Creating a Budget
You will be required to prove to the university and the consular officer (the person at the U.S Consulate who issues visa stamps) that you have sufficient funds to cover your living expenses. Take a close look at the budget you prepared for yourself based on estimated expenses.
Making a Budget
Keep your family involved. Especially if your family is paying for part or all of your college expenses, you will want to work with them when creating your budget. Make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to who will pay for what, how much money will be distributed, and how much leeway you’ll have in making financial decisions.
List all of your income. In your budget, you will want to list all of your potential categories and amounts of income. For example, for college students this usually includes: financial aid such as scholarships, grants, work study, and student loans, savings, contributions from parents, and income from a part-time job.
List all of your expenses. Next, you will want to list all of your potential categories and amounts of expenses. If you are not sure what your expenses are, you might try tracking them for a week, a month, or more. Recording everything you spend can be a great way to determine areas to cut out.
Use this list to help you think about all the possible expenses you may have:
- Meals (board)
- Health insurance
- Books/technology fees
- Clothing/personal items
- Family expenses
- Personal expenses
- Recreation and travel
Plan for emergencies. Life can never be completely planned. If your car breaks down or you get sick, you’ll be grateful that you have money saved up in case of emergency and you won’t have to rely on credit.
Save up for big expenses. If you’re planning a spring break trip with your friends, or have your eye on a new couch for your apartment, you’ll need to start saving up for that expense as soon as you know about it. You consider reworking your budget to attempt to increase the amount you save every month.
Make sure your budget balances. Finally, total your income and your expenses, and make sure your budget “balances.” This means that you’re not spending more than you’re making. You want to either break even or (preferably) have some money left over. If your budget doesn’t balance, you’ll need to reduce your expenses and/or figure out a way to bring in more income.
The estimates that appear on the I-20 or ISAP-66 are usually accurate, and international students are expected to have funds to cover the full amount shown. It is not possible to arrange for more financial aid once you arrive at a school. If you are a graduate student and are awarded an assistantship, be sure that you understand what it will include and what you will be expected to pay for out of your own pocket. If you will receive a scholarship or fellowship, determine ahead of time what portion is taxable and include the necessary taxes in your budget.
A Note About Financial Aid Awards
Financial aid awards are typically paid to you via check and your U.S. bank account will have to be established before you will be able to cash a check. If you are receiving a scholarship or assistantship from your U.S. university, keep in mind that these awards are usually taxed. It is particularly important for you to realize that if you do get an assistantship you will not be paid for your first month's work until you have completed the month. Be sure you have enough money to support yourself for at least the first month until you receive your check.
How Much Money Will You Need?
You can get a general idea about school-related expenses by looking at catalogs or application information provided by the university. There are some factors to consider when determining the things for which you need to budget.
Public vs. private schools
Tuition rates vary tremendously from school to school. Public schools (also called state colleges or universities) are generally, but not always, less expensive than private institutions. Some private schools, however, may be able to offer scholarships to international students that state schools can not. Two-year or community colleges are typically less expensive than colleges and universities offering bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
Urban vs. rural environments
The cost of the living in different parts of the United States can vary tremendously. In general, living in urban areas (in or near a big city) is more expensive than living in smaller towns or rural areas. Renting an apartment in a big city can cost twice as much as it does in a smaller town because there is such a high demand for housing in large U.S. cities. Likewise, food, transportation, clothing, entertainment and other living expenses may be more expensive in a city.