This is one in a series of articles that I wrote to share with young people who might have some of the same dreams that I did at the time, and hope that this helps them realising their own.

How much does education cost in the United States of America. This is a bit of a loaded question, and is a bit like how long is a piece of string. In a nutshell, the cost of education depends on:

  • What you’re studying;
  • Where you’re studying;
  • What level are you at; and
  • Where you are from.

Based on an article posted at The College Board, the average full-time undergraduate degree in the United States at a four year college cost US$35,000 or more per year towards coursework and fees. At two year colleges, the average yearly cost for tuition and fees was $2,713.

There are a few things to consider when calculating the costs.

The first thing to establish is what band you fall in. Each university has a rate at which it charges its students at. It classifies students as Resident (i.e., resident of its home state), and Non-resident (i.e., interstate, and international students).

It is quite normal for Universities to have a higher rate per credit hour for non-resident students. The lower rate for state resident students is as a result of their education being subsidised by the taxes that they pay.

Some Universities have a third band for International Students which is even higher.

There are a range of different options for students in the United States of America.

Community Colleges

Community Colleges offer 2 year programs towards an Associate’s degree.

These are low cost alternatives to Universities, and are an alternative to a lot of students who elect to undertake their first two years of undergraduate instruction here so that they do not incur high costs of tuition before transferring to a University.

Community colleges will typically run about $2,500 to $5,000 per year, but have a very different experience to a 4-year program in a University.

Four Year Undergraduate Programs

Costs can hover from $7,000 per year for residents to $60,000 per year for non-residents, and are determined by whether you are a resident of the state, a US citizen or permanent resident from outside the state, or an International student.

Typically, costs for specialised degrees such as Engineering and Medicine are higher than other programs.

Graduate Programs

Costs hover from between $12,000 per year to $120,000 depending on where you’re from, and what you’re studying.

Programs leading to degrees in Business, Law and Medicine are the most expensive. It is quite common for professionals who enrol in such programs to quit their jobs and work their way through their academic programs before returning back to the industry.

Doctoral Programs

These are highly specialised programs, typically pursued by the most passionate of individuals who are more often than note sponsored for their coursework.

When enrolling into such a course, it is important to ascertain that one’s research advisor’s interest align with one’s own, so that the two form a symbiotic relationship that helps fund one’s time through the program.

It is common for coursework in Doctoral Programs to run for 5 years.

It is important to note the number of courses that you would need to take. US visa regulations require International students to remain at a full time load during their fall and spring semesters (typically 12 credit hours for undergraduate students, and 9 credit hours for graduate students), and a part time load (typically 9 credit hours for undergraduate students and 6 credit hours for graduate students) during the summer.

Take for example, the University of Nebraska Lincoln, which has published its rates for 2011-2012 on its website.

Its rate per credit hour for an Undergraduate student in the College of Business Administration is $258.25 for a Nebraska resident, and $764.75 for a Nebraska non-resident (about 296% of Nebraska resident rates).

For a student to be full time, they would need to take 12 credit hours of courses during the fall and spring semesters, and 9 credit hours in the summer (a total of 33 credit hours). Based on this, the cost for tuition alone for an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska for 2011-2012 would be $8,522.25 for a Nebraska resident, or $25,236.75 for a Nebraska non-resident.

In addition to this, there are all the fees that are called out in the schedule that need to be taken into account (usually amounting to between $500 to $1,000 a year).

As a general rule, fees for specialised degrees (Engineering, Law, Business Administration, and Medicine) are much higher than other courses.

While the figures may look daunting, rest assured that there are several ways to pay for your education. Most universities will grant international students a non-resident waiver (i.e., you only pay the home state rate) if they maintain a grade-point average in the top 10% of their class.

There are also a range of student loans, assistantships, internships, and work-study alternatives that can all help pay for one’s education.

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