New York is truly a city of dreams – maybe that’s even partly why you chose to pursue your MS degree there. But, as you would imagine, it’s not the cheapest city to live in. Rent is notoriously high and the lure of constant entertainment options can be difficult to switch off.
But, you can make it in NYC on a student budget; you’ll just need to be savvy about your money. And, the most important place to start is with your budget.
While every student’s budget is unique to their circumstances, international students in NYC have a set minimum Cost of Attendance (CoA). While the schools set these amounts, it’s up to you to prove that you can cover at least this amount to secure your I-20 form and US F-1 study visa.
Of course, the school-provided CoAs are very different depending on the university as shown by a quick glance at the figures provided by New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering and Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.
|Description||NYU Tandon CoA|
|Tuition and general fees||$32,742|
|On-campus room and board||$17,578|
|Personal and misc (including travel)||$6422|
|Total CoA for 1 year||$58,476|
|Description||Columbia Fu Foundation CoA|
|International student fee||$160|
|Health service fee||$1136|
|SEAS graduate student activities fee||$400|
|Books and supplies||$2100|
|Total CoA for 1 year||$82,794|
While Columbia’s figures appear to be much more comprehensive, it’s possible to condense them into a format comparable to NYU Tandon figues.
|Description||NYU cost||Columbia cost|
|Tuition and general fees||$32,742||$51,326|
|Room and board||$17,578||$21,438|
|Personal and misc (including travel)||$6422||$6889|
|Total CoA for 1 year||$58,476||$82,794|
What’s most interesting about this comparison is that there’s very little difference between personal and miscellaneous expenses between the schools. While there is a little more in the room and board category, it’s not too wild.
Although NYU specifies on-campus housing costs for the I-20 form, it’s not as easily obtainable as you might think. On-campus housing is limited and not guaranteed to any graduate student. The provided figure will continue to rise, as is evident by the 2018-2019 academic year cost of a shared studio, which $8282 per semester, making it $16,564 per academic year.
The cost of a private bedroom in a shared suite falls between $9643 and $11,065 – and the actual cost is determined by the unit allocated to you, which you won’t have control over. Private studios are exceptionally limited and range in price from $11,065 to $14,236.
Over at Columbia, most graduate housing is reserved for doctoral students. Masters students are encouraged to make use of the Off-Campus Housing Assistance Office. But, it’s important to remember that even though the price included on the CoA seems more realistic, you may end up paying significantly more – especially if you wait until the last minute.
In general, Manhattan is the most expensive borough in NYC, though you may find a deal if you start early enough. Brooklyn is often less expensive, though it has been steadily growing in popularity over the years, and you might want to extend your search to the Bronx or Queens (though you should expect to spend some time travelling to and from campus). You may also want to check out Jersey City, which features great transportation links, cheaper accommodation and is known as “Little India” in NYC.
When looking for an off-campus apartment, begin your search by looking at where your courses will be on campus and checking the recommendations of your university’s website for convenient and and safe areas. If you spot a deal that you’re unsure about, reach out to your school’s housing department as they’ll let you know any concerns they have over the neighbourhood or the terms of the lease.
Both NYU and Columbia offer reasonably priced meal plans for grad students. And, although you’ll want to go off into the city to try new dishes from around the world or spend time cooking some of your favourites at home, you can use the meal plans as one of the easiest ways to save on your food spend.
At NYU, the most basic meal plan allows for six dining hall meals per week at at semester cost of $1335 for an academic year cost of $2670. The most comprehensive plan offers a maximum of 300 meals in a semester, which is an average of 19 meals per week. It costs $2790 per semester and includes $250 in “Dining Dollars” which can be used at the commercial vendors on campus. As this will cover almost all of your food needs, it’s not a bad idea to use this as a basic budget, with a yearly cost of $5580.
This is in line with the estimated food cost provided by Columbia, which is $5420. This works out to the cost of two semesters on the most comprehensive plan. This one includes 19 meals per week, along with $75 Flex and Dining Dollars, plus an additional 15 floating meals (which works out to 1 per week), and six guest meals. At the bottom of the stack is a plan with 75 meals, $75 Dining Dollars per term and two guest meals for a cost of $1060 per semester.
Whichever plan you choose, remember to check the details thoroughly. You might be locked into a plan for the year and you may not be able to roll meals or Dining Dollars over.
To save a few bucks on food off-campus, look for street vendors (NYC hot dogs are a treat, even for many locals) and small “ethnic” eateries, as they’ll often sell a few cheaper dishes aimed at satisfying expats from their homeland.
At home, stick to fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats to prepare yourself rather than ready-made meals. In addition to produce, you’ll find regular deals on quick-cooking noodles (called Ramen in the US), cereals, rice and other basics that can easily dressed up with a few spices that remind you of home.
The subway and bus system is definitely the cheapest way to get around New York City, unless you use your feet. Still, it’s not exactly cheap with single journey tickets costing $2.75. If you plan to use the subway all the time, you can get a monthly card with unlimited rides for $121 from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
But, you’ll be happy to know that both Columbia and NYU offer campus shuttles to help their students get to, from and around campus. Sure, it won’t take you to far flung corners of the city, but it will definitely save some bucks.
When budgeting, you might want to work your transportation costs out at $121 a month and work towards that figure. Incidentally, nine months at $121 works out to $1089, the exact figure Columbia suggests students need for transportation.
Why nine months? Because that’s an academic school year for most universities in the US. And this provides a helpful clue for creating your budget and sticking to it.
The university-provided CoA is only for nine months. If you’re planning to remain in the US between school years, you’ll need to set aside money for three additional months. While you may not need to prove it to immigration authorities, as they’re primarily concerned about the I-20 form and related information, you’ll still need something to live on during this time.
The best advice for surviving on a student budget is to make one that’s reasonable for your lifestyle – and over budget when you’re not certain of the expenses you’ll face. The good news is that it’s totally possible to survive in NYC on a student budget, as the popularity of the universities should tell you.
Want to know more about studying at Columbia University? Check out this complete guide with tips for the admissions process and information about international student loans to pursue your masters at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.
If New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering is more your speed, you can take a look at this guide with the same complete information for that school.
Author Bio: Rishabh Goel is Country Manager for India at Prodigy Finance. He studied Economics & Engineering at BITS and did his Masters in Management at London Business School. He has helped Indians excel at GMAT/GRE and mentored students to attend top schools globally.