Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.
Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.

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What Do Fees Mean at US Universities?

By Azara Lantra
Last updated on March 18, 2021

In the United States, the cost of college includes more than tuition — and if you are an international student, you might wonder which fees could be added to your university bill. Here is everything you need to know about the US university fee structure.

A female international student sits next to her mother and they look over a notebook and US university bill

Understanding how fees work at US universities can be challenging, especially because fees vary by university and specific degree programs. Read on to find out what these fees mean, which types of fees may impact your bill, and more.

What Do University Fees Mean?

In addition to tuition (i.e., the academic cost of a university degree program), fees are payments made to the university or college for services and facilities such as health insurance, housing, and extracurricular activities. Fees can be one-time payments or can be charged annually, depending on your university and program. 

Even if you are not planning to use specific services that include fees, you will likely still have to cover these costs. So, as a general rule, be sure to take advantage of all the campus services that charge fees, since you are paying for them!

What Are the Different Types of US University Fees?

The types of fees will vary, depending on the university and degree program. For example, a student pursuing a major in engineering will be expected to pay laboratory fees, but English majors would not see this charge on their bill. 

While the fee structure and costs may not be identical across majors, there are mandatory fees that do apply to all students. Here are the common fees you can expect at your US university or college:

1. Dining Fees

Dining fees differ based on the meal plan you choose. There are on-campus dining options, off-campus dining options, and even add-on options that allow you to customize your meal plan. 

For example, at Auburn University, add-on options allow students to add 25 block meals (a block meal grants access to a buffet-style dining location) to their dining plan.

2. Housing Fees

Housing fees are applicable to on-campus options, like dormitories and residence halls, and off-campus options such as subsidized apartments. When you are looking at housing fees, find out whether they include additional services, like utilities, or just cover housing only. 

3. Health Insurance Fees

Health insurance plans are mandatory for international students. Depending on your health care needs, there are different types of health insurance plans available at different costs; whether you opt for full coverage or a “just the basics” plan, you can expect to see charges for health insurance on your university bill. (For more information, read our blog post about health insurance in the US.)

4. Technology Fees

Technology fees are charged for services and resources such as computer labs, student portals, WiFi, online registrations for classes and events, computer security, and faculty research. 

How Much Should I Budget for Fees?

In general, the total cost for your college or university will include the fees mentioned above and tuition fees. Many universities have cost calculators that can provide you with an estimate for specific majors. 

Here are sample budgets, covering fees over two undergraduate semesters, from Shorelight partner universities:

American University





Other Fees (Facility, Insurance, More)


University of Illinois at Chicago





Other Fees (Facility, Insurance, More)


University of Utah





Other Fees (Facility, Insurance, More)


*Fees are based on current estimates and are subject to change.

Shorelight is here to help

Now that you understand how fees work and how to plan for them, you can stick to a budget and be prepared for all the costs included in your US university bill. However, do not worry if you are feeling overwhelmed: your Shorelight advisor can help you determine which fees apply to you and how to make payment plans to cover them. When you know what to expect with your bill and which fees will impact your studies, you can make an informed plan to pay for university in the US and get one step closer to earning your degree. 

​​Discover how Shorelight can help you pursue a US university degree >