BEST WAYS TO PAY FOR COLLEGE

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BY SAUSAN RAHMATULLAH

The idea of paying for a U.S. education can be intimidating for many students, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper planning, you can prepare for your education expenses and also find ways to reduce costs. Here are a few tips to get you started:

START EARLY

Ideally, you should start financial planning at least a year in advance of your first semester of college or university. It’s important to start saving early, so that when you apply, you can demonstrate to your chosen school that you can afford one year of tuition fees and living costs. At most U.S. universities, students will also need to demonstrate a source of income which shows that future expenses will be bearable.

KNOW THE COSTS

The cost of tuition and living expenses will differ depending on the state in which a school is located, whether it is in an urban or rural area, and whether the school is public (state-funded) or private. The cost of living is often lower in Southern and Midwestern states as well as in rural areas.

Students need to make an informed decision about which schools to apply to and search universities based on their “best fit,” which includes cost and financial aid. Create a budget to figure out how much you’ll need for tuition, living expenses, food, transportation, books and other expenses. Most universities provide an estimate of these costs on their websites.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EDUCATIONUSA’S SERVICES

Prospective international students are highly encouraged to visit their local EducationUSA office. EducationUSA is a network of over 425 international student advising centers in more than 175 countries, run by the U.S government’s State Department. These offices regularly hold free seminars about financial aid and other admissions-related topics. EducationUSA partners with U.S. university representatives and current students to provide prospective applicants with the most up-to-date and helpful information. EducationUSA advisers can also assist students with finding the university that best fits their needs, goals and financial situation.

If you can’t visit in person, you can get guidance regarding financial aid, scholarships or the application process online at: EducationUSA.state.gov.

LOOK FOR SOURCES OF FUNDING

Here are some to think about:

Family/personal sources

Talk to your family about funds they may be able to provide. In South Asia, as in many cultures, education is seen as an investment for the future. For that reason, many families are willing to sell some of their assets and/or take out loans to help finance their student’s schooling. 

Raafat Rahmatullah (2nd from right, 1st row) found ways to save money as a University of Missouri student. (Courtesy Raafat Rahmatullah)

— Local Scholarships:

Look at sources within your home community for scholarships. Keep an eye on newspaper and TV announcements for governmental or local scholarships. In Bangladesh, for example, Dutch-Bangla Bank provides scholarships for talented students from low-income families. In India, the Tata Group offers a scholarship to provide financial aid to Indian undergraduate students who will be attending Cornell University. For information on the Tata Scholarship, visit: https://studyabroad.shiksha.com/scholarships/tata-scholarship

 But beware of scholarship scams. Scholarship scams may have official-sounding names or websites, but remember, REAL scholarships will not have processing charges or application fees.

EducationUSA advisers may also know of local scholarship information.

Education USA advisors Sausan Rahmatullah and Lubna Anwar meet with students.
(Courtesy Sausan Rahmatullah)

— Financial Aid From Colleges and Universities

Some U.S. schools offer financial aid to international students. Ask about this before you apply.

Students who apply to multiple schools often receive more than one acceptance offer with financial aid. If you do, you can ask that college to match your current aid offers.

Another great way to receive aid is to apply to public universities which offer
in-state tuition to local residents —which is often significantly lower than out-of-state tuition. Then check with those schools to see if international students can qualify for the reduced tuition rate. 

Graduate students can apply for paid research assistantships or teaching assistantships, though it’s important to have prior research or teaching experience. Professors control most assistantships, so go to the website of the department that interests you and communicate with faculty through email. Explain to professors how your experiences and skills could contribute to his/her research and try to secure an interview.

— #YouAreWelcomeHere Scholarships

More than 50 colleges and universities participate in this scholarship program designed to send the following message to international students: You are welcome in the U.S.!  Each school offers two annual, renewable scholarships that cover at least half of tuition costs to selected international undergraduates who become campus ambassadors and help promote and increase intercultural learning.

To apply for the scholarship, students must first submit an application to a participating college. They can then complete the scholarship application. For details, visit: youarewelcomehereusa.org.

Raafat Rahmatullah holds the flag of Bangladesh on the University of Missouri campus.
(Courtesy Raafat Rahmatullah)

— EducationUSA Scholarships

1. Opportunity Funds: The EducationUSA Opportunity Funds program assists highly qualified students who are likely to be awarded full financial aid from U.S. colleges and universities but lack the financial resources to cover the up-front costs of obtaining admission, such as testing, application fees, or airfare.

Each Opportunity Funds student undergoes a selective process of evaluation by an EducationUSA adviser, regional educational advising coordinator, and the Public Affairs section of a U.S. embassy. Opportunity Funds students bring cultural and socio-economic diversity to U.S. campuses. More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have enrolled Opportunity Funds students since 2006.

2. EducationUSA Scholarships:

These scholarships are given by several U.S. universities to students who are recommended by an EducationUSA adviser. The students work with EducationUSA advisers for at least a year, giving the adviser ample time to recognize the potential of the students they recommend.

For more information on these opportunities, contact your local EducationUSA office.

BE CREATIVE TO SAVE/EARN MONEY AS A STUDENT

Once you’re accepted to a university, you can look for additional ways to save or earn money for your studies. Here are some examples from current and former international students:

* Rezwanul Haque, who attends Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota, informed his school’s international office that he would be traveling home to Bangladesh. He offered to give presentations at two EducationUSA centers and hand out brochures about the university to prospective students. In return, he requested his university pay for his travel. They agreed, creating a win-win situation. 

* Raafat Rahmatullah, who graduated from the University of Missouri, says there are ways for students to save money on textbooks.

“I almost never bought new books,” he explains. “Amazon has a wide collection of used books. You can also buy books from your seniors (often school billboards have notices of students trying to sell books) or you can borrow books from the library.  Just be sure to request the books as early as possible.”

* Tanjila Taskin from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, recently gave a presentation to students at the Edward M. Kennedy EducationUSA office in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which she provided advice for saving money. 

“Go to restaurants during Happy Hour and order large dishes,” she said. “Pack the extra food to go, providing you with two meals. Additionally, public transportation usually has student discount rates, so remember to always carry your student badge with you.”

(Sausan Rahmatullah is an EducationUSA adviser in Dhaka, Bangladesh.)

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