How to Save Money While Attending College in the U.S.

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By Guest Author Tara Holland

Every year the cost of attending college in the U.S. increases, even for U.S. residents. The average cost of tuition and fees for a public university for in-state residents in 2018-2019 is $10,230. Public universities for out-of-state and international students cost an average of $26,290 in 2018-2019. However, these averages don’t include other expenses such as transportation, entertainment, housing, and books.

As if earning a college degree isn’t hard enough, international students may face increased financial stress and social, academic, and cultural challenges that can hinder their academic experience in the United States. Despite these possible setbacks, there are ways for you to attend the American university of your choice while saving money and adjusting to life in the U.S.

There are ways for you to attend the American university of your choice while saving money and adjusting to life in the U.S.

Get a Part-Time Job

High school exchange students in the U.S. are not allowed to find employment, but college-level international students on an F-1 or J-1 visa may be able to seek part-time on-campus jobs. Working a part-time job helps you put extra money to pay for groceries, books, and going out with friends without having to dig into your savings. Working part-time is also a great way to meet new people while gaining an understanding of life in the U.S.

International students with an F-1 Visa may have several options for part-time employment. Possibilities include on-campus employment that directly supports the student body, curricular practical training if it is required by the student’s curriculum, optional practical training in your field of study, and authorized internships with international organizations. Off-campus employment may be possible for specific students with severe financial hardship or emergency circumstances.

International students with an F-1 visa are allowed to work more than one on-campus job while attending university, although they may not work more than 20 hours per week during the school term. International students may work full-time during school breaks and other periods when school is not in session.

J-1 visa college students, on the other hand, have more specific requirements about types of work in which they may participate.

To find jobs on campus, you can attend a job fair at your university or connect with students on LinkedIn. You never know who could be your “in” during the interview process. Your school’s student employment office can also help you find an on-campus job that suits your career and academic interests to heighten your college experience, as well as one that complies with your visa requirements.

There are a variety of on-campus jobs to choose from, such as being a math tutor or giving campus tours to college freshman. On-campus jobs will introduce you to other students, which is an added benefit for international students trying to get to know their school community.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants can be a great financial option for international students at American universities. Unlike student loans and other financial aid, scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid.

There are many different types of scholarships available to international students based on factors such as:

  • Merit
  • Need
  • Community Involvement and Volunteering
  • Associations
  • Heritage
  • Gender
  • Disability

The most common type of scholarship for international students is merit-based. Universities award merit-based scholarships due to a student’s exemplary academic performance and extracurricular involvement. Need-based scholarships tend to apply only to American citizens and residents, although some schools with blind admissions policies may award these scholarships to international students.

It’s best to apply for scholarships and grants early. It can be a lengthy and in-depth process. Scholarship and grant applications generally ask for recommendation letters from teachers, coaches, and employers; ACT or SAT scores; and other documentation to illustrate your academic performance.

Your school’s office of international affairs can answer questions, as those offices specialize in helping international students. In addition to helping students find possible scholarships, the staff can also help you immerse yourself in campus life by introducing you to student organizations and volunteer opportunities that can help you meet new people and experience American culture.

Apply for Financial Aid

In some cases, you may be able to apply for government-backed scholarships from your home country. For example, the Brazil Scientific Mobility Undergraduate Program offers one-year scholarships for Brazilian students who will attend U.S. colleges and universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You can discover scholarship opportunities through your home country’s ministry or department of education, as well as your corresponding U.S. consulate and embassy.

International students can also apply for financial aid from their university. Financial aid helps cover tuition costs, housing, books, and other expenses for students attending universities in the U.S. Financial aid packages differ from university to university, so be sure to research and compare each one carefully.

You will receive financial aid award letters from your prospective schools after you apply. Financial aid award letters contain information on the cost of attendance, the amount of financial aid your prospective school is willing to offer, and the amount your family is expected to contribute. The number listed under the cost of attendance includes tuition fees, room and board, and miscellaneous fees. This number tells you how much money you will need to finance your education.

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Finally, your prospective school’s financial aid office can answer questions or concerns about your award letter. Stay connected with your school’s offices and faculty. Having this support system will make your transition to the U.S. easier.

Even though international students are not eligible to receive U.S. government assistance, your university may ask you to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in order to better assess your financial needs. Your school’s financial aid office can help you in filling out your FAFSA application. It’s also a good idea to sign up for your school’s alert emails to stay up-to-date on financial aid and FAFSA deadlines.

As an international student, you are not eligible to receive federal loans, but private loans are available from lenders such as Stilt, MPOWER, and Discover Student Loans. Most of the time, you must get a creditworthy cosigner who is a permanent resident or citizen of the U.S., but there are some lenders who don’t require a cosigner. However, it’s best to pay for your education with other funding resources to avoid student loan payments.

Rent, Don't Buy

Students spend more than $1,200 on books and course materials on average every year. You will likely need multiple textbooks for one class as well as online course packs that allow you to submit assignments online.

You don’t need the newest and most expensive books. Your university bookstore will likely provide options for renting books or purchasing used books at reduced prices. Websites such as Amazon and Chegg also may have used or rental textbooks available. Renting textbooks helps you save money, and you don’t have to worry about trying to sell your books at the end of the semester.

Professors often include textbooks on their syllabus that are not required, or they may allow you to use an older edition. Talk to your professor before ordering books to avoid wasting money on materials that aren’t needed.

Consider talking with other students to see if you can split the cost of online course packs to save money. Perhaps you can form a study group and work out a system with classmates that allows you to share materials. In addition to saving money, you’ll make a great group of friends and have a resource for any questions you have regarding the course material.

Financing your education in the United States can seem daunting, but with thorough research and proper planning, you can save money while attaining your world-class education. Not every option listed will work for you, but the right combination of money-saving techniques can afford you more time to study and less time worrying about your finances.

Financing your education in the United States can seem daunting, but with thorough research and proper planning, you can save money while attaining your world-class education.

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About the Author: Tara Holland is a content marketing intern with Tokio Marine HCC – MIS Group which also operates WorldTrips.com. Her writing experience includes topics such as financial aid for international students and adjusting to life in the U.S.

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