Funding your study abroad trip with federal financial aid

By Lauren R. Alexander
Published March 2, 2012

Along with excitement and anticipation of planning to study abroad comes the stress and woes of financing the trip. It’s hard enough to convince your parents to bid you adieu for five months across the seas, but asking them to pay for it as well – well good luck. While there are a host of ways which can help you subsidize your trip, look into the U.S. Federal Government as a possible helping hand. In fact, if you're currently paying for school with Federal loans or grants, you may be able to apply that aid toward your study abroad program if both your school and the study abroad program are eligible to participatein these federal programs. Learn more about applying your current federal financial aid toward your study abroad program.

Let's take acloser look at whatgrants, loans and scholarships are and what they offer.


Grants are money allotted to you by the government so you pursue your goals despite your financial struggle. The best part of a grant is that it doesn’t need to be repaid! The two main grants offered by the Federal Government for education are need-based, meaning that in order to apply for these, your family’s income must be below a certain amount. Have you heard of the FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid? Well, that form is an application for these grants.

The Federal Pell Grant is one of the most commonly awarded need-based grants for full-time undergraduate college students. The main factor to qualify is financial need - you must have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) below the limit determined each year. (EFC is basically a measure of your family’s financial strengths) So, if your family’s income range is around $20,000 yearly, you probably qualify for the Pell grant.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grant, or SEOG grant, is also need-based. This grant is for undergraduates with exceptional financial need, or the “most needy” students/those with the lowest EFCs. Unlike the Pell Grant, the school in which you are applying to is instrumental in deciding how much aid you can receive. You can get between $100 and $4,000 per year depending on your need, when you apply, and the funding of you school.


Loans are essentially money borrowed directly from the federal government, which need to be paid back six months after graduation, provided you remain enrolled in school at least half-time.

Students without financial need, who are interested in some assistance, look no further. The Federal Stafford Loan may be for you. This is a fixed-rate student loan for both undergraduate and graduate students attending college at least half-time. If you fit all requirements, you could be borrowing money directly from the US Department of Education.Many students are eligible to receive Stafford loans regardless of credit.

If you have a great financial struggle, the Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for full-time or part-time students, and could be right for you. This loan is supplied by your school, which means that you eventually pay them back directly. It carries a fixed interest rate of 5% for the duration of the ten-year repayment period. So you’ve got quite a while to pay off this one…

There is a loan out there for your parents to help finance your education abroad whether it is for tuition, supplies, or housing. The Parent PLUS Loans for Undergraduate Students allows your parents to borrow up to the full cost of your education! Just ensure that your parents have a good credit history because there is a minimal credit check requirement. This loan is based on credit, not need.


You probably know what a scholarship is, and one allotted from the government is no different. There are various types of scholarships offered, and you need specific requirements to qualify (and you don’t need to pay these back either).

The National Security Education Program (NSEP) provides scholarships of different monetary amounts to those who wish to study languages and cultures which are less commonly taught, but still critical to U.S. national Security. An initiative of NSEP is the David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarship is specifically for study abroad undergraduate students, and may be perfect for you. The Boren Scholarship provides up to $20,000 a year! Check their site listings for excluded study abroad country options.

If you are already receiving the Federal Pell Grant, then youmay want tocheck out the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, for undergraduate study abroad. The program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad, and the countries and regions where they go, which they believe should not be hindered by financial constraints. If you’ve already been accepted to a study abroad program, then think about applying for this!

There you have it, information on options galore. Go ahead and start applying for Federal Aid!

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

Lauren R. Alexander studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. She is currently working towards a BA in Communication and Theater at American University in Washington, DC.