The United States is home to some of the top universities in the world, making it an extremely appealing destination for international students looking to further their education. However, the high costs associated with studying in the US, including expensive tuition fees and living expenses, can make it seem out of reach for many prospective students.
The good news is that there are actually quite a few fully-funded opportunities at American universities where students can obtain MSc and PhD degrees without needing to pay any tuition fees or cover living costs themselves. Even better, some of these programs do not require you to pay application fees or take standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT.
This allows outstanding students from around the world to access top-quality education in the US regardless of their financial resources.In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about accessing fully-funded MSc and PhD opportunities in America, including:
- The benefits of studying a fully-funded graduate degree in the US
- Types of funding offered to international master’s and doctoral candidates
- Universities that provide full funding for international students
- Eligibility criteria and application timelines
- Finding programs that do not require standardized test scores
- Application tips and strategies
- Additional financial aid for international students
So if you want to access world-class graduate education in the US without going broke, read on to learn about the many exciting fully-funded opportunities available!
Why Pursue Fully-Funded Graduate Degrees in America
There are many clear advantages to completing American graduate degrees compared to programs in other countries:World-Class Academics & Research FacilitiesThe US is internationally recognized as a global leader in higher education and academic research across countless disciplines.
American universities invest heavily in state-of-the-art technology, laboratories, libraries, and other research facilities to support cutting-edge scholarship.Flexible & Interdisciplinary ProgramsUS graduate programs offer diverse course selections and the chance to personalize your education by taking classes outside your department. There are also abundant opportunities to get involved with interdisciplinary research projects and study groups.
Abundant Funding for Research,From university research funds to government grants, financial support for master’s thesis and PhD dissertation projects is widely available at American schools to help bring innovative ideas to life.Unmatched Networking & Career ProspectsBetween alumni networks, industry connections, and campus career fairs, US universities provide access to unparalleled professional development and job opportunities after you graduate.
The only catch is that studying in the US can be extremely expensive, with top schools charging tuition fees of $30,000-60,000 per year for international students. Room, board, healthcare, books, and other living expenses can cost another $15,000+ annually.However, by securing full funding through graduate assistantships, external scholarships, or other awards, you can enjoy all the above benefits of American higher education without taking on any financial burden.
Types of Full Funding for International Master’s & PhD Candidates
International students hoping to study in the US for free can pursue a wide variety of funding opportunities:
Many departments at US universities offer teaching assistantships (TAs) and research assistantships (RAs) that provide free tuition and a living stipend in exchange for part-time work (typically 10-20 hours per week).
These are the most common type of full funding awarded directly by academic departments.TAs typically assist professors by grading assignments, supervising lab/discussion sections, holding office hours, or performing other administrative tasks. RAs help faculty with academic research and may collaborate on publications.
Prestigious fellowships are one of the best types of funding for master’s or PhD students, covering all tuition fees and living expenses with no work obligation. These merit-based awards are invested in promising applicants who demonstrate strong potential for academic and research success.Fellowships are highly competitive but also highly rewarding.
At top schools, PhD students who win multi-year fellowships can focus 100% on their own research instead of teaching requirements or outside jobs.
External Grants & Scholarships
Various government agencies, private foundations, employers, and non-profit groups offer full or partial grants and scholarships for international students from specific backgrounds or research areas. These external awards help fund studies at universities across America.
Securing external funding often requires submitting detailed applications explaining your academic record, research goals, and future ambitions. But it can really pay off by covering major expenses not provided through assistantships or institutional aid.
Universities Offering Fully-Funded Master’s & PhDs
While virtually all US research universities offer some funding for domestic and international graduate students, certain schools are particularly renowned for their generous support.Here are some top American universities that regularly offer full funding to exceptional admitted PhD applicants, covering many master’s students as well:
Ivy League Schools
The eight elite Ivy League universities consistently top global rankings and invest heavily in fully funding top talent:
- Harvard University – Harvard only admits PhD students with full 5-year funding packages covering tuition, health insurance, and annual stipends over $30,000. Over 90% of master’s students also receive financial aid.
- Yale University – Yale promises full tuition and 5 years of stipend funding to all PhD students in good standing. Over 75% of master’s students receive partial or full tuition scholarships.
- Princeton University – Princeton pledges full funding for all doctoral candidates across every department and program. Extremely competitive financial aid also helps master’s students.
- Columbia University – Columbia offers multi-year funding packages with tuition, health insurance, and stipends around $30,000 per year for PhD students. Over 50% of master’s students receive grants or assistantships.
- University of Pennsylvania – UPenn provides full tuition, healthcare, and competitive stipends to all PhD admits. Many master’s students receive grants and teaching or research assistantships.
- Brown University – Brown promises to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need for domestic and international master’s and PhD students.
- Dartmouth College – Over 90% of Dartmouth graduate students receive full or partial funding through fellowships, research funding, and teaching assistantships.
- Cornell University – Cornell offers most PhD students 5 years of funding including tuition, health insurance, and annual stipends over $30,000. Many master’s students also receive full or partial aid.
