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Cost of living in Los Angeles for a student and how to manage it

Cost of living in Los Angeles for a student

You may have heard some stories about how expensive it is to live in Los Angeles (LA) – and, yes, it can be. But, as an international grad student, there are some cost-cutting steps you can take to minimise your spend and stick to your student budget.

Of course, first, you’ll need to create that budget. And, the best place to start is with the school-provided Cost of Attendance (CoA).

In the United States, universities are required to provide a CoA and international students must prove that they have the funds available to meet these costs. Once you’ve shown your university how you intend to pay for your studies – and your living expenses – they’ll provide you with an I-20 form which you’ll use to apply for your F-1 study visa.

So, let’s get an idea of what it costs to attend an MS programme in LA by looking at the COAs provided by the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

Description USC Viterbi CoA
Tuition $55,320
Mandatory fees $2269
Room and board $17,800
Books and supplies $1200
Personal and miscellaneous $2231
Transportation $2451
Total $81,271


Description UCLA Graduate CoA
University fees $12,946
Non-resident fees $15,102
Room and meals $18,612
Transportation $1407
Personal $2280
Health insurance $3901
Total $54,248

Immediately, you’ll see that there’s a big difference in the total annual Cost of Attendance between these schools. This is, in part, due to the source of funding for these universities. As UCLA is a public school, it receives some funding from the government whereas USC relies on tuition and donor endowments.

But, there’s something else that you may not have initially noticed – USC hasn’t provided the cost of health insurance in their breakdown which is a requirement for international students. One reason may be that the school provides two different pricing structures: one for on-campus students with a current annual rate of $2401, and the second for off-campus students which is $3869 annually.

Incidentally, the latter is in-line with the health insurance costs provided by UCLA, though we’ve included the on-campus costs in this comparison table, as many international students opt to live on-campus at LA universities as graduate housing is available and relatively easy to secure.

Description USC Viterbi CoA UCLA CoA
Tuition and fees $57,589 $28,048
Room and board $17,800 $18,612
Personal and miscellaneous $3431 $2280
Transportation $2451 $1407
Health insurance $2401 $3901
Total $83,312 $54,284

Although room and board between the two schools appear to be in line with each other, it’s worth taking a closer look at the actual figures before considering the differences in transportation costs.

Cost of living at a Los Angeles grad school

It’s easy to have many preconceived notions regarding life in LA; it’s the setting of so many movies and televisions programmes. And, while it’s never going to be exactly what you imagine (no matter how realistic your ideas are), there is one thing you can definitely count on – the weather. It’s typically warm and sunny, making it easy to enjoy the city and make the most of your living situation.

Cost of Accommodation

At USC, the Viterbi School of Engineering offers grad school apartments exclusively for students attending this school. And, it’s definitely one of the most cost effective options that you’ll find in the city.

But there are a few things you should know about living in Viterbi’s on-campus apartments. For a start, you’ll need to get your application in early.

And, should know that you’ll be expected to share a room with someone. So, you’ll have a shared kitchen, living area and bathroom, but the bedrooms themselves are shared between two or three students too.

This does make it cheaper, however, with the lowest monthly cost set at $485 per month (for an apartment for five, while making the most of a bedroom with three beds in it). That works out to just $5820 for a single year, which is substantially less than the CoA would suggest.

Of course, the most expensive option is nearly double that cost at $11,100 for a year, but you’ll have a lot more personal space.

At UCLA, on the other hand, on-campus graduate apartments accommodate a single person in a bedroom or studio apartment, but it means that the actual costs are greater than the school-provided CoA.

A typical two-bedroom apartment costs $16,335.96 – per person – for twelve months and the most expensive option (without a parking space) is $19,191.96. This puts students in the ballpark of the total figure provided by the university for room and board.

This may mean it’s a better option to look for off-campus accommodation, as you’ll definitely need to eat while you’re there. But, as the average cost of an apartment in LA is inline with the UCLA costs, it may just be better to increase your food budget accordingly.


While you will definitely need to extend your food budget past UCLA’s CoA if you choose to live on-campus, it’s possible keep yourself fed on a reasonable budget. In addition to making the most of produce markets and grocery stores, there’s also a range of on-campus dining plans designed to fit in a wide range of budgets.

And, you should know that UCLA is currently ranked in third place for the best-tasting college food in the US.

Over at USC, you’ll find a similar range of meal plans, ranging in price from $370 per semester for 25 meals and $50 in dining dollars all the way up to $3390 for three meals every day, all semester long, plus $500 dining dollars and and seven guest meals.

Chances are that you’ll opt for a meal plan that offers just a minimum of on-campus meals and spend more time cooking at home to save money.

And, don’t worry if you want to treat yourself every once in awhile; in addition to inexpensive Mexican restaurants throughout LA, you’ll find plenty of food trucks offering delicious local and international dishes.

Transportation Costs

While both UCLA and USC offer on-campus accommodation (making for a breezy commute) and free, on-campus bus services, you’ll notice that there’s a difference in the anticipated transportation costs between the two schools.

The primary reason for the lower transportation costs at UCLA is the school’s relationship with the local public transportation companies. As a large public school, it’s negotiated subsidised rates with the local bus systems and you can take advantage of these when purchasing transport cards.

USC, on the other hand, has exclusive deals with car sharing companies which can be a fun way to explore the city. Either way, you’ll want to plan on getting into the city as often as your studies allow. There’s plenty to do – and a lot of activities are free.

Prodigy Finance provides education loans to qualified international masters students. Why not see if your university and programme are supported?

Rishabh GoelAuthor 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.

This article is part of CrystalConnect, an outreach initiative by MBA Crystal Ball.

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2 thoughts on “Cost of living in Los Angeles for a student and how to manage it”

  1. I am dev sharma , fourth year student in UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO for artificial intelligence with machine learnings. Need student loan for my final year approx 60000 $. My father already paid my last three year education cost from his own funds approx 180000$. I do not have any cosigner with me, so pls suggest how can i get a loan.

  2. Dear sir,
    As I’m aging 22 now… And I’m working with a multinational house from last 2 years. I’m trying to do a full time MBA from abroad..I’m not financially good. I’ll go with education loan for the same. Will it be worth?



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