Going to college in the United States tends to be more expensive for international students than for their domestic peers. College students from abroad aren't eligible for federal financial aid, for example, and typically pay out-of-state tuition at public universities.
And some schools even charge specific international student fees, often to pay for special programming or government-required international student tracking. Extra charges can run from the $50 fee most international students pay each semester at Columbia University to the recent $500 per-semester fee implemented by Ohio State University. At that school, all incoming international undergrads paid the additional fee on top of the out-of-state tuition and fees of $25,445 for the 2012-2013 school year.
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"As our numbers have grown ... there's much greater demand on us to provide the types of services that will ensure that their time at Ohio State will be productive and will produce the kinds of outcomes that we hope for and they hope for," says William Brustein, Ohio State's vice provost for global strategies and international affairs. "We're looking at it in terms of pre-departure orientations all the way through arrival at Ohio State and during the four years of their undergrad, and enhancing and improving services for them."
The school's growing international student population, particularly among Chinese students, has increased demand for popular services such as English as a Second Language training, he says, as well as for specialized academic advising. With new services to help students transition to college—which have yet to be implemented—Brustein says he hopes international students can more quickly overcome challenges and put that saved time and energy toward their academic work.
Many schools, like Ohio State, have increasingly opened their doors to international students from China and elsewhere in recent years. But at some universities, extra fees existed even before interest in a U.S. college education heightened.
The University of Texas—Dallas, for example, added an international student special services fee in 1999 and currently charges an additional $100 per semester. The fees directly fund international student office procedures, such as tracking students, as well as academic and social programming for the student community, says Cristen Casey, the school's international student services director.
"One of the things that international students generally desire is to connect with Americans and make those cultural friendships, so we do several social events," Casey notes, including an international week and a longer-term program that matches international students up with new domestic friends. "Here at UT—D, we're very intentional about those funds going directly to international students."
While it's not an international student-specific fee, students from abroad should also be ready to pay for health insurance, notes Rendy Schrader, the director of international student and scholar advising at Indiana University—Bloomington. In addition to paying $84 each semester in international student fees, students from abroad must also pay $441 for health insurance—a "necessity," the school deems, which can still come as a pricey surprise.
"Many students are just unaware of the need to have health insurance because they come from a country where there's socialized medicine or no coverage at all," Schrader notes. "They have to have coverage that will pay for repatriation and evacuation ... and they have to have basic levels of coverage just to be legal in the U.S."
IU—Bloomington makes an effort to be as transparent about fees as possible on its website, Schrader says, making Internet research a good first step in an international student's quest to learn about the costs of any U.S. college. And if you end up at a school that charges an international student fee, make sure to utilize the international student resources your money may be funding.