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What is the ISFAA?

interstride logo by Interstride
October 6, 2023

Understanding your full financial picture as an international student pursuing study in the US is critical. A higher education in the US can cost anywhere from $50,000 – $300,000, and unfortunately, international students do not qualify for federal financial aid.

However, international students may be required to complete the ISFAA (International Student Financial Aid Application) to qualify for institutional financial aid from colleges and universities. Financial forms and requirements will vary by school.

As an international student, you should explore all possible avenues of financial aid, as you never know what you might be eligible for.

What is the ISFAA?

The ISFAA is an application built for, and tailored to, international students. The ISFAA is a paper application that helps colleges and universities understand your family’s financial need, and equitably distribute financial aid accordingly. If your school accepts the ISFAA, you will submit a specific form to that specific institution. There is no fee to submit the ISFAA, and you can download the ISFAA directly from your institution’s website, example here.

While the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is targeted to US residents and citizens, and the CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) is designed for both domestic and international students, the ISFAA (International Student Financial Aid Application) was designed specifically for the use of international students.

Undergraduate and graduate international students may be asked to complete the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and/or ISFAA, depending on the school. Some schools allow you to complete the ISFAA in lieu of the CSS Profile, if completing the CSS Profile would cause your family financial hardship. It’s important to read each institution’s policies carefully, as they will likely vary.

What’s included in the ISFAA?

The ISFAA requires students to convert any financial information into US dollars (USD). It will ask you to answer any and all questions that apply to you and your family, and ask you to provide supporting documentation as well.

The ISFAA will help colleges and universities determine your expected family contribution (EFC), or how much your family will be expected to pay towards your education. The application is structured into sections, including:

Student InformationIn this section, you’ll include your personal details such as name, address, email, country of citizenship, expected visa type, date of birth, etc. You will also indicate other schools you are applying to.
Parent InformationYou must report all members of your family that are dependent on the income of your parents. For the purposes of the ISFAA, your parents refer to the parent(s)you live with.
Financial InformationYou will need to report all income your family receives in USD including wages, self-employed income, business income, and income from investments. The income you list will directly impact the calculation of your family’s estimated family contribution (EFC).
Asset InformationThe value (and any debt against that value) of any property or large assets owned by your family. Assets might include savings, property or land, equity from businesses or homes, etc.
ExpensesExpenses are often factored in calculating the EFC of a student. Regular expenses may impact your family’s expendable income, therefore it’s important to list any expenses you deem relevant. Expenses might include rent, utilities, medical bills, etc.
Expected Support for Educational ExpensesIn the expected support section, you and your family will indicate how much you think you can contribute toward your educational expenses (e.g., books, tuition, housing, etc.). If you believe you and your family can contribute $2,000 per year, list that. Schools may or may not take this into account when determining your EFC.
Special CircumstancesThis section will be important if you and your family have experienced unexpected circumstances that have affected your finances. This could include, but is not limited to, a parent’s loss of job, a natural disaster, unexpected or high medical bills, caring for elders, etc. This is where you will be able to explain any difference in what a college might think you can pay, versus what is possible given your special circumstances.

How to complete the ISFAA

To complete the ISFAA, there are a handful of steps you should follow:

Step 1: Check if your school uses the CSS Profile or the ISFAA. If your school utilizes the CSS Profile, you can complete that application. If not, you’ll need to print out the paper ISFAA application from your school’s website.

Interstride Tip: Note that each school will have a specific ISFAA for you to download and fill out.

Step 2: Gather your documents. The ISFAA will ask for financial information from your parents, and if applicable, you as well. You and your family should gather the following:

  • Recently completed tax returns, aka how much you and/or your parents earned in your home country the previous year.
  • Records of you and your parents’ income in the current year.
  • Records of untaxed income and benefits
  • Records of assets.
  • Passport and visa information.
  • Bank statements for you and your family’s accounts.
  • Records of savings, bonds, etc.

Step 3: Complete the sections listed above and sign the form to “certify” that the information you have indicated is correct.

Step 4:Mail the form to the school(s) or upload it to their student admissions portal. Be sure to review each school’s website for exact submission instructions.

Step 5: It may be worth following up with your school’s  financial aid office to confirm they have received your ISFAA form.

Interstride Tip: Deadlines for submitting your ISFAA vary by school. Review your school’s deadlines and make sure to mail in your form well ahead of the deadline, if possible, to ensure it’s delivered on time. 

Final thoughts

The ISFAA is a helpful tool for international students to use in accessing additional institutional grants that they may be eligible for. While not all international students will receive financial assistance from the ISFAA, it’s still worth completing each year.