How Much Money Do I Need, To Study In The United States?

by neville

You are probably just like the thousands of students we have previously advised. You are bright, capable, enthusiastic, ambitious and progressive. Unfortunately, you are probably also financially limited. So how do we reconcile these two divergent quantities? We strategize.

How much money your need to study in the US depends heavily on which US university your select.

Select schools practically, if finance is your constraint. Remember you are likely to get a payoff that is just as rewarding from a small, lesser known school, as you would from the so-called “elite” school.

The payoff is largely contingent on the qualities that you possess, the qualities outlined above… than the perceived quality of your school. Therefore break school options down loosely like this:

  • Dream school

  • Realistic school

  • School that wants me

Several schools might fit into each category. The final determination, however, should be the best combination of a desirable school, where you can realistically fit and succeed, and where you can get the best support package.

Show me the money! Remember that slogan and let it guide you. We are assuming that you are not independently wealthy, and that the availability of financial support plus the probability of a lower cost will impact on your decision.

Undergraduate education runs four years. How much should you expect to have in real money prior to leaving home?

As a general rule of thumb, using the university’s cost estimate for each year, the formula is as follows:

For Undergraduate Studies (4 years) = 2.5 x University’s Cost Estimate

For Graduate Studies (2 years) = 1.25 x University’s Cost Estimate

Always keep in mind that the money you secure from home prior to leaving is the most critical.

Scholarship DOES NOT mean “full ride”

In allocating money prior to leaving home, please recognize a critical semantic nuance—or rather, a clarification of terms. Most schools will give a scholarship to good students regardless of their national origin. However, be realistic about that term.

Our colleagues in admissions and International Services departments at US universities tell us of the many nice letters they receive from deserving students all over the developing world asking for a scholarship to attend their institution. However, these nice warm letters were asking for something impossible. They were asking for a “full ride… an all expense paid education adventure.” That is highly unlikely.

The term “scholarship” when used contextually in American higher education, can mean as little as $100 per year. It is any financial award.

So when schools post that scholarships are available, don’t be deluded.

American parents pay and take loans to educate their children. So it is unrealistic for international students to expect a full ride, especially at the undergraduate level, at an American university. We will explain the options and nuances for graduate education in a subsequent posting.

Scholarships are available, however, especially for developing world students. Entities such as

  • The World Bank
  • The Organization of American States
  • The EducationUSA
  • The Fulbright Commission
  • Quasi-governmental and non governmental organizations

They all offer opportunities for financing students from the developing world. But these almost all require the participation and endorsement of your government. So in effect, you should first look at all the opportunities in your home country in order to compile that portion of the formula that is required prior to departure.

Respect the Bottom Line

While the opportunities are many and varied, it can be a nightmare to enter this country without the proper financing in place. We strongly urge against leaving home on hope, wishes and speculation.

At the same time, our 2.5 formula suggests that you can gamble a bit on the probability of earning about 40% of the cost of your education while in the USA, since you are only leaving home 60% secure. This is possible for several reasons that we will explore in other sections on My American Degree. However, your formula and methodology is set for prior to leaving home.

Bottom line:

Check the resources that are available to your nation and circumstance, and use them as part of a formula to secure 60% of the cost of your four years of undergraduate education. But don’t leave home unless you can allocate or at least locate that sum.

So you know have a formula for estimating the financial cost of studying at a US University. Now read “Where Can I Find the Money to Study at US Univerity?” for practical ideas on obtaining money for University.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

harshita February 18, 2014 at 6:16 am

hey, my name is harshita.. i am frm india, new delhi.. and about to give my 12th. board examinations! i want to pursue studies in the US.. Its my dream to study in very good universities.. tell me a way. what will be the path?


Okpalaugo thankgod ekene January 15, 2014 at 5:57 am

My name is ekene,am from nigeria…i studied building technology in one of the best polytechnic in nigeria and i graduated with my higher national diploma(h.n.d),it has been my dream to study my master degree in u.s…pls sir can you help me by informing me how much it will cost me to finish up my graduate proggramme..(mastersdegree) in u.s university….and am from an average family we dnt have money but atleast we will manage to provide it if the cost is fair… I will be waiting for your reply…. Thank you.


