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Engineering CoA: How much does a degree cost?

Katie Schenk - June 16, 2017

Engineering CoA: How
much does a degree cost?

Considering a masters degree in engineering? Whether you’re after a Masters in Engineering or a Masters in Science in Engineering, you know it’s going to cost a pretty penny.

But how much?

It’s really tough to work on an estimate that ranges between $55,000 and $85,000 per year. And, if you’re pursing a masters degree in the United States, that’s a nine or ten-month academic year, not a full 12-month calendar year.

So what is the Cost of Attendance (CoA) for international engineering masters programmes? And, how will you finance your studies?

What’s included in an engineering masters CoA?

Considering American schools must make the CoA for their programmes available to the public, you would think it would be relatively simple to find this information. But, it’s often more difficult than a simple web search.

The trouble begins with what seems like it should be the easiest step – tuition. Many engineering programmes charge tuition based on the number of credit hours a student undertakes; it’s not a flat fee.

Take, for example, the tuition cost at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University in New York City. The current (2016-2017 academic year) cost for a single academic “point” for MS Engineering students is $1858, and students are expected to take 12 academic points per semester. That works out to $22,296 in tuition per semester, and department offers two semesters per year (fall and spring).

Easy enough, right? And, it is, if you take the recommended 12 points per semester. But, this is also a best case scenario.

At the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University (also in New York City), every credit hour carries registration and service fees on top of the credit rate. For the current year (again, 2016-2017), you’d pay $1646 per credit. On top of each and every credit hour, there’s a $85 registration and service fee; each credit costs $1731.

That should get you thinking about whether Columbia has mandatory registration and service fees. (They do.) And, how do these fees stack up against NYU’s engineering masters fees? Indeed, what sort of expenses do schools include? 

Columbia Fu vs NYU Tandon CoA

As you can see, it can be very difficult to compare apples with apples – even when looking at two prestigious schools located in the same city. On their international student CoA documents, NYU offers a grouping of transportation and personal expenses whereas Columbia attempts to break it down a little more. And, from this information alone, it’s probably best to consider that NYU’s books fall under personal expenses.

Luckily, the programme structures between Columbia Fu and NYU Tandon MS Engineering programmes aren’t that different. For example, both universities require their MS Engineering in Mechanical Engineering students to complete 30 credits or points. It gets a little more difficult to compare tracks when you’re working with programmes that require 24 credits, points or tuition hours verses those that mandate 32 hours.

Pay attention to mandatory fees

Tuition is a mandatory expense whether you live off noodles and cereal in a half-room sized flat for a year or not. But, it’s not the only line item that you must pay. Schools have a lot of mandatory fees.

Consider UCLA’s master’s degrees fees for the 2017-2018 academic year. The following doesn’t even touch on living expenses; it only covers tuition, health insurance, and mandatory fees.

  • Tuition - $11,502.00
  • Nonresident Supplemental Tuition - $15,102.78
  • Student Services Fee - $1128.00
  • Graduate Students Association Fee - $38.25
  • Graduate Writing Center Fee - $17.25
  • Ackerman Student Union Fee - $63.00
  • Ackerman/Kerckhoff Seismic Fee - $113.00
  • Wooden Center Fee - $34.00
  • Student Programs, Activities, and Resources Complex Fee - $107.00
  • Document Fee - $80.00
  • UC Student Health Insurance Plan - $3816.28
  • Total - $32,000.78

With the exception of the document fee, which is a one-time fee, each of these are annual expenses for masters students. And, there’s no way to waive these fees – whether you use the facilities mentioned or not. You’re still paying for the use of the gym even if you never once set foot in it. And, as have probably noticed by now, you can pay $32,000 and still not have had a bite to eat, a bed to sleep in, or a book to study.

Incidentally, UCLA estimates these line items for annual living expenses for masters students:

  • Room and meals - $17,793
  • Books and supplies - $1287
  • Transportation - $1371
  • Personal - $2217
  • Total - $22,668

UCLA has also added a line item of $738 for “loan fees”, but international students must remember that they don’t qualify for federally-funded American student loans. The cost of borrowing to fund your studies is, of course, part of the larger cost of attendance, but international students must consider it differently.

International masters students, the I-20 form, and the CoA

Every international student planning to attend an American university for their masters will receive an I-20 form from their school. You are unable to apply for a visa without this form – and even students from exempted countries must supply this form when they enter the United States.

Simply put, the I-20 form outlines the cost of attendance (as provided by the university) and demonstrates your ability to financially meet these line items.

And this is where cost of attendance can become a little tricky for international students.

The University of Southern California’s Viterbi Engineering department outlines the predicament facing international students (relatively) easily.

Pretend you’re enrolled in a 30-unit master’s programme, spread over four semesters (fall 2017 to spring 2019). Your mandatory fee structure will look something like this:

USC Viterbi Semesters

The university suggests taking six units for your first and last semesters and nine units in the middle ones. And, that seems to make sense, until you look at the university’s master’s programmes expenses breakdowns. There, it’s claimed that six units is a half-time course load, which can make things confusing for both prospective students and for visa officers.

But, that’s not the only complication. According to the same list of estimated fees for USC Viterbi students, you should expect to budget roughly these amounts for a single year of study.

  • Tuition - $36,000
  • Mandatory Fees - $2287
  • Room and Board - $16,700
  • Books and Supplies - $900
  • Personal and Miscellaneous - $2070
  • Transportation - $2430
  • Total - $60,387

Excluding tuition, which is ever so tricky because it is tied to teaching units and isn’t actually a flat rate, the total living expenses comes to $24,387. And, you would need to add in the $1816 of annual health insurance as an international student as that’s a requirement for your visa. That provides you with a total (estimated) budget of $26,203 per year.

And this is where the I-20 form becomes important. According to the international office at USC, your I-20 form will list the following expenses:

  • Tuition - $38,513
  • Living - $20,988
  • Total - $59,501

On the one hand, you might think that’s great because that’s the figure you need to prove you can meet to the immigration officers handling your visa application. On the other hand, you still need to come up with the difference between the school’s CoA and the actual amount you’ll need to pay.

The CoA and international student loans

As you may have guessed, there is likely to be a discrepancy between the CoA provided by the university and your actual budget. A big part of that reason is that universities have to work on averages; they have no idea how much your rent will be or how much you’ll spend on food during a year. But, they’re still under a mandate to provide you with a Cost of Attendance figure so you can get your study visa.

And, there’s another reason the CoA is so important – student loans. Consider the amount Prodigy Finance is able to extend to qualified international students pursuing a supported two-year engineering master’s programme at USC Viterbi; it’s 80 percent of the Cost of Attendance (as provided by the school). So, if the school says your annual CoA is $59,501, the maximum a student would be able to borrow is $47,600.80 (per academic year).

If your budget actually reflects the $59,501 provided, you’ll still need to come up with an additional $11,900, give or take. And, if your annual budget is closer to the $62,203 that other sources calculate, that’s another couple of grand.

Now, don’t be scared! Often, these shortfalls are made up of a combination of scholarships, on-campus employment, savings, and family contributions. That, of course, is up to you. So is process of developing your budget and uncovering the correct Cost of Attendance. After all, you can ask any engineering masters student in the States, and they’ll tell you it’s absolutely worth it


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