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Masters Fees and Funding in the USA

The USA is by far the world’s most popular study destination, but just how expensive is it? How much do you know about the cost of postgraduate, or rather, ‘graduate’, study in America? What are the typical fees for a Masters degree at a US university or graduate school? And how easy is it for domestic and international students to find funding for a Masters in the USA?

This page will help you answer those questions, with detailed information about fees and funding for American students and postgraduates studying abroad. If you’re looking for other information about studying in ‘the states’, check out our detailed guide to Masters degrees in the USA. Or, if you’re already sure that postgraduate study in America is for you, why not get started searching for your ideal course?

Masters fees in the USA

It’s no secret that the cost of a Masters in the USA can be quite high. At the same time, it’s important to bear in mind that a relatively small number of students in America pay the full cost of their programmes. Instead many receive Masters funding from their institution or from a wide range of other organisations.

Masters fees at public and private universities in the USA

America is home to one of the world’s largest and most complex higher education systems, with a wide range of institutions setting different fees for Masters degrees. Fees can also differ between academic and professional Masters programmes.

All of this can make the cost of US graduate programmes difficult to summarise with a simple guideline figure. What follows is a general range, but you should remember that fees for actual programmes may be higher or than the amounts suggested here.

Public universities

Masters fees at Public – or ‘state’ – universities in the USA are usually lower than private alternatives, with prices offset by state funding. Public universities also base fees on a student’s residency, with students from out-of-state paying at a higher rate (this also applies to international students).

There’s still plenty of variation in public university fees, but, as a rule, you can expect to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 per year for their Masters programmes.

Professional programmes

The fees given above refer to typical academic programmes. Prices for professional Masters programmes in the USA are likely to be higher – particularly in the case of MBA programmes, offered by particularly renowned business schools.

Do international students pay more to study a Masters in the USA?

No – despite its reputation as an expensive study destination, you won’t normally be charged more to study abroad in the USA. This is because Masters fees at public universities in the USA depend on your state-residency, not your nationality.

  • If you’re an American citizen from the same state as the university, you’ll pay a lower ‘in-state’ fee.
  • If you’re from outside the state that hosts and funds your university, you’ll pay a higher ‘out-of-state’ fee, regardless of whether you’re a domestic or international student.

This approach is designed to reflect the way public universities are funded, with a benefit to those whose taxes (or whose parents’ taxes) have helped support their state university system.

Private universities (which don’t receive their funding from the state) don’t tend to distinguish between in-state and out-of-state students in this way. However, this still doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll charge more to international students.

Other costs

The full cost of a Masters degree in the USA usually includes a few supplementary charges, most of which are associated with the applications process. You should try to budget for these as you plan for your graduate study:

  • Application costs - Applying for a Masters in the USA can be quite a complex process and you’ll usually have to pay a small administrative charge to cover this. The exact amount will vary, but won’t normally be more than $50-100. Bear in mind that if you apply to more than one institution, you’ll need to pay multiple application fees.
  • Graduate entry tests - Most American graduate programmes will ask for applicants to submit scores from graduate entry tests, such as the GMAT or GRE. The charges for these are separate to your tuition fees, but you should still bear them in mind when working out how much a Masters in the USA will cost you. Most tests cost between $200 and $300, but you can use the same score for multiple applications for up to five years. See our guide to applying for a Masters in the USA for more information.
  • Visa fees - It may not cost more to study abroad in the USA, but you will have to pay for your student visa to be processed. There’ll usually be a $200 fee to register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), plus a additional application and visa issuance fees for citizens of some countries. You can find more information in our guide to student visas in the USA.

Masters funding from US universities

Most larger universities will maintain scholarship packages to help support students and these may be need-based (awarded to economically disadvantaged students) or merit-based (competitively awarded to the best applicants).

University funding will potentially be available to students regardless of nationality, but some awards may be reserved to support domestic or international applicants.

