February 23, 2024
asylum seeker university scholarship
Discover scholarships for refugees and asylum seekers, application tips, and STAR's support for education access.

Asylum seekers face immense challenges in accessing higher education. Many have fled their home countries, leaving behind family, friends, and possessions. They undertake perilous journeys in search of safety, only to arrive in a foreign country where they know no one.

Despite these hardships, asylum seekers have enormous potential and ambition. A university education enables them to gain knowledge and skills, empowering them to build a brighter future. It opens doors to employment and allows one to fully participate in society.

However, financial constraints often prevent asylum seekers from pursuing a university degree. As international students, they do not qualify for domestic tuition fees or government loans in most countries. Scholarships are therefore crucial in enabling asylum seekers to access university.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of scholarships and funding available worldwide for asylum seekers wanting to undertake university studies. It outlines the range of scholarships by type, country, university and subject area. The guide walks through eligibility criteria, application timelines and processes, visa requirements, and additional support available. It aims to make the path to higher education clearer and more achievable for asylum seekers through highlighting funding opportunities.

Equipped with this guide, asylum seekers can make informed choices about scholarships to apply for. They can plan their educational journey and financial needs. Importantly, it brings hope – hope for a future where young asylum seekers can develop their talents and create positive change through education. The guide affirms that circumstances should not define one’s dreams or limit one’s potential.

Types of Scholarships

There are several types of university scholarships available specifically for asylum seekers and refugees. The main categories are:

Merit-based Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are awarded primarily based on academic achievement and merit. These include scholarships for asylum seekers who have excellent high school grades, standardized test scores, and academic potential.

Some examples of major national merit scholarships open to asylum seekers are the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholars Program and the Coca-Cola Scholars Program. There are also state and university specific merit scholarships that asylum seekers can apply for.

Need-based Scholarships

Need-based scholarships are awarded based on financial need. These help cover the costs of tuition, accommodation, books, and other expenses for asylum seekers from low-income backgrounds.

Some prominent national need-based scholarship programs include the QuestBridge National College Match and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarships. Many universities also offer institutional need-based aid and support.

Subject-specific Scholarships

There are also university scholarships for specific subjects, such as STEM, business, arts, humanities, law etc. Subject-specific state and national competitions provide funding for asylum seekers pursuing degrees in those fields.

Some examples are the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund for social justice and labor studies and the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund for women in STEM. Subject-specific aid is also available through universities.

Undergraduate vs Postgraduate Scholarships

Most university scholarships for asylum seekers are focused on the undergraduate level to assist with bachelor’s degrees. However, some scholarships do support graduate studies, including master’s and PhD programs.

Examples of postgraduate scholarships include the Marine Scholarship Program and the AAUW International Fellowships. University-funded graduate grants, fellowships and assistantships are also open to asylum seekers in some cases.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for asylum seeker scholarships and grants, there are typically 3 main criteria you must meet:

Immigration/Asylum Status Requirements

  • You must have a pending asylum application or be granted asylum/refugee status. Some scholarships are open specifically to asylum seekers, while others are for refugees.
  • For scholarships for asylum seekers, you’ll need to provide documentation like your asylum registration card.
  • For refugee scholarships, you’ll need official proof of your status like an I-94 form.
  • DACA recipients may be eligible for certain scholarships. Check the specific requirements.
  • Be aware immigration status eligibility can vary by scholarship. Review carefully.

Academic Requirements

  • GPA requirements, typically 2.5 or higher. Some require a 3.0+ GPA.
  • Must be accepted to or enrolled in an accredited U.S. college or university.
  • Pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree as a full-time student.
  • High school diploma or equivalent required. Other academic achievements valued.
  • Test scores like SAT/ACT may be optional eligibility criteria.

Financial Need Requirements

  • Most scholarships require demonstration of financial need.
  • Need is determined through your estimated family contribution (EFC) via FAFSA.
  • Some utilize income thresholds – check if your household income falls below a specified cap.
  • Asylees who can demonstrate lack of family financial support may be favored.
  • Scholarship amounts awarded partially based on level of financial need.

Asylum Seeker University Scholarship

There are several major national and institutional scholarships specifically aimed at supporting asylum seekers and refugees pursuing higher education. These provide crucial funding and should be top priorities for any asylum seeker applicant.

