6th Dec 2022
Afia Azmi

Exploring MS in USA: Tuition, Living Costs, and Major Considerations

Considering an MS in USA? Dive into the essentials: tuition fees, living costs, switching from EE to CS, and the choice between work and advanced studies.

What is the cost of pursuing an MS in the US?

Let me give you a general idea about the cost of pursuing an MS in US.

Tuition/Fee for Masters in the US

First, let’s take a look at how American Universities charge students for education.

School tuition depends on the number of credit hours you take in a semester.

Usually, one course is considered as 3 credit hours (In most of universities). For example, if you attend 3 courses in one semester, it is equivalent to 9 credit hours. Thus you have to pay tuition for the 9 credit hours in the first semester.

Schools with low tuition will charge you less than $6000 per 9 credit hours or per semester.

Schools that charge average tuition would cost you anywhere between 6000 to 7500 per 9 credit hours or per semester. Schools with high tuition rates will cost you over 7500 per 9 credit hours or per semester.

Most of the Schools ask you to take 12 courses to complete the masters degree, which means 12*3 = 36 credit hours. The number of credit hours varies from university to university.

Students have to select well-ranked and low-tuition / fee schools with Assistantships or Fee waivers.

Cost of Living Expenses

You can live in University apartments (on-campus housing) or outside the university.

Indian students usually opt to live in groups. Generally around 4 or 5 people live in a double bedroom apartment.

If you plan to live outside the university, apartment rents will be lower. However, university apartments are usually safer than the outside apartments.

If your university is located in or near a village, living cost (including rent + electricity + food) may go up to $350 per month.

If it is a mid-level town/city, it will go up to $600 per person when you share accommodation.

Which cities in the US have a very high cost of living?

Top cities in the US for students that have a high cost of living and a few cities where the cost of living is a lot less.

As a result, if your University is located in these expensive cities, the total cost you incur for your MS program will increase.

On the other hand, if your University is located in less expensive cities, your costs will decrease. Most of the cities in the state of California have a high cost of living.

The following cities in the US are extremely costly based on living expenses like apartment rent, housing, electricity, groceries, food, transportation, laundry and other daily expenses.

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Washington DC
  4. Boston
  5. Los Angeles
  6. San Diego

Which cities in the US have a very low cost of living?

In the US, there are a few cities with an extremely low cost of living.

If your University is located in these cities, the total cost you incur for your MS program will decrease, even if the University is a private University.

Most of the cities in the state of Texas have a low cost of living.

The following cities in the US are extremely economical based on living expenses like apartment rent, housing, electricity, groceries, food, transportation, laundry and other daily expenses

  1. Brownsville – Texas
  2. Pueblo – Colorado
  3. Fort Smith – Arkansas
  4. Springfield – Illinois
  5. Ashland – Ohio
  6. Austin – Texas

How to Cover Costs While you are doing MS in US?

As a student, pursuing their ms in US you are allowed to work for 20 hours a week. Pay for students usually range from 6 – 12 $/hour.

You should also try to get fee waivers. TAs, RAs, GAs will cover some part of your fee and you will be paid monthly.

Other costs which are mostly are never considered

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

This is usually the first step in the entire journey. This parameter is like the poker face – nobody knows whether it can make or break your chances. The cost of the exam is $190. Low scorers and a bunch of restless high scorers may retake the exam for an additional $190.

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

While you MIGHT skip the GRE test for your applications to the States (some universities do take in applications without GRE), TOEFL is something that you can’t skip. It is like a passport to the United States. The universities need to know your proficiency with the language and hence, it is a compulsory exam, if not at the time of applications, it is required during the VISA interview. The cost of the exam is $150.

  • Applying to US universities

Fees for applying to each university varies from $50 to $100 with former being the most common. However, applications are incomplete without sending your official test scores (GRE and TOEFL) through ETS, adding another $40 (GRE: $23 and TOEFL: $17) On an average, students apply to 10 US universities and the total estimate comes out to be as follows: Application Fee ($50) + Sending GRE and TOEFL scores ($23 + $17) = $90. Let’s be on the safer (read higher) side and assume $100 per university. So, applications to 10 universities will be a whopping $1000.

  • Other Expenses During Applications

Now, this list might be long and will drastically vary for every applicant. Still, the normal expenses in this category are as follows -

a) Counselling: Applicants, rather lazy applicants, who feel that a counselor can fit in their shoes and get them to Stanford or Berkeley shell out anywhere between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 50,000. We’ve assumed the average at Rs. 25,000.

b) Transcripts on the college letter head (around 15 copies), bank statements (15), affidavit (15) with the sponsors name on it (15) and dispatching them to the university (major expenditure of the lot). This, altogether, should not cost more than Rs. 8,000. In some cases, students make multiple copies of the Letter of Recommendations (LoRs) and Statement of Purpose (SoP) and unnecessarily burn an extra 500 bucks or so.

