Study at US universities can be expensive. You need to ensure that you will have the money available to take up an offer of a place. As well as your tuition and living expenses, you will need to also factor in transport to and from the USA and private health insurance.
Other than self-funding, there are two main sources of funding for US postgraduate study: financial aid from universities, usually in the form of teaching or research assistantships, and scholarships from grant-awarding bodies such as trusts or charities.
- Application and visa expenses
Admissions tests – most people will need to sit the GRE, costing up to $220. Some may also need to sit a subject test at $150.
Application fee – payable to each university you apply for, $50 - $125.
Visa costs – typically $200.
- Tuition fees
Vary enormously according to the type of institution, and the course. Private universities are generally more expensive than public ones, and professional courses such as MBAs or JDs are much more expensive than academic programmes. Range typically $6k - $45k.
- Living costs and other expenses
Factor in room/board, books, transport, insurance, flights home, spending money etc. Most institutions give an example of a typical budget for graduate students to consider on their financial aid webpages.
Around a third of international graduate students at universities in the USA take on teaching, research, administrative or other responsibilities for up to 20 hours a week on campus, in return for a stipend and tuition fee waiver.
The allocation of assistantships usually occurs annually, so for a course lasting more than a year it is unusual to have guaranteed funding for the whole period of your study. Your success in obtaining funding in this way will depend on your academic performance or on a competition. Note that at some institutions the application deadline for financial assistance is earlier than the application deadline for the course.
To find out more about the availability of paid work within the university, contact university departments directly: the departmental selection committee is mainly responsible for identifying which students will receive assistance. This is another reason to make sure you make contact and network with academics in your intended department.
Scholarships and other awards
Many organisations offer financial support to graduates of UK universities wanting to undertake postgraduate study in the US. These may be charities, trust funds or organisations whose purpose is to promote international exchange and understanding.
Each awarding body sets its own eligibility criteria, which may be based on your nationality (e.g. Saint Andrew’s Society Awards), subject of study (e.g. Fulbright Awards) or US university (e.g. Kennedy Scholarships).
Applications for scholarships are usually separate from applications to universities, and many have earlier closing dates. The process typically consists of an application form (including a personal statement and study/research objective) followed by a panel interview. When writing applications it is important to keep in mind the ethos and objectives of the scholarship provider. Many expect you to become effective ambassadors for the programme and actively seek the qualities that they wish to promote.
A list of the major awards follows, but many more exist. Look at the funding pages of your chosen institution in the first instance, and the search engines - listed below under External Resources - to find others.
Major scholarships for study in the US
This information is given as a general guide; it is your responsibility to check deadlines and relevant information for each scholarship.
- Fulbright Postgraduate Awards: All-discipline awards covering tuition fees and a living stipend offered for the first year of postgraduate or doctoral study, or for 'special student research' at any accredited US institution. Also subject-specific awards for journalism, medical studies, public policy, public administration, international law and human rights, risk analysis, biology, chemistry, physics, anthropology and more. Fulbright also offer a number of awards for study at specific universities. Note, these may have different closing dates. Fulbright Commissions can be found in a number of countries and may each run award programmes for citizens of that country. The deadline for awards for UK students going to the USA is currently end of May (ie May 2023 for 2024-25 entry).
- Thouron Awards: up to 10 awards of $31,500 per year, for up to two years, for any graduate subject at the University of Pennsylvania for UK citizens who have graduated (or will graduate) from a UK university. Deadline usually the beginning of November.
- Kennedy Scholarships: 12 awards to cover tuition fees plus a means-tested bursary of up to $26,000 for any graduate programme, visiting fellowship for a PhD student or special status (non-degree programme) study at Harvard or MIT. Those applying must be UK citizens who are ordinarily resident in the UK and wholly or mainly educated in the UK. Deadline usually in October.
- Frank Knox Fellowships: 6 awards to cover tuition fees and living expenses for up to two years of graduate study (including special status) at Harvard for students from the UK, Australia, Canada or New Zealand. Deadline usually in October.
- Knight-Hennessey Scholarships: Scholarships providing full funding to pursue any graduate degree at Stanford University and develop leadership and communication that will "empower you to work across disciplines and to scale creative solutions for complex challenges". Deadline usually very early in October.
- St Andrew’s Society Scholarships: 2 awards of $30,000 for graduate study at a US university in any subject for candidates who are Scottish by birth or descent and who have current knowledge of Scotland and Scottish current affairs and traditions in order to be good ambassadors for Scotland. Open to applicants who have just, or will, graduate from their first degree at Oxford, Cambridge or any Scottish university. Deadline usually February.
- AAUW (Association of American University Women) Fellowships: Awards of $18,000 - $30,000 for graduate study in any subject and any university in the USA, for women who are not US citizens or permanent residents. Recipients are selected for academic achievement and demonstrated commitment to women and girls. Deadline usually mid-November.
- Henry Fellowships: Awards of $34 000 plus tuition fees to support study as a Special Student at Harvard or Yale. Deadline usually early-February.
- Proctor Fellowships: Awards of $28 333 plus tuition fees to support study at Princeton University. Deadline usually early-February.
Got a place but no funding?
There are other options left, even if you have missed the deadlines for the sources of financial aid mentioned above. In the first instance contact the department that has offered you a place, to see if there are any untapped sources of funding. Alternatively, if no funding is forthcoming, you may want to consider deferring your entry for a year or carefully consider the pros and cons of taking out a loan such as a Career Development Loan. Some loan schemes are specifically aimed at international students studying in the USA (see, for example, Sallie Mae, Global Student Loan Corporation).
The Fulbright Commission guide to funding your studies in the USA has an excellent section on US postgraduate funding.
You are also always encouraged to come and talk over your plans with a Careers Adviser.
Note that, before travelling to the US to undertake your study, you are likely to need to provide proof of funding for at least your first year of study, in order to obtain the necessary visas. The Careers Service does not provide visa advice. All necessary information can be obtained from the US Embassy or your US study institution.