Study Abroad Student Handbook
United States United States
Center for Global Education

Financing Study Abroad

In this section, you will learn how to help cover the costs of study in the United States. It is important to take into account all program costs to ensure you have enough funds for a healthy and safe experience in the United States.

In most cases, you will be required to prove to a university, to a consular officer, and to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) that you have sufficient funds to cover your living expenses while in the United States.

You can get an idea about how much money you will need by looking at catalogs or application information provided by the university you wish to attend. The estimated tuition and fees usually include living expenses as well as meal plan. Depending on where you chose to live, the estimated cost will change. Keep in mind that tuition is generally more expensive at private universities.

1. Cost of living

In the United States the cost varies by region. Living in large cities like Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco can be more expensive than living in smaller towns or rural areas. There are many things you should consider when thinking about what university you would like to attend. Living in a larger city can pose questions of transportation, while living in a smaller town can make you think about what options you may have for activities in your spare time. Cities have official web sites so you should explore them when making your decision to attend university.

2. Financial Assistance from a U.S. Source

Many U.S. colleges and universities offer some financial aid for international students, but funds are very limited it would be wise to find out if there is a formal exchange between your home institution and the institution you wish to attend in the United States. This kind of person-for-person exchange can reduce expenses in some instances. If you are considering graduate studies, you may qualify for a teaching or research job. Individual departments at universities generally control assistantships. For more information on external financial aid resources, visit Education USA's financial assistance resources.

3. Scholarships for International Students

Every year, millions of dollars in scholarships for international students go unused. It is very likely that there is a scholarship that you can qualify for. Furthermore, advising centers for international students contain information about available scholarships for international students. However, you should not rely on these scholarships because there may be many other international students in the same position you are in. Some scholarships may be offered through the Office of International Students, but usually they are fairly minimal.

4. Working in the United States

(Taken from "Funding for United States Study: A Scholarship Guide for Europeans")

Current immigration regulations permit international students to work only part-time- up to 20 hours per week- and only on campus. By working 10 to 15 hours a week, you could earn enough to pay for things such as books, clothing, and personal expenses, but your campus job cannot pay your major expenses, such as tuition or room and board. This income also cannot be used as a source of income for any official financial statements. Campus jobs may include working at the university's cafeteria, bookstore, library, or health club, or within the university's administrative offices.

You should ALWAYS check with your international student advisor before considering any form of employment!

Types of Existing Specialized Funding:

  1. Fellowships: Some universities, most commonly private, have the financial resources to offer scholarships to graduate students to help cover the cost of tuition and student fees, and sometimes they may be able to help cover some living expenses. Fellowships do not require anything in exchange for the financial award, only the guarantee of having an excellent student at the university. Fellowships can follow one of two different arrangements: either awarded to incoming students to cover only the first year of studies as a way to ensure their enrollment at the university, or awarded to students only after they've proven their academic abilities, usually covering tuition during the second year.
  2. Graduate Assistantships (GAs): Academic departments arrange to have graduate students work with professors and administrators on research projects in exchange for financial support for their studies. The financial support usually includes a tuition waver and living stipend, and can range from $5000 to $30,000+ per year, depending on the program, field of study, and university. The assistantships can take various forms and usually require that the student work 10 to 20 hours a week. This is an addition to the normal coursework required for their degree program.
  3. Research Assistantships (RAs): Some universities receive large grants from the government or private industry to conduct research in certain areas of interest. The universities apply for the grants and are chosen based on the strength of their department, research facilities, and professors/researchers. The departments in turn use part of this grant money to help fund graduate students to work directly with professors and assist them in their research. These positions are limited and therefore very competitive. The best way to learn more about available research assistantships is directly from the faculty members in your field of study at each university.
  4. Teaching Assistantships (TAs): At larger universities with a high number of undergraduate students there is a demand for graduate students to assist in the lower level undergraduate courses. The teaching assistants spend about 20 hours a week working for professors from the same department with their classes, though they may find work in other departments as well. In general, TAs work with professors to assist with grading papers, leading class discussions, monitoring laboratory classes, facilitating conversation groups for language studies, and occasionally having the opportunity to teach a class or possibly the entire course.
  5. Administrative Assistant (AAs): Administrative work within various departments can help you fund your studies (undergraduate or graduate) as well. AAs usually work between classes and carry out administrative duties and staff support, such as working in the department office and reception area and providing technical support in computer laboratories. AAs can often be unrelated to your area of study and therefore do not have the same influence to your educational and professional development as Teaching or Research Assistant positions.
  6. Residential Assistant (RAs): You can also apply for employment as a residential assistant (RA) in a university dormitory regardless of your academic standing (both undergraduate and graduate). RAs serve as the first point of contact for students needing assistance or who have conflicts regarding dorm life. In return, RAs receive free housing and sometimes a small salary and/or meal plan.

