America might proclaim itself the ‘land of the free’, but a US university education is anything but.
(Skip ahead to see our list of scholarships for international students.)
Until recently, tuition fees in Britain had always looked fairly lightweight alongside the hefty cheques that American parents were forced to write for their children’s education; the exorbitant cost of a good American college was enough to dissuade most Brits from even considering the option.
Now, of course, things are changing dramatically in the UK: most universities now charge £9,000 per year for tuition. But of crucial importance is that that UK figure does not include anything else, just tuition, so accommodation, food, books, etc go on top. When you start adding up the additional costs, the disparity between the that total and the US number can be quite small.
The good news is that that the amounts advertised by American unis are ‘all-inclusive’. Amazingly, this one important fact seems to be little known in the UK, or perhaps just not believed.
When a uni states that international students will need $60,000, that number is for EVERYTHING—tuition, books, accommodation, food, insurance etc. Some also incorporate the cost of one round trip ticket in the figure as well.
It is a frequently held misconception that every international student at an American college comes equipped with his own million-dollar trust fund. This is miles from the truth. A first-rate education abroad is becoming an ever more achievable option for British students of all backgrounds.
One of the reasons American universities have thrived is due to their remarkable management of financial resources. Universities like Harvard have bank balances that rival the largest American corporations and exceed those of many a developing country. Alumni from all over the nation pour money back into their alma maters and boards of savvy businessmen make sure their colleges are never short of funds.
All this financial acumen allows for the generous subsidies and financial aid packages that enable students from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the college of their dreams.
The sum total…
Although the uni may publish an all-in annual cost, you need to work out a rough estimate yourself because the total costs will vary greatly, from $15,000 (for some state schools) to $60,000 (for some private colleges) per academic year. Many universities now have a good calculator built into their websites.
Tuition and fees are usually based on a nine-month academic year that runs from September to May. Tuition is the charge for instruction, while fees tend to cover services such as use of the library and student health service.
American universities require students to purchase a lot of textbooks and these can be expensive. It is not unusual to have a book bill of $200 to $400 per semester. There are also supplies, travel costs and other personal expenses to consider such as health insurance.
And then there’s the cost of life on campus. Obviously, this will vary depending on location and personal lifestyle, but most universities publish guidelines in the $5,000 to $12,000 range. In places such as New York and Boston, living on baked beans may be your only option to keep within budget.
And how to deal with all that…
Brits at university in the US do not have the option of a government-subsidised student loan, being ineligible for both US Federal Aid (FAFSA) and UK student finance. In the long-term this is a great benefit, leaving you debt-free once you’re out in the real world. In the short-term though, you are deprived of the chance of blowing all your money in the pub (if they had pubs), or on that cute pair of shoes, then living hand-to-mouth for the rest of the year. You will be living hand-to-mouth all year round anyway.
One solution is to get a job – but if you are not a US citizen or green card holder, then you're limited, by visa restriction, to only 20 hours of work per week and it must be on campus. Competition for these jobs can be tough and preference is given to students receiving aid. We have to be clear: you can NOT work off campus during term.
Another solution is to negotiate with your parents before the start of the academic year and agree on a loan with them – one that can be adjusted in either direction once you have gauged just how expensive campus life really is.
The main source of financial assistance for UK students, after family contributions, will be the university itself. Many, but not all, give help to international students. (For more information, besides our own list of grants and scholarships, we like the recently published US Scholarships for International Students, which spells out specific financial offerings for international students from 100 top universities in the US).
As of this writing, only six schools are completely 'need blind' for international students (which means admission is regardless of the student's ability to pay): Amherst, MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth.
However, many others do their very best and are very generous. The point is that students must do their homework. And a ton of paperwork. We have a good list of scholarships here - but it's only a starting point.
During the application process, you will have to submit information which will enable the university to assess your family’s financial situation. They then work out how much you can reasonably be expected to contribute to the cost of your education.
Many US universities will not charge you more than that amount. For example, if the university reckons the family contribution ought to be £200 a year - that may be all you will have to pay for your tuition and fees. Not all universities are so generous, but you will be surprised how many are!
And for the athletes among you, there’s always the option of a sports scholarship.