The Ivy League sets the gold standard for fully supporting top academic talent, though financial aid varies by program strength and department resources.
Other Notable Universities
Beyond the Ivy League, many other top US research universities provide exceptional funding opportunities through a mix of institutional aid, assistantships, external scholarships and more:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Stanford University
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
- University of Chicago
- Northwestern University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Vanderbilt University
- Rice University
- University of Michigan
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Georgia Tech
- University of California, Berkeley
Master’s and PhD applicants should thoroughly research funding options and connect with current students to gauge availability and competitiveness across different departments. But all the above schools are recognized for offering generous aid.
Eligibility Criteria & Application Timelines
- Academic Excellence – Strong grades, test scores (if required), research potential, and recommendations are key. Master’s applicants should have an undergraduate GPA above 3.3. PhD applicants generally need above 3.5.
- English Proficiency – Non-native speakers usually require TOEFL 100+ or IELTS 7.0+. Some schools accept Duolingo English Test, PTE, etc.
- Research Alignment – Your goals and skills should match faculty projects and department priorities. This increases funding chances.
- Nationality – US funding opportunities are open to international students from any country, though some external scholarships target specific nationalities or regions.
- Study Topic – STEM fields tend to offer more funding than arts, humanities, and social science disciplines. But support is available across subjects for strong applicants.
- PhD Programs – Doctoral applicants should apply 12-18 months before their intended start date due to long processing times for admissions and funding decisions. Deadlines are usually in December or January.
- Master’s Programs – Spring or summer start terms have the most funding and space available. Apply by early fall the year before you hope to begin studies.
- External Scholarships – Application deadlines for external grants and awards can range from 6 months to over a year before you start school. Begin exploring these options early.
Connecting with faculty ahead of applications is highly recommended to discuss funding availability and research goals in more detail.
Finding Programs Without GRE/GMAT Requirements
Taking standardized tests like the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) can be expensive and time-consuming for international students.Luckily, more US universities have begun waiving test score requirements for applicants who demonstrate academic excellence in other ways:
Identifying GRE/GMAT-Optional Programs
Hundreds of American master’s and doctoral programs no longer require GRE or GMAT scores from applicants, including many top-ranked schools.The FairTest Graduate School Search database makes finding test-optional programs easy by letting you search by state, degree type, or school name.For example, over 150 departments across Harvard University no longer require GRE test scores. Ivy League peers like Columbia, UPenn, Brown, and Cornell now feature hundreds of master’s and PhD programs that are test-optional or test-flexible.So be sure to thoroughly research if your target programs actually need GRE or GMAT scores before deciding to take these expensive 4+ hour exams.
Qualifying for GRE Waivers
If your desired US programs do still require standardized test scores, many provide automatic GRE waivers to outstanding applicants, typically those with:
- Undergraduate GPA >3.5 from an accredited university
- Strong letters of recommendation from academic referees
- Published academic papers and research experience
- Awards like Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall scholarships
Other programs allow students to formally request GRE waivers by emailing graduate admissions coordinators and explaining why their application merits an exemption. Reasons might include:
- Graduating with honors from a respected university
- Possessing directly relevant work experience
- Facing barriers to taking the GRE like disabilities or test center availability
- Needing to avoid test fees due to financial hardship
With a compelling case explaining your academic and professional accomplishments, many universities will waive strict GRE requirements that create barriers for otherwise exceptional applicants.
Application Tips & Strategies
Carefully preparing funding applications for your desired American universities requires attention to detail. Follow these best practices:
- Identify faculty with aligned research interests by browsing department websites
- Email potential advisors to discuss opportunities months before applying
- Ask current students about funding availability and competitiveness
- Check if your target program funds master’s students, PhD students, or both
- Confirm which application materials are required for admission vs funding
Craft Customized Documents
- Statement of Purpose – Explain how your skills, experience, and goals align with faculty projects and department priorities
- Resume/CV – Tailor to highlight academic achievements and relevant research background
- Letters of Recommendation – Choose referees who can evaluate your research potential and work ethic
Complete Accurate Applications
- Provide certified translations of all non-English materials
- Follow page limits and formatting guidelines precisely
- Carefully enter details + triple check for errors before submitting.
In summary, the United States offers abundant fully-funded opportunities for international students to pursue tuition-free master’s and PhD degrees at globally top-ranked universities. By securing graduate assistantships, university fellowships, external grants, or other awards that cover your tuition and living costs, you can access world-class American education and unmatched career prospects without financial burdens.
When applying for funding, research programs thoroughly to find those matching your academic background and interests. Craft customized documents conveying your skills, experience and potential. And highlight how you will contribute to department priorities through research collaboration. While competition is fierce, outstanding students from any country and discipline can realistically access full support at elite US institutions if they target relevant opportunities.
So if you are an ambitious prospective master’s or PhD candidate hoping to study in America, don’t let finances deter you. With a strategic approach, you can absolutely find excellent fully-funded programs to advance your graduate education dreams without breaking the bank. The resources and guidance covered here should give you an excellent starting point. Best of luck with your applications.