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How to fund your international master's degree

Katie Schenk - June 14, 2019

Prodigy Finance looks at the best time to apply for a student loan

Almost nothing about an international master’s degree is cheap. But it might just be the most important (and lucrative) investment you’ll ever make.

Few grad students, international or otherwise, have the resources needed to pay for their education outright. You, like so many others, probably have to work out how you’ll pay for your master’s degree. 

How much will your international master’s degree cost? 

The cost of your education is based on several factors, including:

  • The country and region of study
  • Your school
  • Your degree programme
  • Length of study
  • Lifestyle choices while studying (living expenses, etc)

Universities in the United States publish the Cost of Attendance (CoA) for all of their degree programmes. 

CoA definition

At European universities, you’ll easily find the costs for tuition and mandatory fees, alongside a monthly estimate for living expenses in that city.

It’s also important to note that, even when the school provides a full CoA, this amount is different from your budget, which will account for your lifestyle choices while studying. 

Getting the funds required for your student visa

It all boils down to the ability to secure a study visa.

International students - those that require a visa to study (which excludes international students in and across the EU, for example) can’t pursue their education without study loans unless the combination of scholarships and savings cover the full Cost of Attendance (CoA).

Studying in the US?

In the United States, for example, you’ll need to have an I-20 form from your school that shows immigration officials their estimated CoA and you’ll need to prove those funds are available - first to the university and then to immigration officials. And, it’s not possible to apply for an F-1 visa without that I-20 form.

Get the timing right for your US visa

Typically you’ve got between 120 and 30 days before the start of your course to apply for your visa and have enough time to make it to campus without missing a beat.

Studying in the UK?

Over in the UK, you need to show that you have your living expenses available in your bank account for 28 consecutive days within the 31 days prior to your Tier 4 visa application.

And, if you’ve taken a loan for tuition that won’t be directly disbursed to the university, you’ll also need to show those funds will be available in your account before you enter the UK.

The rules are similar in just about every study destination country; if you can’t prove you can pay, you won’t receive a visa for study. And, you can’t just enter the country on a tourist visa as universities will need proof of your status as well. 

How do most students fund their international master’s degrees?

Most international master’s students piece together their funding through a variety of sources, including:

  • Savings
  • Family contributions
  • Scholarships
  • Fellowships
  • Bursaries
  • Company funding
  • Loans

If you’re like most students, you’ll explore all the options available until you can make your funding meet your budget.

And, the obvious place to start is with your savings and family contributions; it’s what you have and what your parents or other family members are willing to give you. Usually, this is a finite amount so you’ll see fairly quickly how much more you’ll need to finance your degree

What scholarships are open to international master’s students?

Most universities load accepted candidates into a database for financial aid (including scholarships) as soon as they confirm enrollment. You may find yourself presented with scholarship funding you didn’t even know existed.

But, you’ll also want to check with your programme about all the scholarships they offer. Typically, this information is easily found on the financial aid pages for your university. 

You may also find scholarships available for students coming from your home country or studying in your host country.

With the Prodigy Finance Global Scholarship, we award one recipient annually with the equivalent of a full cost of one year’s tuition up to $100,000 based on a combination of merit, skills and motivational criteria plus public voting. 

Typically, you’ll find a range of need-based and merit-based scholarships and many that focus on a combination of the two.

Keep in mind:

  • Financial need is highly subjective. A situation that might qualify for assistance in your home country might set you above the threshold in another.
  • Each school or scholarship offer will have its own calculation to determine financial need. Don’t assume you’ll always make the cut.
  • Merit scholarships may focus on anything from past leadership experiences and research, to your GMAT or GRE test scores. Don’t underestimate the importance of these test score when submitting your application. 

TIP: Keep your eyes open for GMAT study scholarships; they’re often awarded through competitions. And, if you do have special circumstances but an incredible application, you may find awards that assist with test fees and admissions consultants services. While you’re studying you may find assistance for books, meals and even your kids.

Are fellowships and grants available to international students?

Absolutely, but both are highly competitive.