World University Service of Canada Student Refugee Program

  • Covers full tuition, housing, health insurance, and living expenses
  • For refugees, convention refugees, and asylum seekers
  • Must meet admission requirements of partner Canadian universities
  • Apply directly through WUSC local committees

Article 26 Backpacks Fund

  • Provides scholarships up to $25,000
  • For asylum seekers and refugees in the process of acquiring asylum
  • Must be enrolled in an accredited U.S. university
  • Online application opens three times per year

Herb Block Scholarship for Refugees

  • Covers tuition, housing, meals, and textbooks
  • For refugee students in their first year at George Mason University
  • Must meet eligibility criteria and academic standards
  • Application opens in November each year

Boston University Asylum and Refugee Scholarship

  • Covers full tuition plus housing and fees
  • For asylum seekers and refugees who are BU applicants
  • Must meet admission criteria and prove refugee/asylum status
  • Apply during BU’s regular admission process

Amideast Education Abroad Refugee Scholarship

  • Awards up to $20,000
  • For refugees and asylum seekers from the MENA region
  • Must meet eligibility criteria and be accepted into a U.S. university
  • Submit online application by May each year

The Application Process

Applying for asylum seeker university scholarships involves submitting various documents, filling out application forms, potentially interviewing, and following tips to create a strong application.

Required Documents

You will need to gather and submit documents like:

  • Proof of identity and asylum seeker status
  • Academic transcripts and test scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Financial aid forms
  • Essays or personal statements
  • Portfolio (for some creative scholarships)

Having these documents ready will help streamline the application process. Check individual scholarship requirements.

Application Form

Most scholarships will have an application form to fill out with your personal details, academic history, financial situation, and more. The form provides the selection committee with standard information about all applicants. Take your time to fill this out accurately.


Some competitive scholarships may require an interview by phone, video call, or in-person. Use the interview to share more about yourself, your background, interests, and goals. Prepare stories and examples that make you memorable.

Application Tips

Follow these tips for a strong application:

  • Start early and give yourself plenty of time
  • Craft a compelling personal statement
  • Get feedback from mentors on your essays
  • Highlight extracurricular activities and leadership
  • Follow exactly the instructions and criteria
  • Proofread everything for errors
  • Submit before the deadlines

Thorough preparation and attention to detail will give your asylum seeker scholarship application the best chance of success. Reach out for help if you need it.

Visa Considerations

As an asylum seeker looking to pursue higher education, your visa status is an important consideration when applying for university scholarships.

Student Visas

In most cases, you will need to obtain a student visa to study at a university in another country. Being granted an asylum seeker scholarship does not automatically entitle you to a visa. You will still need to go through the standard visa application process for that country and meet all eligibility criteria.

The requirements for a student visa typically include:

  • Acceptance to an approved university
  • Proof you can support yourself financially
  • Health and character checks
  • Evidence you intend to return home after completing your studies

The scholarship award letter can help demonstrate you have sufficient financial support. But meeting other requirements depends on your individual circumstances.

Some countries may have specific student visa policies for asylum seekers and refugees. Check with your country’s embassy about any special provisions.

Impacts on Asylum Application

Studying abroad on a student visa will likely not negatively impact your pending asylum application. In some cases, it may even demonstrate intent to return home if your application is denied.

However, be sure to communicate your plans to study abroad to your asylum officer or legal aid provider. Get their guidance to ensure it does not complicate your case.

Also keep in mind that your student visa terms may require you to return home after finishing your degree. This could interfere with a pending asylum decision.

Discuss options with your university and immigration lawyer to structure your studies so they accommodate your asylum process. With planning, obtaining an education abroad can support, rather than hinder, your search for safe haven.

Financial Support Provided by Asylum Seeker Scholarships

University scholarships designed for asylum seekers and refugees aim to provide comprehensive financial support beyond just tuition fees. This is critical, as many asylum seekers arrive in their destination country with minimal resources. The scholarships enable them to focus on their studies, not just survive.

Coverage of Tuition Fees

Most asylum seeker scholarships will cover the full or partial tuition fees and college costs. This includes tuition, registration, exams, and mandatory fees. Some go further to also cover additional costs like books, supplies, equipment, and healthcare insurance. However, the coverage varies, so check carefully what is included.

Accommodation Support

Finding affordable accommodation is often a major hurdle for students, especially those from refugee backgrounds. Many asylum seeker scholarships will provide free or subsidized campus housing for the duration of study. Others give a housing stipend that can be used for private rental. This takes away a huge financial stress.

