US university fees make a lot of headlines nowadays, usually involving a string of rather daunting five-digit numbers.
According to one report, the average cost of studying at a four-year private (non-profit) university in the US is now $28,500 per year.
Of course, that’s only the average. At the top end are universities such as Cornell, which in 2011-12 is charging undergraduate fees of $41,541. Additional budget advice includes $7,800 per year for accommodation, $5,354 for food, $800 for books and resources, and $1,630 for other expenses, making a total of $57,125.
That means one year alone would cost significantly more than the average US annual salary, which was less than $40,000 in 2010. Multiply by four for the full course and, for most people at least, going to university in the US starts to look about as realistic as crashing at the White House while you look for a place of your own.
But before you abandon all hope of spending your student years playing baseball, going to the 'drive-thru' and generally carving out your own version of the American dream, be reassured: there may be a way.
Public versus private sector universities
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First off, anyone familiar with the basic rules of averages will have realized that if some universities are charging well above $28,500 per year, others are charging much less. In addition, that average refers only to private universities, which are typically more expensive than public universities (or ‘colleges’).
State colleges have two rates: one for state residents and one for everyone else. The second (more expensive) category applies equally to applicants from other US states and from other countries.
According to student support organization College Board, the average fee for a public four-year university, including the out-of-state surcharge, is currently $20,770 per year. But almost half (44%) of the country’s full-time undergraduates are enrolled at a four-year college with fees of less than $9,000 per year.
The cheapest options, however, are public-sector two-year institutes, variously known as community, technical or city colleges. According to the government-run College Affordability and Transparency Center, the average tuition charge at a two-year public college is $2,527 per year, and the lowest just $560.
Admittedly, you can’t complete a full degree at a two-year college, but you can gain an associate’s degree. This counts as the first half of a bachelor’s degree, which can then be completed by transferring to a university for a further two or three years.
Having pointed out that not all private universities charge as much as Cornell, it’s also worth noting that not all public universities are cheaper options. Highly ranked public colleges such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are increasingly competitive, and increasingly expensive. UCLA advises international students to allow $55,000 per year, at the very least, to cover fees and other expenses.
Grants, scholarships and ‘need-blind’ admission
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All subjects are not equal: ‘differential’ fees
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