Cost of Studying in UK vs USA: Which Is Cheaper?

Last Updated on August 2, 2021 by David Shaw

Cost of Studying in the UK vs US

If you’ve ever contemplated choosing between studying between the United States or the United Kingdom and wondering which is more affordable, then you’ve come to the right place. There are certain differences in the cost of studying in both countries, and there are good reasons why that is.

Is the cost of studying in the UK or USA cheaper?

The average cost of studying in the UK is generally cheaper compared to the United States for equally prestigious universities in both countries. UK degree programs are also mostly a year shorter compared to the US, however, the return on investment of the Degrees you can get from both countries may vary greatly.

Considering many other factors that make the cost of studying between these countries, there can be other reasons why you would choose one over the other.

Different College System And Lifestyle Customs

The cost of studying in both countries varies greatly due to the different cultures and education systems practiced by both countries. With things like different duration of degree programs, housing options, living expenses, and working opportunities, planning the appropriate budget and funding plans to study in either the US or UK can be very different. Let’s look into more details on what makes studying costs different in both countries:

The Average Cost Of Tuition Fees

It is helpful to know that tuition fees for local citizens in the UK are mostly fixed at the rate of £9,250 ($12,886) annually but different rates apply for international students. As for top universities in the US, they typically charge the same tuition fee for both local and international students, but you can also find universities where they charge cheaper fees for locals or what they usually call “in-state” tuition fees.

University tuition fees in the UK are generally known to be cheaper, so let’s look at the data from a few university comparisons in both countries:

University (UK)Subject Discipline Yearly Tuition Fee (International)University (US)Yearly Tuition Fee
University College London1. Business
2. Economic
3. Computer Science
4. Engineering
5. Politics
Harvard University $51,904 for UG courses
University of Cambridge1. Mathematics
2. Economic
3. Computer Science
4. Engineering
5. Politics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology$55,510 for UG courses
University of Oxford1. Business
2. Economic
3. Computer Science
4. Engineering
5. Politics
Stanford University $56,169 for UG courses
University of Edinburgh1. Business
2. Economic
3. Computer Science
4. Engineering
5. Politics
California Institute of Technology$56,364 for UG courses
University of California, Berkeley$47,602 for all UG courses

Despite the higher costs of tuition fees in most US universities, the US also offers many community colleges or public universities which has cheaper tuition compared to top tier universities.

Length Of Education

Despite the lower average cost of tuition fees in the UK, another factor that makes tuition fees significantly cheaper in the UK is the shorter duration of degree programs. Degrees offered in UK universities typically last 3 years, which is a year shorter compared to most US Degrees. Even if you attended universities of similar rankings which has similar tuition fees, you are essentially saving a quarter in tuition fees if you’re pursuing a degree from the UK. If you take into account the cost of tuition fees you saved along with one additional year from graduating early, studying in the UK essentially puts fresh graduates at a greater advantage compared to the US.

Want to learn more about reasons you should study in the US? Check out our article on what makes the US education system regarded as the best in the world.

Accommodation Expenses

Besides the hefty tuition costs of studying in either country, the consideration of accommodation expenses usually comes next on the list. The good news is that, unlike tuition fees, accommodation expenses can be effectively controlled and manipulated.

According to Time Higher Education and Studyportals, the average accommodation cost for students in the UK amounts to £4,914 ($6,818 USD), whereas in the US boarding rent could range anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000 per year depending on the state you’re studying in.

Unlike in the United States, universities in the UK typically do not require first and second-year students to live on-campus at dormitories or student residence halls. Since the UK also has less active campus life engagement activities and culture compared to the US, students typically opt to live in private residential units with their friends, which also relatively reduces their accommodation expenses.

Work Opportunities

Working opportunities in both countries are totally different, especially for international students. In the UK, students holding visas for more than six months are allowed to work 20 hours a week, and unlimited hours during holidays. As for the US, students on visas are only allowed to work 20 hours only on-campus and will require Curricular Practical Training (CPT) issued by universities in order to work off-campus.

Since there are more and easier work opportunities in the UK compared to the US students, students can easily earn a side income to fund certain of their personal expenses.

Student Loan Plan and Policies Are Different

student loan

If you’re planning to apply for a student loan in either country while pursuing a professional degree, both countries offer very different repayment plans and most might say the UK does a better job at it. Even if you’re an international student above the age of 18, student loans are readily available provided if u have a co-signer or guarantor. Before you decide to apply for loans, get yourself well educated on financial options before opting for student loans.

Student loan & repayment policies in the UK

In the UK, you start paying back your student loans only after you earn above £21,000 a year or depending on the student plan you chose. So after you’ve graduated with a degree and start getting employed, you will only bear the responsibility of paying back the student loan once you’re capable of doing so. That’s the nice thing about UK student loans, which is unlike any other regular loans where you are only expected to pay in small amounts only if you’re earning above a fixed minimum income threshold.

Student loan & repayment policies in the US

Loan repayment policies in the US are known to crush students into debts very early into their careers due to its stringent repayment policy. For most federal student loans, graduates normally have a six-month grace period after they graduate, leave school, subjected to half-time employment until they have to start paying back for the student loan. With more choices or rather complicated repayment plans, students often get slapped with more loans interests than they initially owe if they are not careful about choosing the right plans.

Career and Residency Opportunities Are Different

Career freedom

What comes after the realistic truth of graduating is looking for a job and residency while being employed in either of the two countries. Despite how quality your degree may be in from either country, you should know that job opportunities, payout rates, and residency benefits in both countries are totally different.

According to Save The Student, the average social science graduate salary in the UK is just over £27,000 ($37,552) whereas the average for similar degree graduates in the US is $59,919, based on survey reports by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Given that the United States has a greater population and economic influence compared to the UK, pursuing a job in the US with a local professional degree sure serves applicants better when it comes to the number of options and better payouts rates they can find.

Employment in the UK is usually under contracts, which requires notice before retrenchment. Employment in the US is typically done at will in most companies, in which employees can be fired on the spot without prior notice.

Besides, you shouldn’t only pay attention to employee pay rates when you take into consideration of job security, and work-life balance. Although the UK has an averagely lower pay across their jobs, they are other benefits that compensate for it in the form of employment benefits, worker rights, and affordable healthcare.

Work Culture UKUS
Working Hours Per Week3534.4
Employment customs/job securityEmployed on contractEmployed at-will
Parental leavePaidUnpaid
Holiday Leave5.6 weeks1.4 weeks
Worker RightsAbundantLimited
Healthcare CoverageCheap/FreeExpensive

Sources from The Balance Careers, Office for National Statistics

Final Thoughts

If you’re still wondering which country has the best bang for your buck for a degree program, the UK is definitely the winner in many aspects. In addition to its lower average tuition fees, saving an extra year compared to US degree programs is truly a game-changer not only for your budget planning but also for your career.

Let’s not forget the UK has far beginner-friendly student loan plans compared to the US for young graduates just starting out in society, as well as more worker rights and employment benefits compared to the US. Unless the higher salary and large job opportunities in the US truly entice your personal interests, then nothing should stop you from studying in the US.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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