That said, you should take time to investigate opportunities. Just like scholarships, these funds don’t need to be repaid. 

As with scholarship opportunities, the best place to begin your search for these funds is on your school’s financial aid pages. 

Can you get company investment? 

You may not want to return to your current company post-graduation, but they may be willing to invest in you when you need it most. The trade-off, of course, is that you’ll need to return to your company for a number of years or repay the investment they made on your behalf. 

TIP: Your university may be able to assist with obtaining finance from your current employer. They can give references and help build a persuasive case for funding assistance.

Alternatively, most universities have a number of business links - companies that often play an active role in academic life and contribute to the fees of some students on application.

What do you need to know about international education loans?

If you’ve managed to balance your expected budget with funding before looking at loans, you’re one of the lucky ones. The majority of international master’s students need some kind of a study loan to complete their degree.

And, grad school students may actually want to consider partial loans to study abroad if their budgets are tight enough that currency fluctuations could negatively impact their experience.

International students should take a look at each of these options to find the right one (or ones) for their degree: 

Government loans

Depending on your nationality, your country may offer educational financing with low interest rates - even for international degrees. In some cases, they may even provide much needed scholarships.

Bank loans

Not all banks are willing to take on international students, but there’s nothing stopping you from trying. Approach all the banks in both your country of origin – and in the country of study.

Family loans

You may have a family member willing to loan you money - where you'll get a deal on the interest. Check the tax and loan laws in your country before accepting legal compliance.

Prodigy Finance

Not only do we offer loans to international master’s students, but you can also reduce the size of your loan before it’s disbursed if you get  scholarships or other financing that works out better.

How can you compare international student loans? 

Student loans are usually sizeable amounts of money (regardless of the currency you’re dealing with), so you need to investigate every option, keeping in mind that there may be a variety of financial or administrative benefits to each loan offer.

For example, you may find that one loan offers a better interest rate while another doesn’t require international transfer costs or currency exchange fees. 

Interested in a Prodigy Finance loan? 

Even if you choose another provider for your international study loan, it’s worth it for you to apply for a quote from Prodigy Finance.

Here’s why:

  • All applications are commitment-free. You don’t have to accept your quote. And, there’s no penalty on your credit score for checking whether Prodigy Finance can offer you a loan.
  • Depending on your school and degree programme, you could qualify to borrow the full CoA (as provided by the school) for your studies. You could be dealing with a single lender, a single set of terms and a single monthly repayment.
  • You can apply before you even get your acceptance letter. In fact, you can apply for quotes for more than one school. The amount you qualify for may vary between universities and it could help you choose the right programme.
  • You don’t need collateral or a co-signer, so you can apply at any time, from just about anywhere with our fully online application.
  • The more information you have about the loans available to you, the more likely you are to make the best choice for your financial future.

The application process is super simple and only takes about half an hour. 

INFOGRAPHIC Getting a Prodigy Finance loan - what you need to know

Want to know more about getting a Prodigy Finance loan for your international master’s degree? 

When should you get your student finances in order?

To answer this correctly, you’ll probably start by asking yourself: how long does it take to get a student loan?

That’s a good question, but sadly one that doesn’t have an easy answer. It all depends on:

  • the institution providing your loan,
  • how many applications they have at any one time, and
  • how easy or difficult it is to validate your financial details.

In principle, the longer you have for international study loan approval and disbursal, the better.

When is the earliest I can apply for student loans?

In countries that have established financial aid systems where the government is responsible for providing student loans for those that qualify for them (such as in the United States and Australia), you can apply for student loans as soon as you:

  • are accepted to a university, and
  • have accepted that placement.

Often there will be a final deadline for education loan applications, but as long as you have an admit date, you can begin your student loan application.

International students usually don’t have this sort of luxury.

However, you will usually need to have the same criteria in place. As soon as you do, it’s probably best to begin applying for your loans immediately. Some international student loan providers (which may be a local bank, one in your host country, or a borderless student loan platform like Prodigy Finance) take longer than others to:

  • approve your education loan (some may even take a few months), and
  • disburse your study loan (which sometimes depends on date when study starts).

