The true cost of college for international students

Every year, thousands of students from hundreds of countries leave their homes to seek higher education in a foreign land. About 764,495 students from foreign countries studied in the United States between 2010 and 2011, according to the Institute of International Education, which tracks student mobility data. 

United Kingdom government officials show more than 400,000 international students studied in the U.K. in 2012. Government reports from Australia indicate about 250,000 students traveled to that country seeking college degrees. 

These 'big three' countries are the most common destinations for students who want an international degree. They’re popular for good reasons: excellent educations and vibrant cultures in three different corners of the globe.

Unfortunately, for all its benefits, traveling abroad for college can be expensive. Here’s a look at some of the extra costs you might face in the big three destinations for international study:

The United States

With some of the most prestigious universities in the entire world, it’s no surprise that the United States attracts more international students than any other country. 

For students who wish to study in the USA, the first step is obtaining a student visa. Although student visa rules have become somewhat more restrictive since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, costs are still reasonable. A visa will run you about USD$180 for information processing and USD$140 in other visa fees.

The real expenses come once you make it to US shores. Since you can arrive no earlier than one month before the start of your studies, you may face an increased cost of housing, because of limited time to shop around. 

Just the simple costs of moving — air travel, temporary housing, transportation, and finally rent and furnishing an apartment or house — can quickly jump into the thousands of dollars.

Once you’re settled in, be prepared to pay high tuition. American public universities almost always charge full out-of-state tuition to international students. 

Colleges also often charge international student fees, which vary widely from school to school. At Columbia University, for example, the fee is only USD$50, while Ohio State University hits its international students with a staggering USD$500 charge for every semester. 

Finally, all international students must purchase health insurance. You can generally expect to pay about USD$400 to USD$500 every semester to be on the university’s health plan.

The real challenge for international students in the United States is how to fund the cost of education. Non-citizens do not have access to financial aid at universities in the USA.

That usually means no grants or scholarships, but it also means no access to federal student loans. While private loans are available, they come with high interest rates and risks. Many international students find themselves faced with the prospect of paying for their entire education upfront.

The United Kingdom and Australia

Many of the same fees from studying in the USA apply to studying in the United Kingdom and Australia, such as travel and moving fees. Others differ.

A student visa will cost you £144 for an 11 month stay in the United Kingdom. In Australia, a visa will cost either AUS$535 or nothing, depending on your immigration classification. 

In Australia, tuition fees for both undergraduate and graduate degrees are similar: AUS$14,000 to AUS$35,000 a year, depending on the school. 

In the UK, tuition varies based on type of course. Arts courses might cost only £7,000 while science and clinical courses could be up to £22,000 a year.

In both countries you can expect to pay for an English-language learning course if you are not fluent. That class can cost you £200 to £1,000.

These fees and costs are higher in both countries than what citizens will pay because the government does not subsidize international students' education like it does for its own citizens.

Balancing costs and benefits

The high costs and expenses associated with getting an education away from home can seem intimidating. 

For students who have the resources to pursue it, however, there may be no experience more rewarding than studying abroad and receiving a degree in a country with a new culture and quality education system.

You’ll return to your home country with a broader mind and an improved intellect. 

Al Krulick is an award-winning journalist with dozens of years of writing experience. He writes and blogs for Debt.org

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