Education is expensive in the U.S., and both domestic and international students face a great amount of financial stress paying for four years of college, often accumulating student loan debt.
As there is typically even less financial assistance available for international students than for their American peers, paying for school is often the single biggest difficulty some international students face.
The following three steps can reduce the financial burden on international students, especially for those who want to be financially independent right from the beginning.
[Learn how international students can start saving for college.]
1. Consider smaller schools: It's very important that international students consider nonresident costs in searching for schools. While many institutions have high tuition rates for nonresident students, a few public institutions treat both residents and nonresidents equally.
Attending a smaller school with a good local presence can provide international undergraduate students with ample opportunities to get accustomed to American culture and education without feeling overwhelmed, which can happen with the greater amount of things going on at a larger school.
My university, Southeastern Louisiana University, for instance, has state-of-the-art nursing and computer science departments, which are comparable to those at other schools in Louisiana.
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2. Weigh living off-campus: On-campus life comes with many benefits for international students, especially during freshman year. It can ease the process of getting acclimated to both the school and its location.
But after adapting to the school environment, a well-planned off-campus living arrangement can greatly reduce costs and at the same time provide healthier – and often more diverse – food options as well as give students a sense of being independent.
Contact your institution's international student office for a listing of local apartments and rental information, and periodically check the bulletin boards in different departments and the library for notices from students seeking roommates.
Though off-campus living may have hidden costs such as furniture, transportation to campus, utilities and more, careful budgeting and frugal living can help reduce costs significantly and help students transition to adult life.
Sharing an apartment with roommates and riding a bike to school has reduced my cost of living significantly, and finding an apartment close to school has been of great benefit. In addition, living off campus can also introduce a student to a sustainable lifestyle of riding a bike, reusing and recycling, and in my case, even growing some organic food in small plastic pots.
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3. Test out of subjects before you arrive: American students have various options to cut costs before enrolling in college, including taking college classes while still in high school and prior learning assessments for adult learners.
Of the few options available to international students is the College Board's College-Level Examination Program. It is a great way to reduce the cost of taking a course if you achieve the minimum score required by your college.
In addition, many colleges and universities offer their own tests that let you skip certain classes or earn credit. Check with your international adviser or the department you are planning to join. In addition to reducing costs, this is also a great way to save time and may prove to be a confidence boost for incoming international freshmen.
All of the above options are effective ways to cut the cost of four years of college, but will require prior planning and budgeting. Prepare a rough budget while in the process of considering schools.
The budget can be a spreadsheet and may include tuition costs, including the cost per credit; on-campus and off-campus costs; commuting costs; and potential financial aid. Come up with a net cost after any scholarships and base your final decision on this net cost.
In this process of deciding your next four years of education, remember: A good college education does not need to be expensive.
Dayaram Khanal Joshi, from Nepal, is senior at Southeastern Louisiana University, majoring in biological sciences.