There are two main types of Masters funding available from universities in the USA:

  • Scholarships are awarded to cover the cost of tuition fees, though some also include a grant or regular stipend to help pay for accommodation and living costs. Your university will either pay you a lump sum, calculated to be sufficient for your programme, or it will simply waive the cost of your fees up to a certain amount. You should note that some scholarships for Masters degrees in the USA are merit-based; if so, you may be required to maintain a certain GPA score in assessments during your course. You can read more about the GPA system in our guide to the assessment of US Masters degrees.
  • Assistantships are slightly different to scholarships. Instead of simply awarding a grant or bursary for graduate study, assistantships provide a fee waiver and / or stipend in return for services to the institution. This may involve teaching and demonstrating for undergraduates or assisting in a lab or workshop. Assistantships are more common for research students, but they can be offered as a means of funding for Masters students in the USA.

Federal Loans for US Masters students

If you are a US citizen you may be able to borrow money from the federal government to help pay for your graduate studies. This is offered in the form of a Direct Plus Loan (distinct from other schemes offered to undergraduate students).

Amounts and interest rates

Direct Plus Loans don’t award a set amount. Instead you can borrow up to the full cost of your Masters programme, less any other forms of financial support you are receiving for it.

Interest rates are set each year. Rates for the 2014-15 year were set at 7.21%.

Eligibility criteria

In order to be eligible for a Direct Plus Loan you must:

  • Be a US citizen – Some non-citizen green-card holders may be eligible in certain circumstances, but Direct Plus Loans are not intended to fund international students studying abroad in the USA.
  • Be studying a course at 50% intensity or more - Part-time programmes are eligible for direct plus loans, provided you study on a ‘half-time’ basis or greater.
  • Have a good credit history - You won’t normally be able to receive a Direct Plus Loan if you have a record of credit default or overdue debt for existing loans. In some cases a parent or other US citizen may endorse your application as a guarantor.

Repayments

As a Masters student you won’t repay your loan until six months after you cease to be enrolled on your course. Note that this repayment period will normally still come into effect if you exit your graduate programme early.

Actual repayment plans vary, but you can view a set of guides from the US Department of Education.

More information

You can read more about Direct Plus Loans for graduate students and Masters degrees in the USA (as well as other forms of financial support for American students) at the US Federal Student Aid website.

Masters funding for international students in the USA

Given that America hosts more international students than any other country in the world, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of funding available to study a Masters abroad in the USA.

Some of this takes the form of the university scholarships and assistantships described above, but other funding opportunities are intended specifically for foreign students.

The following are some of the most important providers of scholarships and grants for international students in the USA:

  • The US-UK Fulbright Commission – Founded in 1948, the US-UK Fulbright Commission promotes mutual cultural understanding between the USA and the UK. It does so by providing an advisory service for students from both countries and by funding students on exchange programmes. If you are a UK national looking to study a Masters in the USA you may be eligible for Fulbright funding. Most awards will help support you in your first year of study and the Commission may also help facilitate your application for a visa to study in the USA. Successful recipients of Fulbright awards are usually able to demonstrate an interest in US culture and an intention to use their degree in a manner that benefits cultural relations between the US and the UK.
  • The Fulbright Foreign Student ProgrammeThe Fulbright Foreign Student Programme is part of a wider government initiative to help foster understanding and positive relations between the USA and other nations around the world. It currently operates in over 150 countries, offering funding for international students to study on US graduate programmes. Eligibility details and funding amounts vary between countries, but most awards will support a student for up to a year of postgraduate study in the US.
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation: International Fellowships - The AAUW supports women in academia, particularly within the American university system. Its International Fellowships are available to women from outside the US who wish to study a postgraduate degree at an American university. Candidates are selected based on merit and their commitment to support and represent the empowerment of women through education. Funding of $18,000 is available to fund each applicant for one year of study, with some awards renewing for a second year.

Search for Masters funding in the USA

Unfortunately, we can’t list every single type of funding for graduate programmes in the USA on this page – with 52 states and over 4,000 universities, we’d need another website. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we have!

Over at our sister-site, PostgraduateFunding.com, you can search over 700 types of funding for Masters degrees in the USA. Or, you can put together your own customised search for postgraduate funding anywhere in the world. Why not take a look?

FindAMasters scholarships in the USA

Of course there’s one more type of Masters funding in the USA we should list before we go – ours! The FindAMasters scholarships are available to help cover the cost of a Masters degree anywhere in the world, provided you’re studying at a university listed on this website.

This year we’ve got one £5,000 scholarship plus four additional £500 awards. All you need to do is search for your ideal Masters programme in the USA and then register for scholarship news. We’ll be in touch soon!

Last updated - 24/02/2016

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