Kyrie December 10, 2013 at 6:40 am

I need your guidance in seeking opportunity to work in US.
I have done Engg in computer Science in India.
Currently working in Dubai for past 4 years in Supply chain Industry.
What is the best possible way for me to get a job.
Shall for go for some Graduate Program or some short course?
Please assist.
thnx, Kyrie



idris November 15, 2013 at 7:26 am

hi, i m an Indian carrying on with my secondary level education…….and it has been jst more than a dream for me to do my college life in united states…… because belong to a middle class family and it would be really difficult for my parents to finance my studies yet they would do anything to make my dream come true if i do remarkably well in my 10+2……..they want me to complete my under and post graduation from well known american universities…….so please hep me by advicing the neccessary steps to be taken……thank you!!!


professor_b November 30, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Financial limitations is the main reason why many youngsters like yourself cannot get their undergraduate degrees in the USA. Best I can suggest is as follows. Do REALLY well on your 10 +2 phase. Then prepare for and knock the SAT out of the ball park…or as Indians would say, hit it for Six, right over the top of middle-wicket. If you then apply to mid level schools, there is a slim chance of a full tuition scholarship or better. That might make it affordable for your parents. But given that you are Indian, here is a better option.

DO YOU UNDERGRADUATE IN INDIA. Help your parents out. With limited finances, no need to do undergraduate work in the USA. Indian universities are good and cost effective options.

THEN, you can have you pick of USA universities for graduate education…FREE OF COST. Just a little patience and excellence and you can have the best of all options….keep your family’s cake and still eat it….USA at no cost plus higher degree. Think about it.


Maria S July 4, 2013 at 10:32 am

I’m 20 years old and I study biotechnology(2nd year) at the Agricultural University Of Athens.Could you help me find a summer internship in a USA uni?Which are the entry requirements?What about accomondation,food..?
Thanks in advance


junaid May 27, 2013 at 7:01 am

i,m from i am in 2nd year and i want to go aboard for studies and that is my dream. we are financialy not good but we can do something for my future . sir plzz guide me what can i do now. and also tell me how much money will be need …advanve tnx


Sissy March 3, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Hello. I have recently studied English philology in university of Athens and I have also taken part in a post-graduate course in translation. I would like to study American literarure in New York but I do not have so much money for the studies.
What can I do in this case and where I must talk in order to learn how much money I must pay for my studies?
Thank you for your time.
I look forward to hearing from you.


Beatrice January 24, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Hi,I’m from South Africa,I would like to know about the entry requirements for postgraduates who wish to study in any university in USA.


Mike October 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

Hi there! I’m currently in Australia and looking at studying a Bachelor’s course in Computer Science in America. It has always been a dream of mine to live and study abroad in the US and I feel like I’m nearing that goal.

I am currently studying an Advanced Diploma in Computer Science here in Victoria, have several certs including my CCNA, CompTIA A+, RHCSE, RHCE and am working on completing my Microsoft related courses. I am also working part time while studying as a tech support/network admin for a company that provides IT services to schools across the state, and have otherwise been working and saving since I turned 14.

As of right now I am looking at having $28k-$30k saved by the end of this year. At the end of next year that could be around $50k. I am currently thinking that most people would not have this saved going into college in America but I’m not sure what access I would have to financial aid on a student Visa over there. I have a good credit rating here as I have been paying my card off on time since I turned 18 and feel I am otherwise approaching financial readiness to make the move.

I am curious to know what institutions I would be best looking at. Having looked around there are a SCARY amount of colleges/universities in America and thus I am sort of left confused on which I should be attending to get a quality education.

After looking at living situations I would probably be seeking dorm residence for the duration of my degree and afterwards (If I could then get a permanent living visa) I would look at living there, which is my ultimate goal.

Any advice on the matter would be greatly appreciated!

Regards, Mike.

Any further advice


Mike October 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

I should clarify: I meant living in America, not in a dorm. :) And the last line should read “Any further advice would be greatly appreciated” My mistake!