Living Stipends

On top of tuition coverage and accommodation support, some leading asylum seeker scholarships also provide a monthly living allowance or stipend. This provides for basic necessities like food, transport, clothing and other living expenses. Stipends range from $300 to $2000 monthly depending on location and scholarship policies.

The most generous asylum seeker scholarships aim to cover the full demonstrated financial need of recipients. They account for both the direct and indirect costs, enabling recipients to study with peace of mind. Be sure to understand what is covered before applying. Financial support makes a huge difference.

Alternative Funding

Scholarships are not the only route to funding your studies as an asylum seeker. Here are some other options to consider:


  • Educational loans from banks, credit unions, state agencies, etc. May require a cosigner with good credit. Interest rates vary.
  • Private student loans from companies like Sallie Mae and College Ave. Usually higher interest rates than federal loans.
  • Institutional loans directly from your university. Amounts and terms vary by school.

Research loan options carefully as some have high interest rates or stringent eligibility criteria. Compare total costs over the life of the loan.


  • GoFundMe – Create a campaign explaining your situation and education goals. Share on social media.
  • ScholarMe – Crowdfunding platform just for students. Allows donors to contribute to specific expenses.
  • RallyMe – Build a campaign with photos, videos, updates. Useful tools to spread the word.
  • PayPal fundraising – Easier for small donations from family/friends.

Promote your campaign extensively on all platforms. Provide regular updates to show donors your progress.

Part-time Work

  • On-campus jobs – Check with your university’s career center. Flexible hours, don’t always require work authorization.
  • Private tutoring – Tutor kids privately in academic subjects, music, sports, etc. Set your own schedule.
  • Freelancing online – Writing, programming, design, virtual assistance. Utilize platforms like Upwork, Fiverr.
  • Restaurant/retail – Cashier, waiter, delivery driver. Look for employers who don’t do strict background checks.

Limit work hours to avoid affecting academics. Seek jobs with flexible scheduling that accommodates your classes.

Application Advice

Applying for asylum seeker scholarships takes time and effort. Here are some tips to help you submit the strongest application possible:

Start early – Begin researching and applying for scholarships 6-12 months before you intend to start your studies. Scholarship application deadlines are often early, so give yourself plenty of time. Rushing weakens your application.

Get help reviewing documents – Have mentors, teachers or advisors review your application essays, resume, and other materials. They can provide valuable feedback to improve the quality. Also double check for any errors.

Highlight strengths – Scholarship committees look for outstanding students who demonstrate merit and potential. Reflect on your background, skills, experiences and achievements. What makes you unique? What adversity have you overcome? Convey these powerfully in essays.

Submit a complete application – Follow instructions carefully and provide all required documents. Missing items can disqualify you. Prepare materials like transcripts and test scores well in advance.

Apply broadly – Increase your odds by applying to multiple scholarship opportunities, not just one or two. Look locally and nationally. Relevant factors are your background, interests and financial need.

With strategic preparation, you can submit scholarship applications that make a compelling case for your worthiness. Avoid mistakes and don’t underestimate the effort required. If you start early and apply smartly, you’ll maximize your chances of success.

Additional Resources

There are many organizations and resources dedicated to helping asylum seekers access higher education and find funding opportunities. Some key resources include:

Useful Organizations

  • UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency provides tools and resources for refugees applying to university, including guidance on funding options.
  • STAR (Student Action for Refugees) – A UK-based charity dedicated to helping refugees and asylum seekers access education. They provide scholarships, mentoring and support.
  • Refugee Support Network (RSN) – Helps young refugees in the UK fulfill their potential through higher education. They provide scholarships, advice and mentorship programs.
  • Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) – A partnership supporting refugee education in camps and cities. They connect refugees to online university programs and scholarships.

Further Reading

  • Accessing Higher Education: Guide for Asylum Seekers and Refugees by Vicky Lewis – A comprehensive handbook on applying to university as an asylum seeker.
  • Higher Education for Refugees in Resource-Constrained Environments – A research paper by BHER analyzing the barriers faced by refugees in accessing education.
  • Refugees and Higher Education: Trans-national Perspectives on Access, Equity and Internationalisation – An edited book examining refugee experiences in higher education globally.
  • Sanctuary Scholarships: A Toolkit for Program Development – A guide to establishing scholarship programs for undocumented and refugee students.
  • The Global Guide to Education for Refugees – A resource by Theirworld detailing education opportunities for refugees worldwide.

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