How To Budget For School


To help you plan the costs for your school, we've developed this resource to help you figure out what you can expect to pay when attending a university or college in the United States. There is a lot to consider as you evaluate the total cost of your academic program, beyond the typical cost of tuition. You can also download our sample budget.

Arrival Costs

Visa Application Renewal Fees
When it comes to the application process for your F-1 international student visa, there is no short list of costs to prepare for. Included are the SEVIS I-901 fee, country reciprocity fee (which applies to a select number of countries), Form-160 Fee, passport fees, and the list goes on. The application process can be expensive so make sure that you've understood the initial cost upfront.
Application & Exam Fees
Many colleges and universities require you to pay a fee just to submit an application. On top of that, many exams like the SAT, ACT, IELTS, and TOEFL, require those individuals sitting for the exam to pay for the assessment. Make a list of all the schools you want to apply for, what exams they accept, and target them responsibly to keep your fees as low as possible.
Start Up Costs
Let's be honest, there is only so much you can fit inside your luggage as you travel to your host country! If only the airline would give you unlimited packing space so you could take everything with you. Unfortunately, we live in a world of paying for luggage and there is only a limited amount of space in your bag. When you arrive in the US, you will soon realize that you need towels, sheets, pillows, toiletries, and more. Make sure you've got a start-up fund that you can draw on when you first arrive in the United States.

Evaluating the Cost of School

Tuition — International students typically pay out-of-state tuition at the college or university of their choice. Many schools have a separate list of costs specifically for international students that can be found on their website. As you budget, make sure you do this on an annual basis so that you know how much money you will need each year. You will also want to find out if the tuition is guaranteed to stay the same every year, or if it is expected to change over the course of your degree program.

Course Material Fees — Some courses require additional supplies and because of that, require an extra fee. Courses in the sciences or in the arts typically require students to pay something extra — be sure to contact your school to find out if this applies and how much.

Books & Supplies — Many schools estimate what you can expect to pay for your books and other supplies. Remember, this is just an estimate and will depend on where you buy your books, if you are selling them back, and what books are required by your classes. Overestimate this category and be sure to get the list of books before class starts so that you can purchase them online at a discount.

Health Insurance Fees — Most schools require their students to purchase an insurance plan for the full duration of their time in the United States. Some schools have a mandatory health insurance plan that can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Check with your school to see if they have a mandatory insurance plan or if you can buy your own individual policy (which may provide you with the option to find a plan that not only suits your needs — but also your wallet).

Costs Outside the Classroom

Housing — International students may have the option to live on-campus or to rent an apartment/condo/house nearby. Depending on your options, you'll find that living in a dormitory can be much more affordable than living off-campus. Typically the costs of your school dormitory will be one flat fee for the academic year. However, keep in mind that this generally doesn't include summer living. Alternatively, you can live off-campus. Rental costs — and what's included — will depend on the landlord. You may have a flat fee per month, or you may be responsible for some or all of your utilities. Make sure to ask your landlord about the following:

  • Rental cost
  • Water bill
  • Electric bill
  • Cable/Satellite TV bill
  • Sewage bill
  • Renters insurance
  • Landline telephone bill (which many students waive for their cell phone)
  • Internet
  • Furnished/unfurnished apartment

Meals - Many schools provide students with an estimate of how much their meals will cost, but really this can vary by individual. Schools typically have a cafeteria and restaurants on campus that will allow you to use your meal plan. To determine if the meal plan will be beneficial for you it's important to find out the costs, what's provided, and what amenities you'll have available in your living space. College discussion often includes mention of the freshman 15 — this is the amount of weight often gained during the first year of school — although a joke, it also serves as an indication that it's important to make wise food decisions while in school and beyond. It's very easy to find yourself grabbing a quick bite to eat when out with a friend, but this may not be the healthiest nor the most budget friendly choice. See whether there are grocery stores nearby and find out from alumni, advisors, and friends what you can expect to pay.

Cell/ Mobile Phone — Being a college student in the US does require a cell phone now-a-days. You'll find that many students don't have a landline telephone and now solely rely on their mobile telephone. Prices of phones and minutes can vary depending on whether you what a smart phone or a phone that can mainly receive and make outgoing calls. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and America Movil are the top five wireless telecommunication service providers in the US.

Transportation — How you will get around in the US will depend on the city your school is located in. Much of the US, unless you are living in a large city, may require you to invest in a car. Along with the cost of buying a car comes the additional car insurance, car maintenance, gas, and car emergency fund. If you are one of those individuals who have public transportation on your side, find out what the ticket cost will be.

Clothes — Whether you are a shopaholic or if you will wait until the final moment to go to the store, you will still need to set aside money for your wardrobe. Many international students find that northern states are much colder than they anticipated, and it requires an investment in a winter coat and some warm clothes. Be sure to have an adequate amount of money available for this so that you don't have to brave the cold!

Laundry/Cleaning — It's surprising how quickly laundry can add up. With all of those coins in your pocket, you'll find yourself going through them much quicker than you thought. Some apartments may come with a washer and drier, others may not. Make sure to have a few dollars a week for this so that you aren't strapped for cash.

Hobbies — Sure, we are going to school to learn, but that doesn't mean we spend the whole time in the classroom. Many colleges offer students a number of activities and organizations to get involved in, and some of them will require you to fork over some cash. Think about the hobbies you do at home and find out what the cost will be in the US. Moreover, put some additional funds aside so when an exciting boating or skiing trip comes up, you'll be able to go!

Trips/Going Out — Socializing on campus is one of the unique parts of studying in the US. You will find that many students spend time going on trips or outings during the weekends, breaks, and after school. Whether it's a nearby destination, or one that requires a flight, be sure to consider what is on your must-do list — and be sure to plan financially!

Travel/Holidays — Traveling to another country is exciting — it's an opportunity to explore a new land. Breaks and trips will come up, and you'll have to decide whether you are going to stay in town, travel around in your host country, take an international trip or return home. Depending on the option you choose, you will need to make sure you've adequately budgeted, well in advance.

Childcare costs — Many international students travel with their dependents, and if you are planning to travel with kids be sure to consider the additional costs such as child care, school, etc. It's important to make sure you are prepared to not only study, but to take care of your loved ones as well.

For your convenience we've also created a sample budget to help you plan accordingly.

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