  • Visa

While the costs are just a notable factor, it’s really important to know the entire VISA Procedure. Once you receive your I20 (official document sent by the university that confirms your stay in the United States and the amount to be spent each year), you need to pay the VISA Fee, which is $160, followed by the SEVIS fee, which is $200. Flight Tickets: Single way airfares in Economy Class vary between Rs. 40,000 and Rs. 60,000 depending on your city, destination and airline. Return airfare cost somewhere between Rs. 60,000 and Rs. 90,000.

Total of these other expenses

Around 2 lakh rupees. Cheapest University- Michigan Technological University- The entire MS program costs around 24 Lakh rupees.

Costliest University- Stanford University- The entire MS program costs around 67 Lakh rupees.

The entire cost for other universities’ MS programs range between 30 and 50 Lakh rupees, with the location being a major variable along with whether the university is state-run or private.

Can I do an MS in Computer Science if I am an EE or ECE student?

It is possible for students from Electrical Engineering or Electrical and Communication Engineering or even Civil Engineering to switch to a Master’s in Computer Science.

Because of the open education system in USA, you are free to apply for any specialization or major as you wish. In your Statement of Purpose in MS application, you would have to articulate why you decided to pursue a different major.

For example, you have a B.Tech. (or, BE) in Electrical Engineering and you want to apply for MS in Computer Science. You can do that. It is same for other degrees as well.

Your admission decision is not based on your Major or specialization in Bachelors. It will depend on your academic excellence and standardized test scores like GRE and IELTS.

For a MS in Computer Science you will have to demonstrate reasonable proficiency and relevant coursework in Data Structures, Algorithms, Operating Systems and Programming Languages, which often are prerequisites for most graduates school courses in Computer Science.

Since you may not have taken these prerequisite courses in your B.Tech. (or BE), the per-requisite courses are mandatory to ensure that you understand the basics of your specialization in Computer Science.

So, if you get admission, in your admission letter, the school will mention 3 to 5 or more per-requisite courses that you would be required to take for your MS in Computer Science.

Additional per-requisite courses would mean you would take longer to complete your MS.

Depending on tuition fee per course, which could vary from $400-$1300 or more, your overall tuition fee could increase.

Also, as you would be living longer in the US, your living expenses would also increase.

If you have an undergrad major in Electrical Engineering or Electrical and Communication Engineering, you may be better off by choosing specialization offered by Computer Engineering department in your target school as they would often accept a background electrical / electronic engineering.

Is it possible for a Non-Computer Science graduate to pursue a PhD in Computer Science?

It’s common for students outside computer science and electrical engineering to attend grad school in computer science.

Please refer to above answer about pursuing MS in Computer Science for a EE/ECE student. Same requirement for per-requisite course apply for a PhD in Computer Science.

In addition, you should talk to your potential PhD supervisor(s) to get their input. Depending on the topic you’re going to research, it might be more feasible.

Is it worth it to leave a well paying job in India for some MS in US university?

Yes it is. In most of the cases.

Personally, I have met a lot of people from Premier institutes in India and even they agree that If you choose a good graduate school, you’ll learn much more than you can imagine.

I came from one of the top college in my state (non-IIT) and I really liked the graduate program here, in a not-so-top university.

I probably learnt 10 times more in a semester here than what I learnt during my Engineering (I was in top 3 all the time, that doesnt mean I learnt everything).

For the first part, no one can answer that better than you.

Currently, you might feel everything is good in life. After spending few years in corporate world, if you still feel the same, then you dont have to do MS/PhD.

You have already found peace in what you are doing.

Most of the people get bored/frustrated with work and eventually look for a change.

I do agree, leaving parents/girlfriend/friends can be emotional, but you will start appreciating very small things in life that you take for granted.

For the second part, I dont understand how you can conclude “doing good in MS does not sound a challenge to me”.

Does that mean, you are sure that you will be able to do MS like a cake walk? If you think so, the opportunities to challenge yourself is unlimited.

You can take all easy courses and ace every exam and graduate with a degree OR you take all the interesting and challenging courses to maximize your learning.

Typically, students take 3 courses every semester and at the most they take 4.

And if you are not doing any research, you graduate in 3 semesters. You can challenge yourself to do all the coursework in 2 semesters and still “LEARN” everything.

How feasible it is for a student from a core branch with low CGPA to pursue an MS in Computer Science?

This one’s a tough situation. Chances of you getting in are quite low, to be frank.

