How to Afford to Study Abroad

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Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can’t miss out on. I probably don’t have to convince you to study abroad if you’re already here thinking about how to pay for it! While the experience is worth every penny, the costs add up quickly. That’s why I’m sharing my tips – and personal experience – on how to afford to study abroad so you don’t miss out on the opportunity.

Everyone’s financial situation is different and I am not a financial adviser, but I am an avid budget traveler and former study abroad student who has learned (and continues to learn) from costly travel mistakes. In fact, that’s why I built this blog – to share my tips so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I have!

Below are just some of the ways to offset the price of study abroad programs. The greatest overall tip I can give you is to do your research and put in a genuine effort to saving money. The opportunities to save money while traveling are always there, but it takes compromises and effort to get the best deal!

Personal experience background – I studied abroad in Florence, Italy from the United States for a summer program through my university (and I’ll talk your ear off about my personal semester abroad if you let me!) The experience was so impactful that it turned me into an ex-pat living in Italy!

The study abroad experience is priceless, but let’s take a look at the ways to actually make it cost less.

Choose a Program Based on Your Budget

Studying abroad is a very general term that is used to describe now what are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of experiences abroad for students.

In the traditional sense, study abroad is usually done through the university you attend and can take on different forms depending on the size of your school and how developed their international programs are.

For example, at my school Florida State University, there was an entire office and dedicated staff for study abroad programs. Plus, there were locations all around the world available to study abroad in.

Smaller schools may have less programs to offer, or they may only off them through another university as a partner school.

Don’t leave out third-party companies with affordable study abroad programs for certain majors or unique locations.

My first tip on how to afford to study abroad is to shop around. Your school doesn’t offer a program you like? Use resources like GoAbroad to see if there are other programs you could participate in in the location you desire.

Or if your school offers tons of locations, set your budget and only choose from locations that fall within that dollar amount.

Remember – the cost of the program does not include everything you’ll have to spend, including on flights, personal travel, and most meals.

Another great thing to research in this first step is the cost of living at the program location. Europe typically has a higher cost of living than somewhere in Latin America. It’s a general example, but you get my point!

Look into the costs of every day life, a coffee, a meal, activities around the city. This gives you an idea of what you can afford after the program fees have been deducted from your budget.


Apply for Scholarship Opportunities

Young me studying abroad in Italy!

It’s well-known now that there are scholarships available for nearly everything. Hone in on scholarships specifically for international experiences during your search.

I would prioritize applying for any scholarships within your university if you are applying for their program. You’ll generally find less competition than if you’re competing with the rest of students on the internet.

The more specific you can find a scholarship, the better – tailored to the international experience, your major, your interests, etc. More specific = less competition.

Here are some websites to start your search for scholarships, but I also recommend getting specific on Google and using “study abroad scholarships” along with other keywords like your major, where you’re from or where you study.

Random societies that you’ve never heard of may pop up because so many scholarships are available and just not advertised well.

Helpful scholarship search websites online, apps, and a specific scholarship program to look into:


Put Your Financial Aid Towards Study Abroad

This is a personal financial choice, so I’m not outright recommending it, but offering it as an option for those who may not know its available to them.

Typically, but not in all cases, you could take a semester of your financial aid package and/or scholarships you’ve already won and apply them to a study abroad semester.

I personally put a semester of scholarships and financial aid towards my semester abraod. I graduated in three years, so I actually still had an extra semester’s worth of scholarships and financial aid unused.

Not everyone will be in that same situation, but because I knew I could graduate early and it wasn’t going to get used anyways, I decided to put that semester’s worth of aid towards my program. It actaully would’ve been free money that I lost out on!

If your situation isn’t as clear-cut as mine, then I would consult those close to me and/or my school to understand how this will effect my school finances in the future and if the idea is right for me.


Part-Time Job

Saving up for a big adventure is the perfect reason to find a part-time job! Most jobs on campus and around universities are flexible because they understand the student experience.

Most study abroad programs will take place at least 6 months after you’ve signed on to participate, so that gives you some time to save up!

This is probably the most obvious tip of the bunch, but what most people forget to do is actually save the money they’ve earned.

My tip would be to dedicate a figurative (or literal) jar to your study abroad experience. Any money in the “jar” goes untouched unless to make a payment for study abroad or for when you’re departing for your trip.


Paid Internship Opportunities Abroad

As I mentioned studying abroad can take on many forms, one of which I participated in, at the same time as my traditional study abroad program, was an internship.

Okay, I have to be honest that it was an unpaid internship, but it did actually allow me to win an extra scholarship from my school that I wouldn’t have had to help me pay for study abroad.

