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Managing Money and Minutes

Students at U.S. universities need to learn to budget their time and money to sustain themselves.

The United States has some of the best higher education institutions in the world. Attending one of these can be an enriching experience. It can also be an expensive affair. Students, thus, need to manage their time and money well to make the experience enjoyable, yet affordable. 

Here are a few tips for that. 


Research well

“Budgeting for studying in the U.S. starts the minute you choose your institution,” says Priya Rai, a final-year computer science student at The University of Texas at Austin. When she was applying to colleges, the brochure of an Ivy League institute mentioned a particular scholarship for all accepted students. But, when she contacted the college, she was told the scholarship was no longer available. Afraid of going beyond her budget, Rai chose an institution that would give her quality education as well as ensure her loans remained manageable.  

Rai’s advice for international students is simple: “Hunt for scholarships, and apply for as many as you are eligible for.” Students should ask professors and graduate coordinators of the departments they are interested in for guidance on fees and available scholarships. Crosscheck all the information and, before applying, make sure the financial aid is still available.

“Scholarships often require students to showcase the research we do as part of our course work,” says Rai. “They usually mean steep discounts on tuition or travel costs. This is the money you get for doing well in your courses.” 


Work on campus

Working on campus is an ideal option for international students. Campus jobs involve work students can do in different departments that are on campus and can range from being a research assistant of a professor to working in the college cafeteria. The paycheck is issued by the university. Students must have valid documentation to work on campus and maintain a full course of study. Universities do not permit working off-campus without specific permission from the International Office and/or from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

The international offices of colleges can be a great resource for guidance and information on work options, based on eligibility and sustainability. International students are usually allowed to work for 20 hours during the fall and spring semesters, and for more during summer and vacation periods. “So, summer can be the time to pick up more hours and save for the other semesters,” says Himanshu Sharma, a computer science Ph.D. student at The University of Texas at Austin. 


Study and spend smarter

Universities often hold workshops on time management and offer various resources to help students create a realistic budget and stick to it. Sharma advises students to attend a few. For example, at one of these workshops at his university, Sharma learned how to use free apps like Splitwise and Excel sheets for finance and time management. He began noting his daily expenditures on Splitwise. This routine made him realize he was spending a lot on buying coffee. He now carries his own coffee to the campus. 

Rai seconds Sharma on attending these workshops. She says she learned effective note-taking and smarter ways to read, in one such workshop. “I used to procrastinate a lot,” she says. She realized that anxiety was keeping her from doing her work on time. She sought help and got a professional counselor to assess her study habits. Most colleges offer such counseling sessions for free. 

Rai also advises students to use the time between classes wisely. “Use it to do homework. Get as much work done as possible while you are on campus.” 


Stay and cook

Besides the cost of education, living expenses are also substantial. Dormitories on campus, being closer to departments, are often more expensive than options outside. Shared living spaces outside, on the university shuttle routes, can be just as good. Several universities also offer graduate housing at very reasonable rates. 

Food may not seem expensive, but they add up as well. “When I was moving from India, my mother packed in a pressure cooker,” says Jhanvi Sharma, a science major at a state university in California. “I realized its value after two months, when sandwiches and coffee had eaten away most of the money I had budgeted for the month in about two weeks.” So, learning basic dishes that can be prepared on a simple hot plate can definitely be useful. 

But, as Rai cautions, “Never forget why you are there. Use both time and money carefully. Unlike money, time cannot be earned back.” 


Paromita Pain is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.