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Many students from all around the world dream of studying at a top university in the United States. With its numerous great universities and liberal arts colleges, the United States offers many educational opportunities. However, many students face the tough question of how to pay for a college education. The average price of tuition at a private four-year university has more than doubled in the last 30 years. With college costs at an all-time high, you might be asking yourself, “How can I afford an education at an American university?” We have compiled some tips to help you answer this question.

Choose the right school

The easiest way to afford an American university is to pick a school that does not cost a lot of money. Some schools are significantly more affordable than others.

One way of minimizing your college costs is to attend a public university. Because public universities are funded by state governments, tuition often costs less than at private universities. As an international student, you will have to pay out-of-state tuition should you choose to attend a public university. However, out-of-state students attending public universities still pay about $10,000 per year less than students attending private universities.

If you want to attend a private school, research finances before you commit. While some private universities are very expensive, others are much more affordable. In addition, many private universities offer generous financial aid packages, especially to international students.

Apply for scholarships

Applying for scholarships is a great way to help pay for your education. Many scholarships are need-based while others are merit-based, so there is a good chance that you will qualify for one or more of them. In fact, there are even scholarships available specifically for international students!

Scholarship application requirements vary. Some application forms are very short, others are quite lengthy, and some require an essay. So give yourself plenty of time to complete the applications.

Remember that you can apply for more than one scholarship. Even though some scholarships are only a few hundred dollars, the savings can add up quickly when you combine multiple scholarships.


We are currently accepting applications for the U.S. News Global Education Scholars Program. Selected scholars will receive partial tuition waivers at select universities, as well as other special resources. If you are an international student living outside the United States and wish to enroll at a four-year university in the United States, you are eligible to apply!

Live off campus

While tuition is usually the primary expense you will face, room and board can also put a dent in your wallet. At many schools, the annual cost of living in university housing can surpass $10,000. Some universities require that students live in on-campus dormitories for part or all of their college education, but this is not always the case. For many students, living off campus is a more affordable alternative to living in the dorms. If you are looking to save money, you should seriously consider renting an apartment or a house.

Living off campus is not always cheaper, however. Rent can be very expensive in some neighborhoods, and financial aid for housing does not always transfer if you live off campus. In addition, you may have to factor in extra spending for furniture and transportation. These factors vary depending on where you go to school, so you need to research more about whether living off campus could save you some money.

Cook your own meals

Another great way to reduce college costs is to forgo purchasing a school-sponsored meal plan. While eating in the dining halls can be convenient, it can also be expensive. In fact, it is not rare for the cost of dining plans at many universities to exceed $4,000 per year.

Some schools require freshmen to purchase meal plans, but after freshman year, students are often free to do what they want for food. It may be financially wise to opt for a reduced meal plan or even no meal plan. Instead, consider purchasing food from a grocery store and cooking your own meals. After all, it is much easier to afford an education when you don’t also need to pay thousands of dollars for a meal plan.



Cooking may seem like a daunting task at first, perhaps because you are inexperienced or are uncertain what types of food are available in the United States. Many schools recognize these worries and make it easy for students to purchase groceries and cook for themselves. For example, some schools offer shuttle buses to local grocery stores, and others offer cooking classes for students to enroll in. Many students even form clubs and Facebook groups to share recipes and cook together.

Save on textbooks

Professors often require students to purchase textbooks and online access codes for class. However, buying new textbooks from the campus bookstore is usually very expensive. Luckily, you have other ways to acquire the textbooks you need.

The simplest and easiest option is to purchase used copies of the textbooks. Upperclassmen often sell textbooks that they used in previous semesters and charge discounted rates. Some schools have Facebook groups and online exchanges that can help facilitate such transactions.

International editions of textbooks can also be cheaper alternatives to standard copies. International editions of textbooks usually contain the same content as their American counterparts, but they sometimes have varied spelling of words or lower-quality paper.

Purchasing textbooks from online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay are also great ways to increase savings.

Learn more

For more ways to save money so that you can afford an education in the United States, check out our Resources for Paying for School page.