This opportunity, again, started from a simple Google search.

Another great resource – your teachers! Don’t be afraid to also ask faculty or counselors in your major if they know of opportunities. They’ve been in the industry, so they are the perfect people to begin networking with!

Also, just because my internship was unpaid, doesn’t mean paid internships abroad don’t exist. I wouldn’t start cold-calling foreign companies, since it’s difficult and tedious to secure visas for workers from abroad. But, paid internships can come in the form of a program, which is usually easier to pursue because they handle the details of the activity.

Here are some resources for paid internships abroad:


Budget During Your Program

If you’re on a tight budget, maybe avoid getting gelato every single day like me!

Where my study abroad expenses went off the rail was actually during my program. I did lots of good saving beforehand with scholarships, but I shamefully admit I was running down to the shops every week at Piazza Repubblica because I couldn’t get enough of Italian style.

How to afford to study abroad doesn’t stop at the program fees! So, keep your frugality in mind when on your program.

Here are some specific tips and resources to help:

  • StudentUniverse Flights & Hotels – Traveling around while studying abroad is one of the best opportunities the experience gives you. Take advantage of your student status by booking deals and using coupon codes to save extra money on Student Universe!
  • Free Things To Do – Many travelers don’t take the time to research what can be accomplished on a tight budget. For example, look into free museum days or visit famous churches by attending a mass on Sunday.
  • Student Discounts – Students also typically receive discounted entry to attractions and transportation. Keep your student ID on you and remember to check if there is a student ticket available!

Consider Applying for Fellowships To Go Abroad

Fellowships can be an alternative way to study abroad. They are academic scholarship opportunities usually dedicated to research or another kind of major-related experience. They aren’t always international, but they are always competitive.

I applied to a fellowship to research at Durham University in England. I didn’t get it, but it meant I got to study abroad in Florence, which was the perfect experience for me!

This goes for everything – when one door closes, another one opens! Have a positive outlook when applying for scholarships, programs, and even traveling in general, since plans almost never go perfectly!

Inquire at your school if they have a specific office that deals with fellowships. There you can deep-dive into what’s on offer.

No school office? Start on Google and research well-known ones like Fulbright programs to get started.


Be Open to Alternative Experiences Abroad

Now, the perfect classroom setting in an idyllic, cosmopolitan city with fellow students may be the dream. But, there are other ways to go abroad that can save you tons of money, even if they’re not the study abroad experience you have pictured in your head.

Here’s a few ideas for alternative experiences abroad:

  • WWOOF – The most random study abroad alternative suggestion I will make is for WWOOF. This stand for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The idea of these programs is that you choose a farm to volunteer for and in return you receive room & board plus an authentic cultural/international experience. You can “WWOOF” all around the world, so it’s great if you feel restricted by location offerings. It’s not for everyone, but I thought I’d let you know about it!
  • Contiki – It’s not necessarily a cheaper way to go abroad, but it all depends on your budget. There are travel companies that specialize in trips abroad for young travelers! Contiki is one of them, curating itineraries around the world. Give it a look, you may love what you see!

Extra Budget Travel Resources & Tips

I’d love to point you in the direction of other resources I’ve curated for saving money while traveling. Here’s a round-up:

While writing this post, other tips jumped to mind (again based on my not-so-financially-frugal study abroad spending) to save you from making costly mistakes:

  • Notify your card company where and for how long you’ll be. The last thing you want to be is stranded in a foreign country with no access to money. Don’t forget to also set an alert if you’ll be doing personal travel during the program.
    • Personal experience cue: I studied in Italy, but went to London for a weekend and couldn’t get money out of the ATM when I arrived. Luckily, my dad in the US got in contact with the card company, but a lot of stress could have been avoided!
  • Exchange currency as few times as possible. Depending on where you study, you could lose money every time you take out cash due to fees and exchange rate. I usually exchange a sum of cash before leaving for a new place and try to only use my card after, as long as my foreign transaction fee is low.
  • Order less at first, more if you’re still hungry. It may seem silly, but leftover food on the table is money wasted!

Final Thoughts

Studying abroad will always be an extra expense – but I hope this post has provided you with some ideas and starting points for figuring out how to make the finances work for you!

It’s an experience I believe every student should have – a time to grow personally, professionally, and feel more confident out in the world. It was the perfect last hoorah but also prep for facing the real world after college!

Look into all of your options for studying abroad and experiment with every tip on this list to see which one sticks! It’s likely a combination of tactics are going to save you the most money and help you afford study abroad.

Let me know what you think of this post – is there a tip you particularly like? Let’s talk in the comments!

Save these budget tips on Pinterest!

XOXO

Michela

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