Paying for School: The US Edition

Many universities in the US are world-renowned and the opportunities that they can provide are abundant. However, their price tag is sometimes comparable to a Ferrari. How can non-royalty afford to pay American university tuition fees and US living expenses? Are there scholarships or other funding opportunities for non-US students who wish to complete all or part of their degree in an American institution? Are there bargains to be found by going to a public institution versus a private one? In order the answers are: StudentRoads can help you figure it out, yes but you need to invest time in the process, and definitely, yes. 

What Will My Bill Look Like?

For the 2010-2011 academic year, The College Board reported that the average cost of annual tuition for an American four-year public institution was $19,595 and an American four-year private institution was $27,293. Just to repeat, that is only for one year. Additionally, tuition isn’t the only thing you’ll be paying for during your education in the US. When budgeting for your time abroad also consider the amount of money you’ll be spending on accommodation, meals, health insurance, books, clothes, your social life, travel, taxes, and your airplane tickets to and from the US. When you add in these costs, The College Board estimates that annual student budgets are currently at $28,130 for four-year public institutions and $36,993 for four-year private institutions. You will be required to prove to both the university and the US Consulate that you have enough money to cover your living expenses in the states.

Should I Just Quit Now?

No! A good number of options for financing all or part of your education in the United States exist. Creative students who are willing to put in the time and effort to research and pursue the array of financial aid opportunities available can secure financial aid for an American education. Options include full scholarships from your university and/or private organizations, need-based aid, part-time work, cost saving opportunities, and bank loans. Many students take a blended approach. 

Bottom Line? Securing financial assistance is a reasonable goal but it takes work.

Seek Financial Assistance from Your College or University

While the majority of US institutions only offer direct financial assistance for their American students, there are a fair number of universities that offer assistance to international students in the form of grants, scholarships, loans and/or part-time work programs. Recent research by EducationUSA showed that during the 2009-2010 academic year over 900 colleges and universities awarded $10,000 or more to international students. This brought the total out-of-pocket tuition expenses for recipients from around $20,000 to $27,000 per year down to less than $15,000 a year.

There are relatively few universities that offer full merit-based scholarships to foreign students wishing to study in the US. The number available each year to international students is estimated at about 1,000 scholarships from 100 schools nationwide. Amherst College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale all accept international students on a need-blind basis. Students who meet admission standards will be admitted regardless of ability to pay and will receive full compensation for their education if they can’t afford it. These scholarships are highly competitive, and winning applicants are typically the top students in their countries. This elite group of students are “academic rockstars” with exceptional academic ability and/or special skills.

Some Private Organizations Offer Scholarships and Financial Aid

In addition to financial aid from American universities some private organizations offer aid in the form of loans, grants, fellowships and scholarships. There may be organizations based in your country or internationally, in addition to American organizations. Research, research, research (and if you find something cool please share it with other students in the comments section below). Some well-known organizations that provide grants or scholarships for international students include Rotary International and Fulbright scholarships.

Check out EducationUSA – Supported by the US Department of State, this site offers a wealth of high quality information and advisory services exclusively to international students seeking education in the States.

Institute of International Education – Database of scholarships, fellowships and grants available to foreign students who wish to study in America.

Offset Your Cost of Living

Besides seeking financial aid there are a few things you can do to reduce your cost of living while you’re studying in the US. Take these options into consideration when seeking aid and budgeting for your time abroad:

Part-Time Work

US immigration policy allows international students to work up to 20 hours per week, and only on-campus during their first year. Universities offer various on-campus jobs, including in administrative departments, in the library or sports center, and in campus housing and food services. After your first year, you’re allowed to apply to work off campus on a part-time basis. Part-time work can help cover the cost of food, books, and other living expenses that are often not taken into account when budgeting for your education in the US.

Resident Assistants

Become a resident assistant (RA): Your university may allow you the opportunity to become a resident assistant (RA) in a student residence, where you assist students new to campus life in exchange for free accommodation and occasionally a small amount of financial compensation or a meal plan. Becoming an RA can significantly offset the cost of your US education, potentially saving you thousands of dollars in rent.

Accelerate Your Academic Timetable

Accelerate your class schedule: By completing a four-year degree in three years, you can save thousands of dollars as well. Options available for speeding up your graduation include earning transferrable credit at an institution in your home country before coming to the US, earning transferrable credit at a community college close to your university while taking university courses (tuition at community colleges is typically much cheaper than tuition at universities), attending summer courses, and taking an additional course every semester.

Consider Taking out a Loan

International students who want to study in the US can also consider taking out a loan. Loans at market leading rates are offered by US loan giant Sallie Mae as well as other private institutions. Non-US citizens can apply for a student loan with Sallie Mae if they have a US citizen or permanent resident as a co-signer. This co-signer is often a relative or a family friend. Student loans typically do not need to be paid back until the borrower lands a job post-graduation. Alternatively, academic advisors at your desired school may be able to point you in the right direction.

There are an increasing number of new options for student loans through crowd funding. Check out and keep an eye out for the latest startups as the crowd funding idea is gaining in popularity. If you are looking for a loan for an MBA program look at Prodigy Finance.

Most Importantly, Don’t Give Up!

If you have made it this far in the article you are very determined so, now, the Bonus Round: if you are creative and savvy with social media perhaps consider taking a risk and putting yourself out there (in a G-rated, legal, non-scandalous way, please!). If a kid can become an internet sensation and get a college scholarship for creating a penny arcade out of cardboard why not attempt to do something amazing and see what happens? At the very least, and even if you get only one YouTube “thumbs up”, you will have an awesome story for your university applications.

Funding your education in the US is all about your personal dedication.  Aid for international students is competitive but it does exist. Someone will get this financial assistance so have the drive and commitment to attain it and make it yours.

[Top image credit: Hemera Technologies/; Second image credit: Photodisc/Digital Vision/Thinkstock]

© 2012 StudentRoads. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.

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