You should ask yourself though, why do you want to do an MS?

You can learn a lot about computer science without pursuing an MS. For getting an admission in a computer science program, you will need to show something to compensate for your low CGPA as well as you not being in an undergraduate computer science program.

But yeah, the following things would improve your chances:

  • Start picking up courses online. You can use this : Coursera or this: edX. I would recommend you cover all the Computer Science CDCs including Data Structures and Algorithms, Computer Networks, Operating Systems, Databases, Computer Organization.
  • Programming skills are important but they are not the only priority. You must know your theory well. Take up projects under professors after telling them about your interests. Convincing them could be a pain in the beginning, given how some professors can be averse to the fact that people from other branches can actually do well in their projects.
  • Be a part of ACM or CSA. This would help you do more projects.
  • Don’t compromise on your Civil CDCs because you would still need a CGPA before you apply to a Masters in Computer Science. Hence, keep them in track along with everything else you are doing.
  • There’s a lot of work that you would need to put in, but it would be worth it in the end.

If not for an MS, you will have a good hold of Computer Science to take up a good job. Once you do have a good job, you can always apply after 2 years of experience, which would count towards your MS application.

Is it possible to get into a good US university for Masters with a low GPA?

Most graduate programs require applicants to have at least a 3.0 GPA, although a 2.5 minimum is not unheard of. Your GPA of 2.3 is very low and would not meet minimum requirements.

BUT… although it is highly unlikely, it is POSSIBLE for those minimum requirements to be waived.

At my institution, for example, the minimum GPA requirement for grad admission is a university mandated.

But if a department wishes to admit a student with a GPA below the minimum, they can petition for a waiver of university requirements by filling out the appropriate form.

An admissions committee might decide to do this if the student’s bachelor’s degree was completed many year ago and the student has demonstrated significant professional experience and growth since then, or if unusual circumstances contributed to the low GPA (e.g., sudden adverse health condition) and the candidate has an incredibly strong application otherwise (i.e., fantastic rec letters, amazing statement of purpose, phenomenal test scores).

Competitive programs will be looking to admit applicants with GPA’s much higher than the minimum, but the admissions committee will consider the various application materials you submit.

However, if you wish to improve your chances by raising your GPA, you can take additional university-level coursework before applying to grad programs.

US universities require students to have undertaken an undergraduate program of 4 years in order to apply for a master’s program. Will I be eligible with 3?


What you can do is either do a Master’s program in India and then go for another one in States.

Or, you can transfer your credits to some college/university at the end of the third year, study one more year as an undergraduate and then apply as a fresher for a Master’s programme.

You can try getting into a university in the UK as there is no hard and fast rule regarding a four-year undergraduate degree.

Does it really matter what school you get an MS in CS degree from? Why or why not?

Here are some of the main points you must consider when enrolling for a Master’s program in the United States.

Computer Science curriculum across US universities

if you fear that doing your masters from a university that is not in top 10 would put you at a disadvantage, then let me tell you that most US universities follow almost the same computer science curricula.

You will be exposed to the latest and the greatest in computer science even in the schools that are not in the top 30. I am from University at Buffalo which falls under the State University of New York System and its ranked 62 all over US, but in no way have I found the school teaching me obsolete concepts and subjects that won’t help you in future in the industry.

In fact the courses I took and the projects I did some myself and other academic have helped me immensely to improve my skills both as a programmer and as a professional. Some of the subjects that I have are not even taught in universities that are ranked lower in the list.

The conclusion you must draw from here is that its only the kind of courses you take and the kind of effort you put in something that puts you at an advantage, rather than the school.

US job market

The job market in the US is the most open one that I have seen, there is huge requirement of talented programmers and people who have performed well in school and extra-curriculars.

Until and unless you from Stanford, MIT, UCB or Caltech the school tag won’t make much of a difference. The job market in US is a great leveller everyone has the same stage and it all depends on your performance.

Put it simply, the brighter and the more talented you are, the more skills you possess the better(high paying) job you get. People in industry care more about your skills than about your school.

I can give an example that concerns me here, I got offers from 3 companies while 3 of my friends in better ranked university didn’t get any internship offers (so you can judge from this what the situation is like in US, I would advise you to search more on this.)

Embracing the opportunity

If you have gotten into a school that lies in the top 30, embrace the opportunity and make full use of it and work hard with what all you get, you will eventually land up in a place you always wanted to be and then all the effort would be worth it.

Sometime I believe not having the best thing in your kitty is the best thing that can happen to you because it make you all the more fierce and aggressive to get to that thing.

Take the experience positively meet new people, have good time studying, make some good friends, build some camaraderie and you will look back and never regret the experience.

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