International Students: Financing Your Education in the United States

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From navigating a complicated and rigorous admissions process to creating a long-term financial plan to cover the soaring cost of tuition, deciphering the ins and outs of higher education in the United States is daunting, to say the least. Looking in on this process from abroad is an even more formidable task, and it often involves additional costs. For international students looking to attend a college or university in the US, knowing the market and knowing the different options for financing your education can help you to maintain your focus on your classes instead of worrying about how you’re going to pay for them.

Number of International Students in United States Increasing

According to James Montoya, Vice President of Higher Education at The College Board, the number of international students coming to study at US-based colleges and universities will likely triple over the next decade. The good news for international students looking to study in the US: this expansion means that American colleges and universities have stepped up recruitment and funding efforts. The bad news? The expense of pursuing a college education in the US tends to be much higher overall for international students than it is for US-based students. This is mainly due to higher tuition fees: at state schools, international students are typically charged out-of-state tuition and some universities (public and private alike) charge extra international student fees, which can range from USD $50 per semester to USD $500 per semester. Ohio State University, for example, recently implemented a USD $500 fee per semester for international students.International students are typically also required to obtain their own health or medical insurance, which can add hundreds of dollars per term to overall costs of attendance. This is in addition to living costs such as rent or dormitory fees, food, telephone, school books and supplies, and other personal expenses.

Considering that international students are not eligible for federal financial aid in the US, there are significant barriers to financing a college education as an international student.

Paying Tuition and Other Costs

paying for university in united states

While some schools offer financial aid for international students, according to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), most foreign scholarship aid is reserved for graduate study. It is highly uncommon for US colleges and universities to offer tuition discounts to international students at the undergraduate level. If you’re an international student coming to pursue a degree in the United States, it is most likely that you will be paying the full sticker price for your course of study. This means you or your family will be sending money to the US from your home country fairly regularly. Learning the most cost-effective ways to make an international transfer to the US to fund your studies will make a big difference in how much you end up paying overall.

While using a bank to make an international money transfer may seem like the obvious solution, banks frequently add their own set of fees to wire transfers, including charges to exchange currency, which can add up to 3% or more to the final cost. For a $50,000 tuition bill, these fees could amount to an additional $1,500.

Send money using a foreign exchange specialist

Working with a low- or no-fee specialist currency broker can help keep the costs associated with international money transfers low. There are several things to keep in mind when paying a tuition bill using a wire transfer service, however:

  • Use a university-approved wire service for your transaction. Most US colleges have a list of wire services with which they regularly work. Contact the school’s accounting office or campus bursar, or check on the school’s website. By using an approved wire service, you can help to ensure that your transfer will get there on time, and that the service you use is a trusted, verified company for sending money overseas.
  • Make sure you are aware of all of the fees being charged, as well as when your payment is scheduled to arrive in the recipient account. Forex brokers do not use intermediaries for money transfers and so do not charge an intermediary fee. Banks, however, sometimes send money through an intermediary bank that may charge an additional fee. If the money you’ve wired isn’t enough to cover all of these fees in addition to the cost of tuition, you could end up short on your tuition payment, resulting in penalties for late payment from your school or possibly being blocked from enrolling in classes.
  • Wiring a tuition payment directly to the university can save you money. Sometimes, a student can be charged fees by both their home bank and the receiving bank in the US when they send an international wire transfer. For example, the student’s home bank may charge a 3% fee to wire USD $10,000 to a US bank account. The US-based bank account that the student opened to receive the wire transfer may also charge a fee of 3% to receive the wire transfer. So, the student pays a total of USD $600 just to transfer the money. To avoid accruing fees from two different banks, make a payment through a transfer service provider so that it is transferred directly to the school. Generally, schools in the US charge little or no additional fees for accepting fund transfers from banks or from wire services.


If you are an international student planning to study abroad in the United States, use FXcompared's Comparison Tool to find a Currency Specialist that fits your needs.

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