Diane September 16, 2012 at 6:23 am

I am 17 years old student from Russia. This year I graduate my high school and need to go for the high education. I’d love to study IT or politics in the USA. But, unfortunately, I got no money at all. I know, we can’t even think about the studying as it takes not less than 17,000$ per year. And also I know we can work only part time when we are at the university.
Don’t really know if it is a right place to ask, but not too long time ago I’ve seen on tv that the USA allowes foreign people to join the army and to get salary and, afterall, citizen. Some told me that the salary is really big, and you even can afford some universities, some told me it is not really that big. But anyway, if I get citizen I can get scholarship as if I were native (if I understood it right), so it gives me a lot of benefit. Please tell me if you find this way real or anything else you can tell. Thanks in advance for any tips.


Ivaylo Markov August 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm

By reading the older comments and the way you really try to help people by informing them, you really impressed me. I don’t want to sound like an amateur that lacks realistic point of view but I would really like if you guide me on my issue. Like all of the people asking questions here, I am intrested in US universities. The situation is like this: I am already 23 yo. I currently live alone in Belgium (far away from my home country – Bulgaria). I am working full time because i was financially unstable when I finished high school in 2007. I know age is not an issue when applying for university but I lack information about admission and fees. I decided, I really want to change the environment and focus on me. I think of my self as very bright minded, hard working and ready to go all the way on my own, man. I am able to save quite some money in the next year or so , + my father has decent job and he will be able to save some also…
I know different universities have different tuition fees, etc. I don’t want to ask for the exact amount because you can’t be specific but if you could tell me how much money will I need to succeed with UnderGrad education in USA (So I can get a clearer point of view). I am planning on going there after an year. I already know that in most universities is a must to stay on campus for the first year. I have alot of experience living on my own and being independent financially. Is it possible to gather arround 30.000$ as beggining capital before I go, get a part time job there while studying to earn for the incomming years of education + getting financial help about them from my parents yearly.

Best regards
Ivaylo Markov


professor_b September 10, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I LOVE your scenario and presentation. I CAN and I am willing to suggest a university or two that would make perfectly good sense, and I would take an interest in helping you fulfill your dream. Your age is not an impediment. I see your language skills are good. Do you believe you can handle a good TOEFL score and a good SAT score? Or average? My colleague Neville will reach out to you and give you direct access. Then we CAN suggest some affordable schools that you may want to explore. Hold on to that dream.


Ivaylo Markov September 11, 2012 at 10:45 am

So many things happened for the last few weeks. A lot has changed but not the dream. I am currently in another country and I will be living here for a while. I will try to make TOEFL and SAT in the next few months. I am optimistic about them because my IQ is above average. Thanks for your understanding and I will be writing here again ASAP (when I have SAT and TOEFL results)
Best Regards
Ivaylo Markov


Ramesh July 14, 2012 at 8:15 am

dear sir ,
hi , am Ramesh from pakistan and i complete my higth school at and i want to study in usa so can you tell me how much cost i be spend to study in usa..


neville July 14, 2012 at 11:55 am

Hi Ramesh,
Check out these 2 links:

Good Luck


aman June 28, 2012 at 12:46 am

sir i am an engineering graduate from India. i want pursue my MS in USA. i want to know an average cost of the whole course considering scholarships that are provided by the universities!!!


neville June 28, 2012 at 3:29 am

Cost varies widely by university. You first need to identify the universities that you are interested in and look at each cost breakdown. If you do not know how to go about selecting the univ that’s best for you then click here to learn more.


Golu Kak June 15, 2012 at 10:01 am

Dear Sir,
I want to study MBA in good US college. My Marks are 82%, 63 % & 81% in 10th, 12th & B.E.-Chemical. My GMAT score is 720. As i have no financial resources, may I request you to kindly advice me regarding admission possibilities with full scholarship.


Professor-B June 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I think your GMAT score is in the range that can garner significant financial assistance from mid level schools…and possible admission with some kind of assistance in upper level schools. My suggestion, however, is that you apply for Fall 2013. It is much too late to get in on the financial assistance now as decisions for Fall 2012 would have already been made.

