Finding Financial Aid for Study Abroad
Studying abroad involves quite an investment, not only of time and energy but of money. This last investment can be quite a deterrent to many students, which isn’t surprising. Besides program tuition, students must book flights, secure enough money to purchase food and some souvenirs, and hope to have some cash left over to travel and participate in other activities once they’ve arrived at their destination. With all of those different costs, the cost of studying abroad can quickly add up, which means you can quickly find yourself paying a lot of money for this opportunity.
It is a common reaction to think that studying abroad is too expensive. However, the benefits and rewards of studying abroad can far outweigh its costs. Don’t be overwhelmed by the laundry list of expenses and think you can never afford to study abroad. Instead, visit your school’s study abroad and financial aid offices to get a better idea of the costs associated with studying abroad. Create a tentative budget to get a sense of what you’d need during your time away. When you delve more deeply, you may very well realize that the costs of studying abroad really are not so insurmountable.
Figuring Out the Cost
Before deciding that you cannot afford it, determine the cost of studying abroad. In order to do that, you need to know when and where you will study.
When: As you think about when you are going to study abroad you need to keep in mind that different types of programs happen at different times. This can affect or even ultimately determine how much money you need. The duration of the program is also a huge factor when it comes to the cost of the program. For instance, a study abroad program that lasts a full academic year is going to cost more than just a semester abroad or a few weeks away in the summer. The timing of your travel needs will also play a role in the overall cost because transportation can be more expensive during certain parts of the year.
Where: The location of your study abroad destination also affects your expenses. Each city has a different cost of living, and each country’s currency has a different exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. Studying in Britain, for example, would typically require more money than studying in the Gambia. Research how much local transportation is going to cost you and how much you will need to go out, explore, and have a good time on the weekends. After all, studying abroad is about experiencing things outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom.
After you have determined how much programs are going to cost you, it is time to start finding financial aid for study abroad. As you begin doing your research for finding financial aid, you also need to keep in mind the different options available to you. In the end, the cost of your experience will be most influenced by the type of program in which you decide to participate. Here are some of the different types of programs:
Types of Study Abroad Programs
- Summer Abroad: Summer study abroad programs typically allow more flexibility than other programs, but they can cost more and finding financial aid can be slightly more difficult.
- School Programs: In some cases, your school might have a sister school or have relationships with other schools in other countries. This can make it easy for you to apply and possibly transfer your existing financial aid.
- Travel Program: Some study abroad programs are designed as opportunities that allow you to travel and learn about history and cultures firsthand. These programs offer some aid, but it is usually limited.
- Semester and Full Year Abroad: Many students choose to study abroad for a full academic semester or year. When you choose one of these options, you are far more likely to receive financial aid because the cost is likely going to be higher.
Financial Support from Your School
Most financial support for study abroad comes from your home campus. However, there are likely going to be stipulations on that financial aid. Some students will simply be able to use their existing financial aid, but you will need to double check with your school before you make the assumption that you have financial aid. Here are the things for which you need to be on the lookout when finding a program that will allow your financial aid to transfer to your study abroad program.
- Number of credits: Most colleges and universities will not allow your financial aid to be used while you study abroad if you are not taking enough credit hours. This also means that the program you want to attend must offer you credits that will transfer back to your school. In most cases, you will still need to maintain a full-time student status as you study abroad.
- School's commitment to studying abroad: The truth about studying abroad is that some schools are more in favor of it than others. If your school has a history of not being supportive of students who travel and study abroad, you may have trouble finding financial aid, at least from the school. However, some schools encourage students to travel and study abroad and will do whatever they can to help you pay for the opportunity.
- Approval from your school: Your school must give approval to the program in which you wish to participate. Every school has a different approval system in place and likely has a relationship with certain schools and/or programs. It will be easier to receive financial aid for approved schools, but even if you go off of the beaten path, you may still be able to receive financial aid.
- An existing relationship between the schools: You may have luck convincing your school to start a new relationship with another school or program, but there is a good chance they have established relationships. It is in your best interest to try and attend one of these schools or use one of these programs, if you need your financial aid to transfer.
Visit your school’s study-abroad office to learn about schools and programs abroad that your home campus has approved. This is the best way to find out where you can go and still receive your existing financial aid. Almost every college and university has a study abroad office or an international division office that exists simply to help students find programs, financial aid, and establish relationships with schools abroad. The office will be able to help you:
- Find a school: If you are having trouble locating a school or study abroad program, then the study abroad office will be able to show you several with which they have worked in the past. You will likely be able to put your financial aid toward these programs and lower the cost.
- Use your existing financial aid: If you have found a promising program or school, take the information to the office and ask for help transferring your financial aid to that program. The study-abroad office will be used to working with these issues, and will likely be able to guide you through the process.
- Find grants, loans, and scholarships: If your existing financial aid will not transfer or if it is not enough, you can always apply for grants, loans, and scholarships to offset program costs. The study-abroad office will be able to help you find these other forms of aid and apply to them.
If you have always had a desire to study abroad, but have never pursued it because of the cost, take heart. Yes, you need to keep the cost reasonable, but it doesn’t have to be the reason not to study abroad. The truth is that there are always forms of financial aid. You just have to take the time to find it and apply it. The cost of certain programs may be too high, but that may just mean you need to do more research and find other programs.
If you are having trouble finding forms of financial aid to help offset the cost of studying abroad, make sure you contact the program and your school’s study-abroad office. Do not let money keep you from partaking of this wonderful experience. It could continue to enrich, challenge, and change your life for quite some time to come.