No matter what your program of study is, spending a semester or more studying abroad can be an incredible and enriching experience. Specifically, a study abroad experience can give you a unique opportunity to see the world. You’ll immerse yourself in a new culture that might change your worldview as you learn about a different country both inside and outside the classroom. You might even pick up some new hobbies or languages along the way, and some study abroad programs even offer specialized courses that aren’t available at your current school. Finally, a study abroad experience can also help your resume and graduate school application by setting you apart from other students.
When you’re already working hard to afford college, the thought of funding a semester or academic year abroad may seem impossible. In reality, studying abroad is more feasible than you think. A little research and planning can go a long way towards turning your study abroad dream into a reality.
Explore Your Study Abroad Options
Before you can figure out if you can afford to study abroad, you’ll need to research the program options available to you.
Get in Touch With Your School’s Coordinator
Any major college or university should have an official point-of-contact for study-abroad programs. Some schools even have entire departments dedicated to them. Get in touch with the department head or supervisor responsible at your school. If you have declared a major, be sure to include it in your e-mail (or mention it during your meeting/phone call). This way, he or she can point you in the direction of specific study abroad experiences that would be the best fit.
When exploring study abroad programs, it’s best to stick to the ones your school offers. While there are third-party services that offer study abroad experiences, the “credits” you earn may not properly transfer with your school or degree program which is why it’s usually best to work with your school’s programs.
Sign Up For Updates and Attend Information Sessions
Once you’ve found the program that you’re interested in, find out whether there’s a mailing list you can join to stay on top of any updates. Often, there will also be a few information sessions. Here, students can speak directly with the program coordinator to find out more about the experience, costs, and other details. Block time out of your schedule to attend one of these information sessions and be prepared to take good notes and ask questions.
Compare With Your Tuition/Board Costs
Some study abroad programs may cost even less than a semester of tuition, room, and board on-campus. Find out whether this is the case with your school by researching the program further or asking your department head. If so, you may be able to better justify the cost of a study abroad experience.
Realistically Estimate Costs
Now it’s time to figure out how much your experience is going to cost. Being realistic about these estimates is important, as this will help you better plan and budget for your trip. In general, it’s better to slightly overestimate the costs than it is to underestimate.
Find Out Exactly What’s Included
You should be able to find out exactly what’s included with the basic cost of your study abroad program. This is usually one of the first pieces of information provided during a meeting. You may also be able to get this cost from your program advisor or department head. Ideally, you’ll want to get the details in writing so you know exactly what will be covered by your program costs versus what might cost extra.
Some specific things that are often (but not always) lumped into program costs include:
- Airfare – How much is your airfare round-trip and how many bags can you bring without being charged extra? How much will it cost to get you to and from the airport?
- Lodging – Will you be staying in a college dorm or somewhere else, like a hostel or private rental?
- Tuition – How much is tuition for the program and what fees (such as enrollment fees, activity fees, health insurance, etc.) are included?
- Books and Supplies – Are all your required textbooks included? Will you need to pack your own supplies (notebooks, pens, etc.) or will they be provided when you arrive?
- Transportation – How will you get around once you’re there? Will you be in a large city where you need a bus/subway pass, or will you have access to a vehicle?
- Meals/Food – How many meals per day will be provided and what types of food options will be available?
Factor in Other Potential Costs
Even if your program includes all of the above, there are some additional expenses to factor in.
Consider, for example, if there will be additional tours or events you may want to attend during your trip. Much like during the regular school year, you will probably be free to do your own thing on the weekends. If you want to do any sightseeing or travel to other towns, countries, or territories, you’ll need to factor these costs in as well. Taking a cab to a nearby town may not cost much, but visiting another country may be costly if you need to buy a plane or train ticket. If you want to have family or friends visit you while you’re overseas, they’ll have to budget for the trip as well.
Even if your program includes basic meals, you’ll probably want to eat out from time to time. This will add to your expenses too. The same applies if you plan on bringing home any souvenirs for loved ones.
Finally, factor in supplies you may need before you even leave on your trip. This may include an international cell phone plan, certain types of clothing for the climate, or other essentials. These all need to be accounted for to come up with an accurate estimate of your total costs. From there, you can move onto figuring out how you’re going to pay for the experience.
Consider Possible Funding Sources
There are a number of ways to fund your study abroad experience. Explore some (or all) of these possibilities to make your study abroad program more affordable.
Scholarships and Grants
First and foremost, look into scholarship and grant opportunities; if you can qualify for any of these, they’re ideal because this is money you won’t have to pay back. If you’re currently receiving any scholarships or grants, check with your school to see if they’re transferable to cover at least some of your study abroad costs. You may be able to apply to existing aid programs towards a semester or year abroad.
You can also apply for scholarships and grants specifically offered for study abroad programs. Some of these may be strictly need-based. Others may be merit-based and require you to write an essay as part of your application. Take time to explore scholarship and grant options not only through your school but also through other reputable resources as well.
Ask for Funding in Lieu of Gifts
If you have special events coming up where you typically receive gifts from loved ones, consider asking for a contribution towards your study abroad opportunity. This can be a great option if you have a birthday or other holiday approaching. If you will be graduating this year, you could ask for contributions towards your trip as an early graduation gift.
Find Creative Ways to Save and Earn
While taking on a part-time job while in school may not be feasible for some, there are other opportunities to earn extra cash. If you’re particularly strong in an academic subject, consider tutoring in your spare time. If you have any valuables you don’t mind parting with, there are also plenty of reputable platforms where you can sell them for extra cash. Many of these services don’t even require you to meet up in-person with your buyer. Instead, they provide pre-paid shipping labels so you can ship your items out.
Take Out Additional Loans
If you’ve explored these options and are still short on funds, consider taking out additional loans to cover the costs. Federal and private student loans can often be applied towards study abroad expenses, and personal loans from a bank or other trusted institution may also be an option.
Is a Study Abroad Loan Right For You?
If you’re thinking about taking out loans to cover some or all of your study abroad costs, there are a few things you should know. For starters, schedule an appointment with your school’s financial aid office before you begin submitting loan applications. The people working in this office will be able to provide you with helpful resources on study abroad loans. They may even be able to assist you with filling out applications or checking for eligibility.
Any time you’re taking out a loan, it’s also important to be aware of the interest rate and other terms. Make sure you know exactly how (and when) the funds will be disbursed to you. Keep in mind when you’ll be expected to begin paying them back. As long as you’re borrowing responsibly, it’s OK to explore the option of taking out a loan to study abroad.
Making the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience
Regardless of how you end up paying for your study abroad program, there are some practical tips you can follow to make the most of your experience without blowing up your budget. For starters, research currency conversion rates before your trip. This will help you understand the local currency as it compares with U.S. dollars and will help you budget wisely.
When it comes to sightseeing, you can save money by researching free museums, festivals, and other events before your trip. Some sites offer free or reduced admission for students, so keep your student ID on you at all times. This way, you can still immerse yourself in the local culture while staying within your budget.
The thought of paying for a study abroad trip might seem daunting, but with some research and planning, it’s completely doable. So make the most of your education and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experience that you’ll remember long after you graduate!