It’s up to you to enquire with your potential loan providers to determine their time frames. And, unless a bank provides you with an absolute maximum or minimum time based on their policies, you should assume the time frame they provide is a guideline or average

With Prodigy Finance, you can expect a response with the maximum amounts you qualify for within a week

Remember that you may qualify for different amounts for different programmes as our predictive salary forecasting model includes datasets linked to individual schools.

It’s always advisable for international students to apply for admission to a programme as early as possible

Not only does this allow time for education loan and visa processing, but it’s almost a requirement at some universities in order to take advantage of housing opportunities (something international students are usually very concerned about).

What do I need before I can apply for student loans?

Before you can apply for any student loan, you’ll need to know:

  • the cost of attendance (CoA) provided by the school,
  • your personal budget for your studies, and
  • an understanding of how you plan to meet these targets.

These all might seem the same at first, but they’re usually very different figures. 

Cost of Attendance

  • Cost of Attendance (CoA) is the amount provided by your university, either for the duration of your studies or for the first year of a 2-year programme.
  • CoA is broken into tuition and mandatory fees + minimum living expenses. University CoA figures are usually available online, but you can contact the financial aid or international student offices if you need more details.
  • Think of CoA amounts as a minimum. 

Personal budget

  • This figure is usually more than the university CoA. 
  • You’ll need to consider your lifestyle as well as your personal goals (for example: Do you need to travel for internships? Is networking critical for your future startup?).
  • To compile your budget, you’ll need to begin planning your studies, asking where you will live, what you’ll eat, and how you’ll get around in addition to the tuition, fees, and health insurance you’ll need to pay.

Sources of funding

  • This includes all other funding sources beyond your loan you’re applying for. These could include savings, scholarships, company sponsorships, family contributions, previously accepted loans.
  • Keep in mind that you can reduce the size of your Prodigy Finance loan if you receive scholarships later, so there’s no reason to delay your loan application after acceptance. 

Remember, the absolute minimum you must have to apply for your international visa is the CoA provided by the university. All your funding sources, including loans must reach this amount to apply for your visa.

Need a closer look at typical CoA and budget figures?

When you’ve never lived in a country before, it can be difficult to determine how much money you’ll need, in addition to these resources, university community as well as expat forums are usually quite helpful. 

What paperwork will you need when applying for an international student loan? 

Loan providers have different requirements for their applications and prior to loan confirmation. What’s needed is usually determined by a mix of governmental mandates as well as whatever data is required for the risk model (which is used to determine eligibility, loan amounts, and interest rates) used by a provider.

Want to know more about Prodigy Finance requirements for international student loans?

What is the best time to apply for student loans?

The best time to apply for your student loan is as soon as possible.

At the very latest (and truly, the very latest), you should apply for your loan according to the application duration set by the loan provider plus the maximum processing time required to secure your international student visa. 

So why do so many students wait? 

They’re worried that they’ll be locked into a loan only to secure a scholarship (or several scholarships) later.

Scholarships certainly make financial sense. They’re money you don’t need to repay (as long as you maintain the requirements given by the awarding bodies).

But, it’s unwise to wait for money that you may or may not receive when it comes to international student loan applications. You might just find yourself without the funding required to secure a visa or complete your education. 

At Prodigy Finance, you can accept your provisional loan offer based on the maximum amount you qualify to receive - and reduce it before it’s disbursed based on scholarships or other sources you prefer to follow. 

And, you’ll only pay the Prodigy Finance loan fee on the amount disbursed, not the originally accepted amount! 

In addition, all our loans are co-signer and collateral-free - and you can expect a decision within a week.

You’ll need to check with the terms provided along with the other loan products you might consider - remembering that every provider has different criteria.

Whatever you do, do it as quickly as possible.


What are you waiting for? 

Prodigy Finance provides graduate-level education loans to qualified international students. And, borrowers have the possibility to reduce their loans before disbursal.


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