Wish to study in the USA? Calculate your tuition and how to pay for it
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Cost Of Education In The US And Payment Options For International Students

Updated on July 27, 2021 01:16 pm
Female Indian student smiling with friends in background

The United States (U.S.) is a top choice for international students but is also one of the most expensive choices. The tuition and fees for colleges and universities have gone up significantly as compared to the last two decades. For instance, since 2000, the tuition at public and private non-profit educational institutions have gone up 65% and 50% respectively.

The total cost of education adds up after accounting for tuition fees, housing, books, food, transportation, and other college-related expenses. It is important to point out that the total cost will vary depending on the university or college, the course you opt to study, the type of degree, the city you live in. For example, universities in the U.S. consist of public/state or private universities. The fees are cheaper in public than in private institutions. 

Also, in public universities, there are two tuition fee rates: one for state residents (in-state) and one for out-of-state students (including applicants from the other U.S. states and international students). The second category is more expensive. However, in private universities, the tuition fees are the same for all students.

If you opt for medicine or engineering courses, the cost will be higher than you would have to pay for courses in arts, humanities, etc. MBA programs are often the most expensive.

We will address how you can afford to study in the U.S. despite the 5-digits headline costs.

Average Cost Of College In The U.S.

According to the latest report by educationdata.org, the average in-state student in a public 4-year college spends around $25,864 in a year or $103,456 in 4 years.

Out-of-state students spend $43,721 in a year or $172,885 over 4 years. The average tuition of the in-state public is $9,580, while the out-of-state tuition amounts to $27,437.

This compares to an average of $53,949 per year or $215,796 over 4 years at private non-profit colleges, $37,200 of it on tuition and fees

The cheapest choice would be the public 2-year colleges (also known as community colleges). The average tuition is about $3,372. However, the degree you get from these colleges would be counted as the first half of a bachelor's degree which is called an associate's degree.

The cost of education will differ depending on the degree type-bachelor's, master's, or doctoral. The cost is also determined by the length of the study. The traditional bachelor's degree is 4 years while the master's program can be completed between 1-2 years. The cost of a master's degree is between $20,000 to $40,000. The duration of a doctoral degree is 4-6 years and the cost is between $28,000 to $55,000.


What Is The Cost Of Attendance?

Tuition and fees of a college tell you how much the college will charge you for enrollment and attending classes. On the other hand, the cost of attendance (COA) includes all the associated expenses such as books, transportation, housing (if you live off-campus), a computer, supplies needed for classes, etc. The COA is different depending on whether the person is a full-time or part-time student and he/she is living on or off-campus.

This means the COA doesn't represent the amount of money directly charged by the college. COA is an estimate that you can expect to spend on attending the college before you receive any funding or financial aid. In other words, the COA is the college's 'sticker price'-the full amount advertised before any financial aid, grants, scholarships are factored in. Many students hardly pay the sticker price/published costs.

Higher education experts recommend families and prospective students to look beyond the sticker price as the cost listed may not be the actual amount they'll have to pay once the aid and grants are considered.

Many prestigious U.S. universities such as MIT, Caltech, Harvard University offer financial aid to international students.

Here is a breakdown of costs associated with going to college in the U.S.


How To Calculate The Cost Of Studying In The U.S.?

All US Universities are legally required to provide a fee and financial aid calculator on their website so that prospective students can get a rough estimate of the cost of their intended course of study and what financial aid they can get.

The net price calculator will show you the net price of attending the college for an academic year after subtracting the grants and scholarships amount. It is the final price you can expect to pay which will be lower than the college's published costs.

You can access these net price calculators on College Affordability and Transparency Center. The Department of Education's College Scorecard also provides links to these calculators.

You can compare the cost of attending different colleges using the net price of each college.


How Much Can I Borrow For College?

Typically, prospective students receive financial aid award letters detailing the costs, scholarships, grants, student loans, work-study programs, and other aid options for attending a particular college around the time of the application process. Once admitted into the college, it is time to talk about finances.

College financial aid helps students cover education-related expenses such as tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation.

For international students applying for colleges in the U.S., the expenses can add up considerably. They will have to factor in the colleges' cost plus the cost of living in a different country. The exchange rate variations can also add to the expenses. Additionally, they are not eligible for federal student loans from the U.S. government.

Apart from getting grants and scholarships, international students may require to get loans to afford an education in the U.S. Fortunately, there are financing options available to international students to help cover the cost of education in the U.S. You should also compare loan options in your home country.

It is important to know that although student loans are also aid alongside grants and scholarships, they are not free money and you will need to pay back with interest.

No matter the type of loan, the maximum amount you can borrow is the cost of attendance (COA) minus the grants and scholarships. You may borrow less than what you are allowed to reduce the amount of student loan debt that needs to be repaid over time.

When To Apply For Student Loans?

One should start applying for loans at the earliest possible to avoid the last-minute rush. The whole process of loan evaluation, sanction, and loan disbursement is time-consuming. The loan evaluation can be done even before your admission is confirmed. Loan disbursements are usually done after you receive the confirmation of admission from your college.


The U.S. remains the top destination for international students despite being the most expensive destination for education. The cost of education may seem daunting at first but with proper research and check on facts on fees and funding options, studying in the U.S. may be affordable after all. To lower the cost of studying abroad, apply for scholarships/grants, look for a part-time job as a student, and learn to budget. Considering it as an investment for your future, the costs may be worthwhile in the long run.

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