Target State Schools….make sure the are AACSB accredited; SPECIFICALLY ask about assistantships. It is HIGHLY unlikely that it will be full. Business schools are the lease likely places to get a total freebie….but if you can find a reasonable supplement for living expenses, it is possible to get a tuition waiver and assistantship.


donya May 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Hello. My name is Donya and I live in London. I am currently studying to get into a university. I would love to get into a good university but I don’t know where to start. I need sponsors to sponsor me for my education as my parents are not able to support me. I used to work full time in a charity shop, but then I realised they wouldn’t hire me so I stopped going. Instead I began to concentrate on my education. I am tired of doing nothing and being no one even though I really want that to change. I just need to prove myself that I can be someone and finish my education. This is last thing I’m trying; I’ve thought of everything I can. I hope you understand.
Thank you for reading,


Professor_B June 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Donya you did indicate LONDON…as in England? Are you a British citizen? If so, once you are qualified, you will find it very practicable to enter any British institution with significant government assistance such that it becomes affordable. If this answer does not fit your circumstances (and I suspect from the tone you are probably not a British citizen or legal resident) then please provide me with more information.


Albert April 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I live in Baja California, Mexico, i have heard something about a new law who let to people
who lives near the border to study and the US and live in Baja California.

I would like to know more info about this new law.

Can you tell me where i can find more info about it?

Thank you !


Professor-B May 9, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Many states, including Texas, allow students in bordering states in Mexico, get a waiver of out of state tuition. In effect, it may be possible for you to study at particular institutions, in the state that borders your home state, and pay the same rate as the US state residents. There may be some other programs on board. For example, Texas also has what is called the Good Neighbor Scholarship Program. It waives the state portion of the tuition for a fixed number of Mexican nationals. Contact the university. I believe that there is merit to this.


Ehab bayazeed April 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Hi my name is Ehab i want to ask a question if i do not have a balance in the bank and the situations in my family isn’t that good but my dream is to be an engineer and i have relatives in America i can send them my papers and present it to any college would accept , I want to travel to america and study to be an engineer to bring my dream and i can find a job until i finish my study in the college ,Is it possible to travel?
Thank you.
I hope to get an email soon, That’s important to me in future.


Professor-B May 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm

You have actually said all the wrong things unfortunately in terms of your plan. The honest, though compassionate answer, is that life is so unfair, particularly when you have limited resources. It is NOT possible to come to the United States and work your way through school legally, certainly not as expressed prior to leaving. Just stating this circumstance to a consular official at the embassy would immediately render you ineligible for a visa.

One must have actual funds (as many schools will now ask for a deposit before Issuing an I-20) prior to applying to a university.

Also note, too many relatives or too much of your family being in the USA is not necessarily an advantage when seeking a student visa.

If you are a very strong student academically, it may be possible to get some scholarship support from a US university. So what you lack in financial resources, try to compensate in academic prowess by doing very well, and you just might be able to make your dream a reality.


khalil February 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

Hi, please help me to improve my education I am on 9 grade in and i want to complete my education
in united states of america my father is working with Americans and we don’t have enough money…..
if you can help me please email me ….plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
help meeeeeeeeeeeeee


neville February 23, 2012 at 2:39 am

Sorry but millions have the same story, you are not unique in that regard. And unfortunately does not matter many times you ask or how long or nicely you say Plzzzzzz help won’t come that way. The good thing is you have time on your side and if you keep looking (not just asking) and taking action you can one day realize your dream. I’m sure many with similar or more humble circumstances have made it happen for them. So do your research, formulate a plan and take action and you will one day get to study in the US.

Good Luck.


Sondod khawaled December 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hi…please help me ..I’m on 11th grade now and im from israel , my degrees are the best in my class and when i finish high school i want to study at united states, my dream is to be a doctor i wanna study medicine and i selected the university of Harvard !! i know its a big desiction ..!
my family is a simple one , my mom doenst work , my dad works at construtions , we live happily but my dad doesnt have enough mony for me ! and i need help pleaseeeee anything can help me i want to study so baddlyyyy plzz help me . and you can call me if you find me any source of help ..0545649075


Dr. Bird May 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm

This is a tough one. First, getting into an ordinary medical school in the USA is virtually impossible for a foreign student, generically speaking. If one manages to get a place, then it would only be AFTER getting a four year degree and AFTER getting a fairly high (28 or above) MCAT score. Then there will be significant expenses of at least $100-200,000 for the four years of med school. But getting into Harvard Medical School…perennially one of the top three—with financial limitations….that is almost beyond the realm of reality.

My advice—seek options in Israel. Your chances of becoming a doctor are infinitely better there or in another country such as India. If finances are a problem, see what government help may be available from your country.


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