There are always a range of logistical hurdles to overcome — from gaining school acceptance to planning for a smooth relocation. Finances have always been high up on that list of issues. Students don’t always have the same economic support systems that they might have at home or don’t have a great deal of savings to begin with. But financial insecurity shouldn’t be a barrier to a rich educational experience.
We’re going to take a closer look at how you can study in the U.S. with limited access to finances. What sources of funding are in place, and how can you best take advantage of these? Are there lifestyle approaches and tools that can help make your economic situation while getting an education a little more manageable?
It’s no secret that studying in the U.S. is one of the most expensive educational experiences in the world. One report determined that annual university fees alone cost on average $24,914. As many of us don’t have ready access to this kind of cash, most ESL students will need to look into their loan options.
Unfortunately, the federal student loan system that is popular among U.S. citizens and permanent residents is not available to international students. This means that you’ll have to make applications with private institutions. Some specialize in international student loans, but there are some steps to take that can help your application.
- Use a Co-signer. Many U.S.-based international study loan programs require a guarantor before they’ll authorize funding. In general, this will need to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident with a good credit history. While not all international student loans require a co-signer, you’ll find that you have more options if you have a friend or family member able to act in this capacity.
- Gather Proof of Income. Loans are generally not approved until you have acceptance of your place at a school and obtain the relevant visa. However, to do this you will usually need to demonstrate to your school and consular officer that you can support yourself while you study. Organize materials that clearly show your finances, and your working experience — if you currently work a remote job such as tutoring online, that you can continue while abroad, all the better.
- Maintain Good Credit. Most lenders will require your credit report. Additionally, you’ll likely have to apply for a new loan each semester. Therefore it is in your best interest to maintain good credit practices, even while you’re studying. If you’ve already defaulted on student loans in the past, its best to repair your credit history before applying for another. Rebuild your profile by making regular payments on credit cards, and consider subscribing to utilities such as Netflix in your name and keeping up with the bills.
Scholarships and Grants
Taking out a loan or series of loans to tackle your student expenses can feel overwhelming. However, you can reduce your reliance upon finances you have to pay back by reviewing your scholarship and grant options. You might be surprised at just how many opportunities there are.
The Foreign Fulbright scholarship is probably the most well-known funding opportunity for international students. It’s a government-funded program that is largely aimed at graduate students, young professionals, and artists who wish to spend a year or more studying in the U.S. There are also a variety of specialist opportunities under this umbrella, including the English Teaching Assistant program that provides school placement, language improvement, and options for independent study or research.
It’s also worth your time to investigate several smaller scholarships and grants that could help make a dent in your overall tuition and day-to-day living costs. Many don’t require you to be seeking a degree. The Abbey Road Summer Scholarship program is aimed at high-school-aged language students seeking to spend the summer studying in the U.S. Other programs are aimed toward encouraging cross-cultural relations. The #YouAreWelcomeHere scholarship is a good example of this; their application requirements are centered around video or written essays demonstrating your commitment to promoting intercultural learning. If you’re willing to put in some extra work — doing some research and producing some essays — you can lighten your financial load.
When discussing studying abroad, financial conversations are often focused on tuition costs. However, there are many more expenses that you’ll need funds for during your stay. Books, accommodation, perhaps even the occasional trip back home during the holidays will need to be factored in. Let’s face it, you’ll also want to spend some money on experiencing the fun aspects of U.S. culture and student life. Thankfully, managing your day-to-day student finances can be made less painful.
While you’ll almost certainly have some student loans, you should do your best to limit the debt you accrue. Create a strict budget to live within your means. Seek on-campus work that not only provides you with income to live on but reduces commuting expenses. This might not seem like the most exciting way to experience life in the U.S., but it keeps your expenses and your debt to the absolute minimum.
Today’s advanced technological society also brings with it some expenses. See where you can minimize unnecessary utilities such as home broadband by utilizing campus wifi, or cafes. As an international student it’s important to keep in contact with your loved ones back home, but do some research on which phone plans are geared specifically toward international students. See who provides the best mixture of international talk plans to chat with your family and data allowance for when you’re not in the vicinity of free wifi.
Getting an education in the U.S. when you’re not financially secure can be difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. Take steps to improve your loan prospects, put work into applying for scholarships, and plan to minimize your living expenses. International study is a unique, enriching experience that you shouldn’t miss out on.