US (e.g., Ivy League schools, MIT, Stanford, etc.), you should have not only outstanding grades and test scores but also something else that sets you apart. This “something else” could be a unique talent in science, arts, sports, and so on OR it could be an unusual background. (Perhaps you grew up very poor and overcame significant obstacles or, conversely, maybe you grew up very rich and had extraordinary experiences because of it.)
Many international students seem focused on only the short list of US colleges and universities that are most well known. But because financial aid is so competitive, it would be wise to keep an open mind and explore broader options, too.
Finally, keep in mind that Early Action is not “binding,” meaning that a student who is accepted via EA is not obligated to enroll. Thus, admission officials usually admit only the strongest candidates in the Early Action round because they don’t want to save a space for a solid but not stellar student who may not show up anyway. So if you are deferred but not denied in the Early Action process, don’t be discouraged. Be sure to notify admission officials that you are still eager to attend and send an update with new grades, accomplishments, etc. before your application is reviewed again. Admission officials can be especially wary of accepting international students who need aid via Early Action, before they have a chance to view the entire applicant pool.