As nonresident tuition rises, international UT students face many challenges

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International students at UT face many challenges, including a competitive admissions process, limited scholarship opportunities and adjusting to American culture. Despite this, many say the benefits of an American education make it worthwhile. 

Photo Credit: Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff

Nearly 8,000 miles and a full day ahead of Austin, University of Texas student Mubariz Hayat’s Pakistani parents work two jobs to support their son’s hefty tuition. His parents face financial problems and are doing all they can to give him an education. He’s not alone.

International students at UT pay as much as $25,000 more per year in tuition than in-state residents, and the cost of being a Longhorn continues to increase year after year. Adjustment to American culture is difficult and post-graduation job opportunities seem to be limited. For many students though, it is a struggle they say is worth it. According to documents on UT’s student accounts receivable website, tuition for nonresident students has increased by about 2.1 percent in the 2013-2014 adademic year. 

Hayat, an economic and computer science senior, said the adjustment and rising cost is worth the experience.

“We have to increase and diversify our sources of income to pay for our child’s college, but the cost is worth the quality of education he is getting,” Mubariz’s mother Sarah Hayat said.

There were a total of 6,393 international students and visiting scholars enrolled at UT during the 2012-2013 academic school year.

“Due to its high profile overseas, UT attracts international students from more than 125 countries around the globe, a vast majority of whom are from China, Korea, Mexico and India,” said Deana Williams, the assistant director of admissions at UT.

Williams attributed the limited number of international students to restrictions posed by Texas laws. Williams said 90 percent of the freshmen class are Texas residents, 7 percent are out of state domestic students and 3 percent are international students.

“[This makes] international admissions highly competitive," Williams said.

In addition to the competitive acceptance process, international students pay large sums in tuition. 

Williams said international students pay about $16,000 or $17,000 a semester in tuition, depending on what college they are in. 

“There’s really not a lot available in financial aid for international undergraduates and most scholarships are set up so they have stipulations that they’re reserved for citizens and/or permanent residents,” Williams said.

Williams said this results in few scholarship opportunities available to international students.

In contrast to this, American students studying abroad might face a completely different situation. Andre Mikhail, an American student transferring from Harvard to UT, described his experience as an international student at the American University of Cairo, Egypt as a “financial relief.”

“My international tuition in Egypt was significantly less than my local tuition both at Harvard and UT,” Mikhail said.

For some international students in America, the financial pressure and adjustment to a new country becomes a dilemma. Hyun Kyung Kim,  public relations sophomore and international student from South Korea, said even though her parents can afford her full tuition, she is guilt-stricken about her parents being “burdened” with the cumbersome tuition. To help her parents, she said she even tried to look for on-campus jobs, which were not readily available to her because of her international status.

Kim has also had problems adjusting to Texas. She said she was “scared and lonely” when she first came to UT last semester and she was intimidated to strike a conversation with the American people because of her weak English language skills and because she did not have “common topics to talk to them about.” She said until recently, she had mostly Chinese and Korean friends and almost no local friends. 

Moreover, being accustomed to Korean and Chinese food back home, Kim described her experience with food as “painful,” as she lost more than 15 pounds during her first semester at UT.

Kim also said homesickness becomes an issue when majority of local students leave Austin to visit their families on holidays and breaks. She said the airfare to return home is typically more than $1,900.

Kim said she is very doubtful about finding a job in America because she has seen her brother, also an international student, struggle in the American job market after his graduation. Despite his business degree from the University of Michigan, Kim’s brother was rejected from several jobs even before an interview, she said based on the reasoning that he is not an American citizen or permanent resident. After spending a year job-hunting in America, Kim’s brother returned to Korea. 

Kim is afraid she is going to end up in the same situation. 

Hayat, who said he found the Austin enviroment welcoming and became president of the UT Pakistan Student Association, shared a similar view about job prospects.

“From my involvement and experience with the international student’s alumni network, I have seen a fairly recurrent trend that unless they have an engineering or IT related degree, most international students end up returning to their home countries because they cannot find jobs in America," Hayat said. 

However, Williams said the international applications for this year are up from last year, implying that the financial burdens and social problems have not deterred international students from applying to UT. 

“UT is a prestigious school and remains a magnet for international students,” Williams said. 

Editor's Note: Rabeea Tahir is an international student. A version of this story ran in the June 17 issue of The Daily Texan.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed quotes from Deana Williams, the assistant director of admissions at UT.

Follow Rabeea Tahir on Twitter @rabeeatahir2.