Study in the USA: The Lowdown

Samuel Clennett

Studying in the USA is a dream for many. You’ll get access to high quality education, and you’ll have the opportunity to explore the country while you’re there.

There are many different higher education institutions in the USA, from small specialist universities, to the famous Ivy League names which are known around the world. The cost of study in the US varies widely between institutions, which means international students will need to take some time to research the different options available, including the course types and fees.

We’ll look at the average costs of different types of universities and colleges, a little later. We’ll also touch on a smart way to cut the costs of living abroad, with Wise. Use Wise to pay your tuition fees and rent, to save on fees and get the best available exchange rate - and choose the multi-currency borderless account from Wise to make it easier to manage your money day to day. More on that a little later.

Studying in the USA

The USA has some of the best universities in the world, with a broad range of courses at varying levels. Whether you want to take a full 4 year university course, or just experience life in the US for a shorter period as an exchange student, you’ll find what you’re looking for here¹.

Post secondary study in the USA can mean attending a small community college, private university, or one of the larger - and often world famous - public universities. The choice can feel overwhelming - but there’s a helpful tool called the college navigator, which lets you search for universities based on your chosen criteria, and compare the institutions and courses which may suit you².

If you’re planning on taking some time to study in the US, you’ll need to make sure you can cover your costs, get accepted by your chosen institution, and get your paperwork all lined up. To get a visa for studying in the USA, you’ll need to make sure your chosen educational institute is approved by the SEVP (Student Exchange and Visitor Program), and will be asked to attend an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy.

The costs of studying as an international student in the USA can be high. Each institution will decide its own fees, with private universities typically more expensive than state institutions.

As an international student, you’ll need to pay ‘out of state’ fees if you attend a public university - an average of over USD26,000 per year - with private university fees coming in at around USD36,000 annually³. These are average costs - which means some institutions charge much higher fees, while you may be able to cut your costs with some careful research.

One popular option is to take an associate’s degree at a community college, before transferring to a 4-year university to complete the final 2 or 3 years of your bachelor’s course. Community college fees are typically lower than other university options, keeping the costs down somewhat. There are also a number of scholarship programs which are worth considering if you want to study in the US but are concerned about the pricetag. Check out the scholarship search tool provided by the US government, online⁴.

Study Visa

Once you have been accepted into a study course in the US, you’ll need to get your study visa sorted. This will mean collecting a set of documents, paying a fee, and attending an interview at the US consulate or embassy closest to your home.

For most students, the visa you’ll need will be the F visa, while international students pursuing vocational studies will need to apply for an M visa⁵.

It’s good to know that there will be a wait time before you can get an appointment for your visa meeting - at the time of research this is around 35 calendar days if you want to attend the US Consulate in Sydney, with a shorter wait of 8 calendar days likely if you choose the Melbourne office.

Read more about getting a study permit for the USA, here.

Cost of studying in the USA

When you’re thinking about how much studying in the US will cost you, you’ll need to take into account tuition fees, accommodation, transport and day to day living costs. These expenses do mount up, but there are scholarships available to international and exchange students which may help.

It’s important to note that some universities have different fees known as in state and out of state fees. If you’re an international student, you’ll need to pay the out of state costs - which are higher than the fees charged for local students.

Not for profit organisation College Board estimates the average costs of university study in the US as follows⁶:

Course and institution typeCost average
Private non-profit 4 year courseTuition and fees - USD36,880 per year Estimated costs including tuition, fees, transport, room and board - USD53,980 per year
Public 4 year course (out of state charges)Tuition and fees - USD26,820 per year Estimated costs including tuition, fees, transport, room and board - USD42,970 per year
Public 2 year courseTuition and fees - USD3,730 per year Estimated costs including tuition, fees, transport, room and board - USD18,420 per year

Universities in the USA

The US has a huge number of university options, from small community colleges to the Ivy league giants. The top 5 ranked universities in the USA, according to the QS World University Rankings are as follows⁷:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Stanford University
  • Harvard University
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • University of Chicago

Forbes Magazine also provides a ranking of the top universities for international students. Here are the top 5 in this listing⁸:

  • Princeton University
  • Yale University
  • MIT
  • Harvard University
  • Columbia University

Other national institutions with high percentages of international students include The New School in New York, Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester⁶.

Cut the costs of studying abroad with Wise

Studying in the US comes with many advantages - but also a hefty price tag. You’ll need to make sure you can cover the price of your tuition, accommodation and daily costs before you commit to a course. If you are looking for a way to send money to the USA, Wise could be an option.

One way to make sure you don’t pay more than you need to for your international experience, is to use Wise when sending money overseas. Wise offers safe, low cost international payment services which always use the mid-market exchange rate for currency conversion. This can mean you pay up to 16x less than you would if you made the same transfer using your regular bank.

You might also want to consider getting yourself the multi-currency borderless account from Wise to make it easier to manage your money when you’re stateside.

This smart new type of account comes with a linked debit Mastercard, and lets you hold, send and spend money in multiple currencies. All you’ll need to do is pay into the account in Australian dollars, and then convert your money to US dollars when you need to, using the mid-market exchange rate and for just a low transparent fee. You’ll then be able to use your debit card with no extra charges while you’re in the US. Simple.

If you have the opportunity to study abroad, you should grab it with both hands. Spending time overseas will give you a unique experience, as well as helping to further your education. Invest some time in researching the right location and course for you, to make sure you have the best possible experience, and get ready for the ride of your life.


  1. Study in the USA
  2. Collage Navigator
  3. Costs
  4. Scholarship Finder
  5. Student Visa Info
  6. Average Student Budget
  7. Top 100 Universities
  8. Best Schools for Foreign Students
  9. Most International Students

Sources correct as of 9 Dec 2019

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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