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15 AUG 2022
It’s no secret that US universities are extremely expensive, but just how expensive are they for South Africans? As you might expect from the top universities the world has to offer, attending university in the USA has a high cost attached to it relative to the rest of the world, and South Africa in particular. Let’s take a look at all of the US college costs you need to consider, including tuition, room and board and even other costs you may not have thought about yet!
Well, let’s look at the figures that the universities have given us to figure this out. The first thing to realize is that there are three main types of institutions to study at in the USA: two-year colleges (often called “junior” or “community” colleges), four-year public colleges, and four-year private colleges. These institutions differ in the general levels of education and opportunity offered, so we can group them as such even though there might be quite a range of costs within each category.
But first, let’s look at what tuition and housing costs consist of.
Your tuition fees cover your classes. Basically, your tuition is calculated via units/credits per semester or quarter and can vary based on your major.
The next major cost you need to consider is your housing and food a.k.a. room and board! Most colleges require that you live on campus for your first year but some allow you to live off campus or commute, which can save you a bit of money.
A two-year college is a popular choice for many students, as it can serve as an academic bridge to a four-year college and a traditional degree. Students graduate from a two-year college with an Associate’s Degree, and can then transfer to a four-year college with the equivalent of two years’ worth of credits. This can also provide a more affordable option for those families that cannot afford all four years at a traditional four-year college.
The average two-year college in the USA costs about $13,000. This is split across an average tuition cost of $3,900, and room & board of $9,000.
The second option is a public four-year college, which awards bachelor’s degrees but is partially funded by the state and federal government. This means that these universities can afford to charge comparatively less, despite often having large student bodies and being highly respected around the world. Some of the top public colleges in the US are the University of California institutions, the University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina.
On average four-year public colleges in the USA charge between $35,000 and $45,000. This is split across an average tuition cost of about $28,000 and room & board of about $12,000. This cost is what these universities charge students who do not live in the same state that the university is situated.
Due to the fact that these universities receive funding from their state government, they often charge students from the state a lower fee to cover tuition and room & board. This is known as “in-state tuition”. For international students, you will be charged “out-of-state tuition” - the average cost of which is the above mentioned about $40,000 per year.
The final group is four-year private colleges. These are privately funded institutions, often with smaller student bodies, that are highly selective with admissions. These are universities like Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Pomona, and Princeton, which have strong reputations and many accomplished alumni. These colleges cannot rely on federal funding and are usually the most expensive options.
The average four-year private college in the USA costs $50,000 to $75,000 per year. This is an average tuition cost of about $45,000 and room & board of about $15,000. These colleges justify this cost by having top facilities, research opportunities, and higher qualified faculty than their public counterparts.
There are also other costs to consider. For starters, you will probably need some pocket money, or an allowance, to allow you to purchase books, stationery, clothes and other essentials once you have moved to the USA. This cost can range very broadly, but it is usually good to budget at least $200-$400/month.
It also costs money to apply for a visa and register yourself in the federal database, which costs around $510. You should also remember health insurance and a mobile phone plan, which can be bought at a variety of price points. Health insurance is sometimes included as part of your tuition and fees, but a mobile phone contract can cost anything from $30 a month to $100 a month depending on what you opt for.
Can I afford to study in the US?
As we have all seen on television or in the movies, US universities often have scholarships available to students to ease some of the burdens of paying the expensive fees associated with attending and earning a degree. However, these scholarships are difficult to come by. Remember, if you are trying to attend the best universities in the world, then so are many other students from around the globe. This means that for any scholarship -especially sport - you must be at the very top of your game, and have a relevant worldwide ranking, to be eligible for a discount on your fees.
In any case, scholarships very rarely cover all costs related to attending university. As an example, the average NCAA Division I scholarship, across all sports, is $14,270 per year for men, and $15,162 for women. This is not the average scholarship per student, but rather per athlete who has been awarded a scholarship. As most of the universities in Division I are four-year public institutions, you can see that the average sports scholarship covers less than half of the total cost of attending university.
US universities also have “financial aid”, which is similar to bursaries in the African context. This is money that has been made available from various sources to reduce fees for students and make university tuition more affordable. However, international students are not eligible for most financial aid, as it is reserved specifically for American students - especially at public universities. While some private universities offer financial aid to all students, regardless of origin, the overwhelming majority of universities in the USA do not have financial aid or other funding available to give to international students.
Therefore, if you plan on going to study at an American university, you must be prepared and able to pay the full price of tuition (at least) and room & board (if you do not have another option for accommodation). In ZAR, this amounts to approximately R800,000 per year for a top-end university.
Going to college in America is expensive. You’ll need anywhere from $17,000 to $70,000 USD a year in college depending on your circumstances. The discrepancy is huge, but it shows you how much doing certain things like living at home or not going out to eat can save you.
Keep in mind that these numbers don’t take into account financial aid, which may also bring down your college costs significantly. If you have any more questions regarding the cost of studying in the US or applying for financial aid, book a free consultation with one of our expert admission advisors who can help you find the right colleges or financial aid options based on your needs.
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