Consider this scenario: You’re a third-year college student and you’ve chosen to study in Dublin, Ireland, for a semester. Your room and board costs will be roughly the same as at your stateside university, because of a reciprocal agreement. But there will be extra opportunities for enrichment activities, field trips, and travel to additional countries.
You worked hard during the summer, so you have extra cash to cover some of these extra expenses. Your older sister who studied abroad before you urges you to take out an extra loan because, after all, this is a great opportunity to do more! “Make sure you have all the money you need to experience as much as you can,” she says.
Should you heed your sister’s advice and borrow extra money? Living in a foreign country for a few weeks or longer is an excellent opportunity to learn beyond the classroom. Most students who’ve done it report it was among the most impactful experiences of their college careers, and even their lives!
Your answers to these next questions can help you decide if you should borrow money to study abroad:
How much debt have you accumulated already?
If you don’t have any debt, and you feel comfortable taking on a little, it might be worthwhile to borrow for this potentially life-altering experience. If you’re already deeply in debt for college expenses, it’s probably best to make do with the funds you have. Many students fall in between, and other factors will help you make the decision.
How many extra activities do you plan to participate in?
If you’re going to be too busy during the week to do much beyond attending classes and studying, perhaps you can make your savings stretch for your weekend activities. Often, some field trips and travel are included in study abroad programs. Find out and plan ahead, so you’ll know what your true costs will be.
What countries will you visit, how will you travel there, and what are your planned accommodations?
If you only plan to visit one other country, perhaps your savings will be enough. Also, extended train passes, youth hostels, and low-fare airlines can help you save significantly. Check with your program director, do your research, and consider all your options.
Are you planning an extra trip before or after the semester of study?
If so, you’ll need to plan for accommodations, food, and other expenses for this additional time abroad. If you’ll be staying with family or friends, that will play into the decision, as well.
Have you created a simple budget?
It’s important to compare, in advance, your expected expenses and your savings. Create a simple income/expenses list and determine if you’ll be covered. This also helps you figure the amount you want borrow, if you choose to do so. It can also give you a realistic picture of what you can afford to do during your time abroad.
Have you consulted your parents about your financing?
Do they have access to your accounts? Are they willing to add funds or lend you extra money if you find yourself running low? If you answered “yes” to all these questions, you might not need an extra loan. If you answered “no,” it’s time to have a discussion with them first.
What’s your gut feeling about your savings and your extra expenses?
Don’t make your decision only based on instinct, but it should play a part. If you feel uptight about taking out extra debt and you don’t need to, don’t. If you’re very concerned about running out of funds while abroad and you can afford to take on a bit of extra debt, maybe it’s OK.
It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and an extra small loan could be well worth it when managed correctly. Your academic major and income-earning potential after graduation will help you decide, too. However, borrowing to study abroad will not be reasonable for everyone and there may be other opportunities in the future to travel without going to school.