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How to Afford College Study Abroad Programs with Scholarships & More


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During the fall semester of my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, and I can’t believe I almost didn’t go. I knew I wanted to study abroad, but I wasn’t sure if I could afford it. On top of regular tuition, I’d have to pay separately for housing, meals, and entertainment.

As it turned out, my study abroad program saved me money: I ended up shaving off a third of my usual on-campus expenses for the semester.

If you’re interested in studying abroad but you’re worried about affording it, consider these four ways you can make it work.

1. Study Abroad in a City with a Lower Cost of Living
According to a recent report from the International Education Exchange (IEE), 4% fewer American students studied in Europe in 2008 and 2009, but the numbers for students studying in other continents showed steady increases: Africa by 16%, South America by 13%, and Asia by 2%.

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The IEE suggests that countries with lower costs of living experienced surges in students studying abroad in part because of the attractive price tag. In my case, Argentina’s lower cost of living meant that dinners with friends, public transportation by bus or train, and groceries ate up less of my budget when I studied abroad.

2. Apply for Study Abroad Scholarships
Because I chose a non-traditional location, I was eligible for certain study abroad scholarships. After dropping by the international studies office at my school, I filled out applications for scholarships based on location, language, and areas of study. I received an extra $3,000 in study abroad scholarships for the semester.

Another great option is the Gilman Scholarship Program, which awards up to $8,000 to U.S. undergraduate students receiving federal Pell Grant funding. Many colleges also transfer financial aid directly to study abroad programs, so you won’t lose any grants or scholarships from your university.

3. Research Affiliate Programs
Many of my friends chose to study abroad with a university-sponsored program taught by professors from our school, but I wasn’t sure I’d get the language immersion I wanted. I was looking for affiliated programs like ISA, IES, SIT, and IFSA-Butler instead, which charge less than my standard university tuition. That lower charge isn’t the perfect route to savings, though, and it’s important to understand your school’s study abroad policy.

At some schools, all students must pay full tuition to the university even though the affiliate study abroad program is cheaper. My college made me pay 10% of tuition as an affiliate fee, on top of the program’s tuition and fees. If you’re lucky, you can just pay the affiliate study abroad program directly, and depending on your financial aid, it may be cheaper. The Institute of International Education has an interactive directory to make your decision easier.

4. Consider Direct Enrollment
I wish I felt more comfortable with my Spanish before studying abroad, because direct enrollment is an option that would have saved me a lot more money. My affiliate study abroad program allowed me to take classes at different universities throughout the city as well as within the program. I ended up only taking the required Spanish class with the study abroad program, and the remaining four at two different universities.

If I had directly enrolled in one of the universities for the semester, I could have paid significantly less. Look up the university classes offered through various study abroad programs, and contact the universities directly to see if you can enroll for a semester and temporarily withdraw from your school.

Final Word

You don’t have to miss out on a life-changing study abroad experience just because of financial strain. I loved taking classes, learning a language, exploring a new city, and meeting new friends through my semester in Buenos Aires. Fortunately, I was able to make the experience affordable by studying in a cheaper city, applying for scholarships, and choosing an affiliate study abroad program.

Did you study abroad? Do you have any advice for college students interested in finding an affordable study abroad program?

Hope Nardini is a freelance writer who enjoys saving money. She once opened a Roth IRA with the earnings of her first summer job. In addition to full time bargain hunting, Hope plays Ultimate Frisbee, makes homemade sorbet, and loves to salsa dance in her free time.