Financial aid makes study abroad more affordable

By Rachael Kroot
Published December 6, 2011

Getting started

Financial aid can be a complicated process, but don't let that scare you away. The key is to get an early start so that all of your forms are completed before you leave the country. First, meet with a study abroad advisor at your university. They can help you get an idea of how students pay for different programs. Then, go ahead and schedule a meeting at your financial aid office. The financial aid officers can discuss what options are right for you personally.

Chances are if you're already using federal or university financial aid, those same funds can be put towards your semester abroad. This includes Pell grants, SEOG grants, Stafford loans, Perkins loans, PLUS loans, merit scholarships and private funding. Lisa Tenley, a study abroad professional at the University of Maryland (UMD), explains: "Generally, students can use all their financial aid to pay for study abroad - even most scholarships. Each school may have slightly different policies so I hesitate to generalize but that is certainly true of UMD."

The fine print

There is, of course, always fine print when it comes to finance. For instance, in Maryland, state aid can only be applied to a state sponsored program. So if you are attending UMD on state aid, you can put that aid towards a UMD Abroad program such as "Maryland-in-London," but not towards a program sponsored by Syracuse University. Look into the rules at your university to make sure you don't miss any catches like this.

On the other hand, if you're an out of state student without state aid, you might end up paying less by going abroad. How is it possible? Lisa explains, "At [UMD], students do not pay tuition the semester they are abroad, they pay a fee for the program itself." This means that if the program (and destination) you select is cheaper than your out-of-state tuition, you might be catching a break!

If you like your finances exactly the way they are, you can also look into an exchange program. An exchange program is something that is set up between two universities in different countries so that students can swap places for a semester or a year. You would go to school in Italy, for instance, and an Italian student would attend your school. Your tuition would remain the same - only the cost of living would change. Not all universities offer exchange programs, and opportunities can be limited, so this would be a good thing to ask your study abroad advisor about.

The bottom line

Regardless of what aid you have or how you plan to finance your semester, there are many ways you can save on study abroad. You can get an ISIC (International Student ID Card) to get discounts on travel and attractions. If your Visa allows it, you can find a part-time job abroad to earn extra money, plus this can be a great way to make friends with locals. You can look for a program that includes housing in the cost or you can look for cheaper housing on your own that isn't associated with the program. And if you're still concerned about money, you can look into the exchange rate of different countries and choose a destination where the U.S. dollar will work in your favor.

There really is no better time to go abroad than as a student. After all, there are few times in life when you can get someone to help finance your travels! And if you would be putting the money towards tuition at home anyway, why not have a little more fun with it?

Looking for more information? Check out our study abroad student guide to learn more.

Rachael had a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and studied abroad in London during the Spring of 2009.