Hidden Costs for U.S. Students
While a graduate student at King's College London, Chelsea Dickson saw cost as a major driver in her decision to attend. "Once I realized I could go to a school as prominent and high-ranking as King's is for cheaper than an equivalent American school, it seemed more cost-effective in the long run," said Dickson, who hails from Florida, via email.
For U.S. students tempted to earn a degree abroad, lower costs can be a major selling point.
Some international schools charge less in tuition and fees than American institutions, and others require less time to complete a degree. A handful of countries charge no tuition at all for undergraduate programs, including to international students.
But U.S. students studying overseas may accrue additional costs while earning their degrees – and those can be difficult to anticipate.
"I do think students are a little bit surprised by the non-university costs," says Chris Payne, who leads North American partnerships and student recruitment at King's. For example, an international visa for students in the United Kingdom costs £322, he says. That translates to about $490 at current exchange rates. Additional hurdles include buying approved health insurance and demonstrating access to sufficient funds to cover living and education costs.
One cost that Dickson didn't predict were flights home, which added up during her master's degree program. "I didn't factor trips home for the holidays, especially since I was there over two Christmas periods," she says.
The unexpected bills that students rack up while studying overseas may surprise some families. Here's what to anticipate.
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1. Financial aid challenges: While federal student loans are available to U.S. students enrolled in eligible international institutions, the experience of securing them may differ at an overseas university.
For example, U.S. colleges typically dedicate an entire department to helping students navigate American financial aid. At an international school, there may be just one person handling that role, says Payne.
In order to tap what U.S. aid is available to them, students will have to self-motivate and stay organized. "A lot more responsibility falls to the (international) students to follow the maze of federal student loans," says Caroline Donovan White, senior director of education abroad services with NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
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Although students can apply federal loans abroad, Pell Grants, which are need-based aid for eligible students, are not available.
2. Transportation costs: While they caught Dickson by surprise, international students should plan for a slew of international flights. Students returning home twice a year – for Christmas and summer break – could rack up eight international flights over the course of a four-year degree.
Those trips can add up fast, especially with the average international flight costing $1,368, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation, a U.S.-based travel industry group.
In addition, students hoping to explore their host country and nearby destinations will need to add those airfares, bus tickets and rail passes to their travel budget.
[Discover which top international colleges offer free tuition.]
3. Living costs: Depending on the country of study, living costs may be steeper than at home.
For example, in Norway, where tuition may be free for international students, "living expenses in Norway are quite high, and this should be taken into the consideration when the students choose their study destination," said Margunn Instefjord, a senior adviser at the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education, in an email.
Students should also double-check any restrictions on paid work. In Germany, for example, non-E.U. students are permitted to work up to 120 full days or 240 half days per year. "It's possible to work; you have to follow the rules," says Nina Lemmens, director of the German Academic Exchange Service in New York.
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