Money & Power

How Much Will It Cost You to Study in the U.S.?

Higher education in the U.S. pays, but how much does it cost? Here’s a breakdown.

Choosing the right school involves having to make more decisions than you thought. Small private college in a quaint town or state university in a sprawling city? A highly academic campus setting or one closer to the ski slopes? After pitting one Ivy against the other and sifting through the top 20 then 30 for BA or MA, you inevitably come across the ideal university. It has you on its welcome page. The courses are life altering; the faculty, Nobel Prize-winning. In the photo stream online, there are trees and a reflection of sundown on waters beside the campus, which is a bus ride from a hip district with vintage boutiques and jazz bars. Convinced it’s the perfect university, you are ready to fill out the application form.

Often, the smaller and more exclusive and remote from the whole world the institution, the higher the cost.

Then at the top of the page, the first dollar sign. The application fee is $60 for each one you apply to. Kachink, goes the mental cash register that mysteriously pops up when an expense in hard currency comes up. Then there are original transcripts that must be ordered from all schools previously attended, which need to be Fedexed, and the deadline for applications is on the payday before Christmas. The transcripts might need to be evaluated by an accredited institution, which means another $100. There are also the SAT/TOEFL/GRE/GMA exams and result fees. Somewhere on the Educational Testing Service website, you are informed that the delivery of a result is $12 for each exam over the phone, at $17 a call. Kachink. It dawns on you there is the matter of money. You check Less Than Ideal University. Its application fee is $50. You wonder if you need to go through the selection process again.

A building at Stanford

Before you push aside the first semester’s bill for August and tell yourself the education would ultimately prove to be a good investment, before you send out to the East and West coasts the 10 envelopes (of academic history, CV, minor personal details like “main goal in life” and how this will be attained with the degree applied for), it’s best to read the literature of every prospective school. Getting a U.S. degree will certainly help broaden one’s horizons, but it may be wise to exercise a bit of caution—the Benjamin Franklins it will cost don’t grow on those maple trees in the park overlooking the river. 

In studying the cost of attendance, there appears to be two main categories of American schools for higher learning: expensive and more expensive. Exactly how much, it depends: Private is triple, even quadruple, the cost of public.

Unlike U.S. citizens who have loans, grants, scholarships and part-time jobs for support, most nonresident aliens like the Filipino have only the option of dipping into family savings and non-dollar-compensating work.

Often, the smaller and more exclusive and remote from the whole world the institution, the higher the cost. Units of graduate studies burn a bigger hole in the pocket than undergraduate units. Needless to say, a program that has anything to do with numbers would generally require more dough than one that can be taught in everyday English. As luck and a 4.0 GPA would have it, the 10 prospective schools “are delighted to accept your application... and look forward to seeing you on campus.” You are ecstatic. Your Amex soon gets charged the deposit for registration that ranges from $300 to $500. The SEVIS fee for processing the I-20 form is $200. A U.S. visa application fee is currently at $160, not counting the delivery fee after the application gets approved and the little three-course snack after cueing for hours at the embassy.

Come enrollment, there is the first set of semestral charges that reads longer than this week’s grocery list: the basic tuition for the fall term, accommodation, food and/or meal plan, health insurance, extra fees, textbooks and supplies, transportation, and so on. The student budget indicated does not even include microfilming, computer fees, “supplementary” reading material and that 30-percent-off winter coat at Nordstrom’s in November.

Research on the top 300 schools in the U.S. will reveal that the tuition bracket is less than $10,000 to more than $60,000 a year—without room and board. Though the exact figure is based on the desired program, on average, a year's tuition would cost approximately $33,000 at private and $10,000 at public. The amount increases by at least 3 percent every year. That's just the average. Ivy League schools could cost a lot higher. For example, it’s around $43,280 at Harvard for 2016-2017.

The Harvard Campus

The total average of expenses per school year would reach $49,320 or P2,474,877.60.*

The good news is two-thirds of full-time undergraduates receive financial aid. The bad news is this is true only as of the school year 2014-2015, and international students, in general, are not eligible for most forms of financial assistance. They are encouraged “to investigate all sources of funding within one’s home country.” Unlike U.S. citizens who have loans, grants, scholarships and part-time jobs for support, most nonresident aliens like the Filipino have only the option of dipping into family savings and non-dollar-compensating work. Plus they automatically fall under out-of-state students who pay more than the in-state residents do. And there’s no sense in waiting for the recession to end, or for aid to miraculously open to non-U.S. citizens again because tuition inflation rises at a rate higher than that of the mortgage payment.

Room and board and daily expenses may be pegged at $11,000 a year for on-campus lodging. Groceries are only at $100 a month, telephone and utilities amount to $200, and only $200 is spent on “sundry.” A tidy, barely used at in a new building with Wi-Fi will cost at least $1,000 monthly or $10,000 annually, which would render the $18,000 figure more plausible. This also depends on location, however. In New York, a small studio or apartment would cost $1,500. A meal plan may or may not be included in these estimates, and homesickness could yield to the additional costs of ditching the plan in favor of making chicken adobo more than occasionally for two to four years. There’s a big chance your telephone bill will exceed $100, what with international calls, particularly in the first year and on holidays. This does not even include the price to pay for “I miss you” text messages and calls on your mobile phone.

The Yale campus

In general, U.S. colleges offer health insurance. Only nine credits are usually required for an undergraduate to qualify. It’s convenient because it will be charged to the student account and there would be no need to look into the vast sea of health insurance providers. Whether it’s more costly or not to avail of it depends on the institution and state, as well as your medical history and the coverage of the package. It is important to examine the school’s policy.

Extra fees are usually for the use of facilities and services on campus. In certain programs, they are charged for the student’s participation in co-operative education work placements. Then there are the books. There’s a high possibility that the estimate given in the school budget will grossly underestimate your actual need (and appetite). It would be wise to add a couple of hundreds to the figure presented, particularly if the program is specific and the readings are by order only. It’s $800 at that dream university in New York near Strand bookstore. In the late John F. Kennedy Jr.’s school, $1,230 is allotted to books and supplies in 2009. The figure of $1,200 may be a safe rough estimate.

Public transportation costs around $900 a year in one of the schools along the Loop in Chicago. In a walking city like New York, the commute costs around $850. Before flying in your 5-series or buying a second-hand C class to drive up and down San Francisco, keep in mind that gas is at $4.20 per gallon in 2015.

A modest average for personal expenses, miscellany or sundry, a.k.a. shopping, touring and “networking”, would be $2,000 a year, at 15 credits a semester. The cost, as with other living expenses, would depend on location as much as on lifestyle, since taxes are generally higher in the East than in the West. Overall, “expensive” amounts to approximately $18,000 a year. “More expensive” is at around $50,000. Whether this means trust fund interest peanuts to you or another century at company UOUS, the worth of this cost—as in all money matters—depends on your view on the investment. There’s no gamble involved here; there is only sacrifice for the expectation of a high return.

Ready for the first fall? Your travel agent will tell you the average plane ticket on coach is $1,500. Kachink. Here’s hoping there are enough miles earned for a ticket to fly back home.

*$1 = P50.18 as of March 29, 2017

Source: College Board

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Kristine Domingo
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