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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

The Real Cost of University in the USA

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Read this blog to learn about how much you can expect to spend on university in the USA.

It has been entirely too long since my last blog, and for that I apologize. It’s been an insanely busy year of college counseling, keeping up with universities in the USA and around the world and how they are handling the pandemic, and figuring out the best ways to support international students.

students reading books about university
What does university in the USA actually cost?

The good news is the future looks bright for international students from around the world.

While many top universities had an incredibly competitive admissions year, there were also many universities that took a more holistic approach to international admissions with a flood of schools offering test optional admissions for international students.

It’s been a constant conversation for me and my students about the cost of attending university in the USA. Many universities around the world had to change the way they admit students, making this year one of the weirdest years ever. Universities had to become even more holistic as they determined admissions decisions for students without test scores and how that would impact scholarships.

  • The upside - giving more international students a fair shake (idiom meaning a fair chance) at admissions to top universities, even if they are from countries without lots of standardized test (SAT/ACT) exposure.

  • The downside - in my opinion (I can’t stress that enough), I felt universities, even the need blind schools (meaning they don’t look at student finances before making admissions decision) were hypersensitive to admitting students that could pay and dismissing (not admitting) students who could not pay.

What does this mean for students trying to study in the USA next year? I think it means a few things become super important in the university search and application process:

  1. What is your budget for studying in the USA? You absolutely have to develop a realistic budget including your personal funds, family savings, government sponsorships, etc. of what you can afford.

  2. What is your profile? Understanding not only your academic profile, but also how it compares to other students going to the universities you are interested in is key

  3. What does the university actually cost to attend? Trust me, most students have a general knowledge that education in the USA is expensive, but I guarantee most do not realize how exorbitantly expensive higher education can be (doesn’t have to be).

For the purposes of this blog, I want to break down some of the realities of the cost of higher education by pulling completely random sample schools and breaking down the costs for international students. We’ll look at three different types of schools with three drastically different costs. I’m going to strictly examine tuition, room, and board at first, along with average academic scholarship opportunities.

As usual, I do have to reiterate how drastically different education is in the USA and how these few samples by no means represent every university out there. The goal is to give you an idea of different schools and their real costs.

Student reading a book.
Doing your research cannot be overstated! It's important to understand the entire picture of university costs.

Here are three universities that represent a large public state university, a large state community college, and a small private regional university. They vary drastically in cost and how they support students.


  • The Ohio State University

  • Large, public research university, ranked #53 in national universities

  • 2021-2022 Freshman Undergraduate Costs:

  • Tuition and fees - $33,502 USD

  • Room and Board - $13,026 USD

  • Total - $46,528

  • Academic scholarship opportunities for international students - NONE


  • Foothill College

  • Medium, public school, considered a “junior college” or “community college” meaning offering mostly two year programs

  • 2021-20221 Freshman Undergraduate Costs

  • Tuition and fees - $8,500

  • Room and board - $13,000

  • Total - $21,500

  • Academic scholarship opportunities for international students - NONE


  • Stetson University

  • Small, private liberal arts university, ranked #4 regionally (south)

  • 2021-2022 Freshman Undergraduate Costs

  • Tuition and fees - $50,800

  • Room and board - $14,910

  • Total - $65,710

  • Academic scholarship opportunities for international students - up to $31,000


Every university will have tuition and fees plus room and board costs. Things international students also have to account for include health insurance, books, personal expenses, medical care, and flights. These can vary quite a bit depending on how savvy you are in researching and finding the best deals.

When we look at the schools above, I think of so many past students. Does every international student want to go to the most well known, internationally recognized university? Yes, of course! But I encourage international students get a true idea of their budgets to study in the USA, do lots of research (with over 4,000 university options in the USA there are plenty to choose from!), and find a school that fits your financial needs the best.

That being said, I often counsel families who are still shocked that their child received a $10,000 scholarship and the total cost is still over $50,000. Yes, many top private schools will offer academic or merit based (qualification based) scholarships to new international students, but with their price tags often hitting around $65,000-$75,000 USD annually, this still can leave a large bill to cover.

Large public universities (including many of your well known state universities), do not offer any academic or merit awards to international students, period. Be prepared to pay full price for these universities. I often tell families that even if your budget is $25,000-$40,000 USD per year, you will likely need a scholarship or financial aid to find a university in this budget. The exception are community colleges like the one listed above that have a lower cost to start.

The real cost of university is tricky because of the different types of schools and how they look at international student enrollment. Remember to ask lots of questions, and know that the real cost of university is often quite high if you are not receiving full scholarships for athletics or a special academic program.

I would love to answer questions, so please feel free to comment on the social posts @thesavvyinternational or post in the comments below!

Until next time,

The Savvy International

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