Incoming freshman Anubhav Raghav deferred his enrollment at Ohio Wesleyan University to spring 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic and plans to use the time to participate in international internships from his home in India. But the deferral also has an added advantage: He has more time to think about ways to save money before and during school.
“Getting the best out of your potential and resources, without merely surviving in the United States, is every international student’s wish,” says Raghav, who plans to pursue a double major in communications and business.
Attending a U.S. university can be expensive. But those costs can be manageable if prospective international students plan ahead with these money-saving tips:
- Apply to schools that don’t charge application fees or have lower costs.
- Work at school.
- Budget and cut down on unnecessary expenses.
- Live off campus.
Apply to Schools That Don’t Charge Application Fees or Have Lower Costs
One way prospective international students can save money is by carefully selecting the U.S. colleges and universities to which they apply. Some schools, such as Tulane University in Louisiana and Loyola University Chicago, do not charge application fees, and others offer a more affordable cost of attendance.
“Applying to schools with lower tuition and fees is definitely a good option,” says Blake Smith, director of international admissions at Henderson State University in Arkansas, which charges a nonrefundable $30 application fee. “There are many schools, like Henderson, that offer lower tuition and fees but provide an excellent education.”
Smith says the base cost for the 2020-2021 school year is $18,490 and includes two 12 credit hour semesters and fees, the cheapest housing and meal option, health insurance and a $500 per semester allowance for books and materials.
Another example of an affordable option is Bemidji State University in Minnesota, where the total estimated costs for the 2020-2021 school year are $9,245.
“All international students at Bemidji State University are entitled to the in-state tuition rate, which provides huge savings for international students and their families,” says Patrick Liu, director of the school’s International Program Center.
Liu says the center offers some academic scholarships of up to $1,000 for qualified international applicants. Bemidji State waives its application fee if materials are submitted by Nov. 30, 2020, according to the school’s website.
Experts say international students can also cut costs by first attending a two-year community college and then transferring to a four-year university. For example, the 2020-2021 cost for tuition and fees for an international student is $8,010 at Mesa Community College in Arizona and $8,538 at Pasadena City College in California.
Work at School
Once they’ve been accepted and have enrolled at a U.S. college or university, international students can save money by planning to work on campus, such as at the bookstore or computer lab, or as a tutor. Apart from gaining an income, students can make more friends, become a part of campus life and get familiar with the U.S. work environment, experts say.
However, if COVID-19 is still raging in the future and U.S. colleges continue remote learning, international students need to be prepared as they may not have many options for employment at school.
“Networking with your college professors who have industry connections is a great starting point,” Adarsh Khandelwal, co-founder and CEO of India-based Collegify, an education technology firm, wrote in an email.
Planning to connect virtually with a school’s alumni may also be helpful, he says. At schools that are not doing remote learning, international students should stay alert for part-time jobs on campus, such as working as a librarian or campus-tour ambassador.
Smith says students should consider working on campus such as at the school cafeteria and also consider institutional work-study jobs for which international students are eligible.
Once he enrolls at Ohio Wesleyan, Raghav says he plans to have multiple on-campus jobs throughout the school year. Plus, he plans to pursue internships during school breaks, he says, “to fund both my objectives, namely the experience in my resume and to support myself financially.”
Vietnamese national Minh Anh Dang, a junior at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota majoring in biochemistry, says last year she had multiple jobs on campus at the same time to meet the 20 hours a week she was allowed to work as an international student.
“I spent 10 hours working with my professor on a research project that benefited me a lot in my major,” Dang says. “I also worked as a teaching assistant in a chemistry lab and as a staff in a dining restaurant in my school. Income from those jobs enabled me to afford monthly expenses including rent payments, utilities and food.”
Budget and Cut Down on Unnecessary Expenses
Experts suggest prospective international students plan ahead to budget for everything from books to travel so they can reduce costs while studying in the U.S. and plan to limit their extra expenses.
“International students on a budget are generally very adept at finding ways to save money,” Mark A. Ashwill, managing director and co-founder of Capstone Vietnam, an educational consulting company with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, wrote in an email.
Ashwill says international students can use an online budget planner, such as Mint, and also take advantage of student discounts on things like phone plans, computers and software. They should also plan to look for deals at back-to-school sales, buy used textbooks, shop at secondhand stores and look for online travel discounts. He also recommends joining campus events that have giveaways and free food that “also gives them the chance to expand their network.”
Vietnamese national Nguyen Tien Dung, who studies management at the University of Illinois—Chicago, says, “Online shopping is really a demon during this time so I really watched what I purchased as life necessities, and cut back ordering things like clothes, snacks, drinks or random items.”
Khandelwal says students may want to keep an eye out on campus for peers who are giving away items that they no longer need.
“Seniors who are graduating end up giving away their desk, workstations or even books at highly discounted prices or even free,” Khandelwal says. “Impulsive buying should be avoided for smart savings.”
Live Off Campus
Another money-saving move for international students to consider is living off campus, which in some cases can be more affordable than on-campus options. However, experts say students should be aware that living off campus does come with other expenses, including everything from utilities to transportation to campus.
International students planning to reduce these additional expenses will need to stay informed of available student discounts, Khandelwal says. He says living off campus can save students money if they plan ahead and use all available resources.
“A lot of new startups have focused on cheap student accommodation around the campus that could significantly bring the cost down – Amberstudent.com or Unilodgers.com,” Khandelwal says. “The cost could be as low as half compared to the accommodation provided by colleges.”
Experts suggest students contact their school’s international student services office for a list of local apartments and rental information, and check school bulletin boards and the library for notices from students seeking roommates.
Apart from support from the international student services office, Smith says he highly encourages students to plan to network and research on their own as well.
“I try to provide any help that I can and have certain resources at my disposal, but other resources can sometimes be found,” Smith says.