Costs before you apply and costs beyond tuition
Before you start your studies in the US, it’s worth planning ahead to meet costs related to the application.
It’s important to be realistic about expenses from the very start. Before you even begin the application process, you should account for:
- Admissions exam fees, if required ($200-250 per sitting)
- Application fees ($50-$100 per university)
- Visa application and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fees. This will vary by visa type, but you should anticipate around $650.
It is very rare for non-US citizens to be eligible for graduate school application and admissions exam fee waivers.
When calculating the sticker price of a graduate programme, it's important to find out if the fees are expressed on a:
- Per year basis
- Per semester basis
- Per credit basis
Understanding how the fees are expressed will mean you are able to be as accurate as possible with what the cost will be. If in doubt, email the programme to find out more.
You should also take into account the following when doing your financial planning:
- Room and board
- Books and supplies
- Local and international transportation
- Personal expenses
- Health insurance
Each university will have a published estimated cost of living for their location.
When you receive an offer of admission, the graduate school will tell you your net cost of attendance and how much they expect you to contribute.
By that point in time it might be too late to secure extra funding, so follow the guides in this section and do your research early.
Your first starting point should be to assess what funding you have available to you.
US students and their families will often have been preparing for the costs of higher education for many years (including graduate level studies), and US universities will expect students and their families to contribute what they can towards higher education.
Personal and family funds
Assess what savings you have available to you, and consider if you have any family members who might be able to support your studies.
We know the costs can seem daunting, but starting to save towards US graduate studies will really help. If you are using our timeline, you will have around 18 months from the start of the research process to enrolling to save money.
Even saving small amounts can help to cover some of the initial costs, such as applications to graduate schools, visa costs, flights etc.
You may want to graduate from your undergraduate degree and work and save for a couple of years towards the costs of studying in the USA. This can be particularly helpful for professional degrees, which may require a certain amount of work experience, or depending on the field you are working in it may strengthen your application.
Savings can also provide a useful emergency fund that can act as a safety net in the USA.
If you have an employer, find out if there is any funding they may be able to offer to fund your studies in the USA. Some employers will offer funding as part of learning and development, often on the basis that you will return to work for them for a certain period after your studies.
Funding from the graduate school/programme
In our experience, one of the best resources for funding will be the graduate school to which you are applying.
To make sure they are attracting some of the best students, US graduate programmes can offer several types of funding to international students:
- Assistantships (generally reserved for PhD and academic master's students)
- Financial aid (if offered)
- Fully funded packages (available from competitive PhD programmes)
Graduate assistantships are funding provided in exchange for services to the graduate school or department. This can be:
- Lab supervision
- Working in an administrative office
Students with assistantships are usually required to provide 15-20 hours' work a week. What they cover will vary, but many will include a fee waiver and living stipend. These can be a great way to get a large amount of funding secured and an opportunity to develop teaching or research experience.
If a university offers assistantships, you can find out about them in the funding section of the programme’s website. It can also be worth checking the wider graduate school’s funding pages, as sometimes they are offered across a number of programmes. If in doubt, you can email the university programme administrators. You may need to submit an additional application alongside your application to the programme itself.
Be aware that assistantships often are awarded to students applying early in the application cycle – being prepared to apply to the programme early will help you be more competitive.
Need-based financial aid
If it is offered, graduate financial aid typically covers a proportion of a student's financial need to attend graduate school. Sometimes it is guaranteed to all admitted students, and sometimes it's awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Generally, like other forms of funding, the earlier you apply for your programme the better.
If a university offers need-based financial aid, you can find out about it in the funding section of the programme’s website.
Fellowships are outright grants, or “gift money” that does not need to be paid back. Sometimes they are guaranteed to all admitted students, and sometimes they must be competed for on the basis of students' submitted project proposals by certain deadlines, or by merit of a student's academic performance.
Other fellowships might have niche criteria, based on a donor's wishes.
You can find out information about any available fellowships on the funding section of your programme’s website.
Full funding packages for PhD programmes
The most competitive PhD programmes are often fully funded by the university, covering:
- Tuition fee waivers
- Living expenses in the first two years
- Assistantship funding in the second two years
- Professional development bursaries
These will be highly competitive and you will need to be an excellent fit for the programme. You can find out information about these packages, if they exist, on the funding pages about your programme.
Do they offer funding? Where should I look for it?
Remember to check the websites of each graduate school you're interested in, to see if they offer the kind of funding you need. This includes the pages for their:
- Graduate school tuition/costs information
- Graduate school financial aid information
- Specific department information
- Specific degree information
Please note that it is more common to find this funding for PhD programmes, but there are opportunities for funded master’s programmes too.