It is the student's responsibility to inquire about the above positions from the various departments within the university!

5. Lifestyle

For some students studying in the United States, having enough money is not a worry; they do not need to change their lifestyle to fit a budget. For others, studying in the United States may involve more financial planning and changes in lifestyle.

If you don't already budget your money at home, you might want to start doing so when you come to the United States. Budgeting your money doesn't have to be boring or difficult. You can think of easy ways to help yourself remember how much you are spending. It can be difficult to know how much you're spending. This is especially true if you get in the habit of using your credit card for most purchases. A helpful way to convert U.S. dollars into foreign currency is to carry a small pocket calculator with you.

Another way to keep track of your spending is to give your purchases a work value. For instance, you could say to yourself: "I will have to work so many hours in order to make enough money to be able to buy this shirt." This way, you begin to see your purchases not only in terms of money, but in terms of the time it will take you at work to earn the money to buy them.

Below is a sample budget planning sheet you can print out, fill in, and take with you to help you better keep track of your spending in the United States.

Study Abroad Budget Form

6. Relevant Questions

  • Have you spoken with an advisor in your school's Financial Aid department?
  • Do you know what your financial aid package does and does not cover in terms of study abroad expenses?
  • Before taking out a loan, have you looked at all other options (scholarships, grants, jobs, etc.) first?
  • For which scholarships, fellowships and grants are you eligible?
  • How does the cost of living abroad in the United States compare to the cost of living in your home country?
  • Have you started budgeting your income and/or saving money to provide for the program costs and cost of living abroad?
  • What categories do you need to create in your budget book/ledger (rent, food, clothes, entertainment expenditures, etc.)?
  • Do you try to give all your purchases a "work value" in order to see the time it will take you at work to earn the money to buy them?
  • Are there any other ways to cut back on expenses (i.e. coupons, not eating out, etc.)?
  • Can you think of any odd jobs that you might be able to do in your neighborhood in order to earn extra money (i.e. washing cars, babysitting, walking dogs, etc.)?
  • Have you taken care of all your financial aid and scholarship forms so that you continue to have financial support at your home campus when you return?

7. Checklist

  • I have used a cost-of-living calculator to help me figure out the difference in cost between living at home and living in the U.S.
  • I know whether the cost of living where I will be studying in the U.S. is higher, lower or the same as the cost of living at home.
  • I have begun the process of budgeting my income and/or saving money to provide for the costs of living in the U.S..
  • I have a small pocket calculator to carry with me in order to do currency conversions.
  • I understand what my purchases are worth; both their monetary value and their time value (how long it takes me to work for them).
  • I have created a simple budget book/ledger with categories that will help me better keep track of my spending.
  • I know roughly how much my study in the U.S. experience will cost.
  • I can comfortably afford to attend the university I have chosen.
  • My family and I think that the university I have chosen, and the experience of studying in the U.S., is worth its cost.
  • I have thoroughly researched and contacted groups, foundations and organizations that may be able to help me financially.

8. Resources

Country Specific
Student Handbooks
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