Masters Fees and Funding in the USA - 2024 |
Don't miss our weekly Masters newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly Masters newsletter | Sign up now

Masters Fees and Funding in the USA

Written by Mark Bennett

The USA is by far the world’s most popular study destination, but just how expensive is it? What are the typical cost of a Masters at an American university? What scholarships are available? 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 international scholarships for Masters in the USA. If you’re looking for other information about studying in America, 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 Masters in the USA?

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 cost at American universities

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 university 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 around £12,000 per year at a public university and around £28,000 at a private university. The amount you pay can vary depending on the university you choose and if you are an international student.

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 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 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 $1,250, 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 as an international student in America, but you will have to pay for your student visa to be processed. If you're arriving on an F-1 visa, there’ll usually be a $350 fee to register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), plus 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 in Canada

The USA's North American neighbour is an extremely popular destination for international students, with lots of exciting funding opportunities. Read our guide to Masters scholarships in Canada.

Masters funding from US universities

Most larger universities 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 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 Student Aid for US students

If you’re a US citizen, you may be able to receive financial aid from the government to help fund your studies. Generally, international students are not eligible to apply except in very specific circumstances.

You’ll also need to have financial need, but there is no income cut-off to qualify for financial aid. Rather, there are several factors considered when assessing your application.

Unlike undergraduate students, Masters and PhD applicants are considered independent for financial aid purposes, meaning only your own income and assets are taken into account, as opposed to your parents’.

The types of federal aid available for postgraduate students include:

#1 Federal loans

Loans available for Masters students include Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.

For Direct Unsubsidized Loans, your university determines how much money you’re eligible to receive, up to an upper limit that depends on your personal circumstances. Find out more about Direct Unsubsidized Loan limits. Interest rates are currently set at 7.05% for the 2023-24 year.

Direct PLUS Loans don’t award a set amount. Instead, you can borrow up to the full cost of your Masters programme, minus any other forms of financial support you are receiving for it. Interest rates are set at 8.05% for the 2023-24 year.

To apply, you’ll need to 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). You’ll also need a good credit history to apply a Direct PLUS loan. 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.

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.

#2 Work-study

Federal work study provides part-time jobs for US students who have financial need, to help them cover their living costs and tuition fees.

Roles can be on or off campus, and where possible related to your field of study. Off-campus jobs are generally for nonprofit organisations or public agencies, and must be performed in the public interest.

Postgraduate students may be paid by the hour or by salary, depending on the type of role performed. How many hours you’re allowed to work will be determined by your university’s financial aid office.

Federal work-study is generally not available for international students, but there are other ways to earn money alongside your studies. We cover this in our guide to working in the USA as a student.

Applying for financial aid

To apply for financial aid, you’ll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Filling in the FAFSA involves creating an online account and receiving a unique FSA ID.

You should have access to the following documents and information when filling in the FAFSA:

  • Your social security number
  • Your driving license number (if you have one)
  • Your Alien Registration Number (of you are not a US citizen)
  • Tax documents or tax returns for yourself and your spouse (if married)
  • Records of any untaxed income, savings, cash or investments

The FAFSA form for becomes available for course starting the following year on 1 October annually. So if you’re planning to study a Masters or PhD starting in Autumn 2024, you’ll be able to fill in the FAFSA from 1 October 2023.

The FAFSA deadline for 2023-24 is 30 June 2024.

Masters scholarships and grants 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 international student grants and scholarships for Masters 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. We've written a dedicated guide to the Fulbright-Nehru Masters Fellowships for Indian students in the USA.
  • 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 $20,000 is available to fund each applicant for one year of study, with some awards renewing for a second year.

You can also use Education USA, America’s official study portal, to search for financial aid opportunities.

Masters funding for Indian students in the USA

If you’re an Indian student seeking funding for a Masters in the USA, there are several scholarship options open to you.

Fulbright-Nehru Masters Fellowships

The Fulbright-Nehru Masters Fellowships provide funding for talented Indian students to study a Masters at selected US universities in a range of different subjects. The fellowships also offer financial support for visas, travel expenses and health insurance.

Find out more about the Fulbright-Nehru Masters Fellowships.

Inlaks Shivdasani Scholarships

Inlaks Shivdasani Scholarships provide up to USD $100,000 (INR 78 Lakhs) for Indian students to study a Masters in select subjects at universities in the USA (as well as the UK and Europe).

Find out more about the Inlaks Shivdasani Scholarships.

National Overseas Scholarship

The National Overseas Scholarship supports low-income students who belong to the following categories to study abroad: Scheduled Castes, Denotified Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, Landless Agricultural Labourers and Traditional Artisans.

This scholarship provides an annual maintenance allowance of USD $15,400 (INR 12 Lakhs), as well as covering tuition fees, travel expenses and visa fees.

Find out more about the National Overseas Scholarship.

Shardashish Interschool Fellowship

It’s worth checking whether your prospective US university has a dedicated scholarship scheme for Indian students. At Columbia University, the Shardashish Interschool Fellowship provides USD $50,000 (INR 39 Lakhs) to Indian students who are enrolled on select programmes.

Find out more about the Shardashish Interschool Fellowship.

Want to study in USA?

Search for a Masters in USA on our website to find one that is right for you

Working in the USA: How to Find Work During and After Your Studies

Everything you need to know about part-time and full-time work as a student or recent graduate in the USA.

Read more
Health Insurance in the USA – A Guide for International Students

Why you'll need health insurance as an international student in the USA and how to find the right plan for you.

Read more
Applying for a Masters in the USA

Our guide tells you everything about the application process for studying a Masters in the USA.

Read more
Guide to Student Visas in the USA

Our guide tells you exactly what kind of visa you need to study a study in the USA and what you need to apply for it.

Read more
Living in the USA – Postgraduate Guide

What's it like to live in America as a Masters student? Read a detailed guide to postgraduate accommodation, living costs and working while studying.

Read more
The Best Universities for Politics & Government in the USA (2024)

Looking for the best universities for Politics & Government in the USA? Compare ranking tables from top sources here, along with their methodologies.

Read more

Last updated: 08 January 2024