How to go about applying for university funding
Applications for graduate school funding are often integrated into the application for admission.
Niche and merit fellowships might require writing an additional essay or submitting your application by an earlier date.
If it is offered, financial aid applications often require earlier submissions.
As part of your visa interview, you cannot rely on fellowships you might apply for later on in the year to prove you have sufficient funding. You must have already secured the necessary funding.
External funding bodies
There are hundreds of funding bodies helping international students attend university in the USA. They include trusts, charities associations and private donors committed to a particular educational mission.
For example, the Fulbright Awards are scholarships that offer postgraduate funding for any subject at any accredited US university.
Some of the external scholarships for UK citizens studying at graduate level include:
- Fulbright Awards: any university
- Frank Knox Memorial Fellowships: Harvard University
- Kennedy Scholarships: Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- American Association of University Women (AAUW): awards for women persuing full-time graduate studies in the USA
- Thouron Award: University of Pennsylvania
- BUNAC: any university (top-up funding)
- British Friends of Harvard Business School: Harvard Business School
- Knight-Hennessy Scholars: Stanford University
- Society of Women Engineers: scholarships for women pursuing graduate programmes in ABET-accredited programmes
It is worth thinking about membership or professional associations in your field as they sometimes offer fellowships and awards to support early stage talent.
Like niche scholarships, many external funding bodies often have specific qualities they are looking for in applicants, such as:
- Country of origin
- Religious denomination
- Medical condition
While some scholarships cover the full cost of attendance, many other scholarships might be smaller amounts, such as $1,000 or $1,500. You can “stack” scholarships in order to make headway on the cost of attendance. Applying for scholarships may seem like a daunting task, but it can be worth it and you may find you can reuse parts of your applications. There is bound to be a scholarship applicable to your situation.
The following resources can help you search for scholarships based on your circumstances:
- Funding for US Study
- Fastweb (you can register using a US university’s mailing address)
Make sure you indicate you are an international student if this is an option. Many of these searches will also bring up university-specific scholarships.
The Grants Register is published by Palgrave McMillan is the most authoritative and comprehensive guide available of postgraduate and professional funding worldwide. While it’s expensive to buy, check your university or local library as they may have a copy available.
How to go about applying for them
External scholarship applications are separate to university applications. They might require essays, competitions and/or interviews.
Some scholarship deadlines are much earlier than university deadlines, and some are much later. Schedule your applications sensibly, and remember you can often apply for as many as possible.
There are limited options to use loans to finance a university education in the USA if you are a British citizen.
In the US, it’s common for US students to either have help from their family for studies (even at the graduate level) or if this is not available, they will often take out student loans.
US student loans work very differently to UK student loans, and if you are looking at this route, it’s worth spending time becoming familiar with how US loans work. Many of them will not offer income-contingent repayments and even if you are not working or a low-income earner, you will need to continue to make repayments, unlike student loans in the UK.
Generally, US student loans from the US Government and banks and other commercial lending organisations are only available for US citizens or if you have a creditworthy US citizen or permanent US resident who can co-sign the loan agreement with you.
Some US universities may offer opportunities to take on an institutional or private student loan, especially if there is a funding gap between the funds available to you and the cost to attend. These are likely to be more student-friendly than commercial loans, but if you are considering these, please make sure you have thoroughly explored the terms of the loan, interest rates, repayment and made sure you’ve explored alternatives first.
UK banks will be able to offer personal loans, but you will have to begin making payments during your studies and interest rates may be considerably higher than a student loan.
If you are a US or dual US-UK citizen, you can apply for US federal aid through the FAFSA website.
We recommend you seek independent financial advice before taking out a loan to fund your studies.
Working while studying in the USA
Working while you study is possible at a US university, but it’s important to remember that, unless you hold US citizenship, you will be attending on a student visa and will need to make sure you comply with the terms of the visa.
Students are offered visas on the basis of being a full-time student, so the visa has stipulations about limitations on the number of hours you can work and the type of jobs you can do.
For an F-1 or J-1 visa (the standard US student visas), you are only able to work up to 20 hours a week at a job on campus during term time.
If you have been offered an assistantship you should check how many hours this will take as many universities will count this towards your 20-hour-a-week limit.
It’s common for students to have jobs while studying, and many international students will earn money working on campus to be able to spend on personal expenses such as clothes, travel or day-to-day costs.
It’s worth noting that, while a job on campus can be helpful towards these day-to-day expenses, you will need to show you can fund the full cost of attendance at your visa interview, so you should not rely on a campus job as a primary source of funding.