So you want to study abroad. Whether you hope to spend a summer or a semester exploring an exciting international city, spend a whole year in a new country, or even earn your degree at an international university, living and studying abroad might be an experience that sets you apart from the pack. And the adventure of a lifetime. But what if the price tag is a little daunting? Is your dream of the international life just out of reach? Not quite! Here are five possible options to consider to help you figure out how to pay to study abroad.
1. Use Federal Student Loans to Fund Your Trip
If you’re an American student who already uses federal loans to pay for your education, and you meet the appropriate requirements, you might be able to utilize some of this money to help cover the costs of your semester or year abroad! The first step, of course, is to fill out your FAFSA as early as possible, so that your eligibility for aid can be determined. The next step is to speak to the financial aid office at your school in the United States. If your school participates in federal student aid programs, they should be able to help you figure out what aid you may be able to use, and guide you through the process. This process may include important paperwork, both in the United States and at the school you may be attending abroad, so make sure you get a head start![i]
If you’re planning to earn your degree abroad, rather than study abroad for a limited time, this process might look a little different. If it’s important that you are able to use federal aid, you might want to follow up during the search and application process to identify which schools you’re considering participate in the federal student aid program. You’ll still need to fill out your FAFSA, and ensure that your school of choice has received the information. After that, the process might vary depending on the school you choose and their process and requirements.[ii] Be sure to check carefully with your intended program to ensure you meet all the requirements.
2. Study Abroad Scholarships & Grants
Maybe you want to limit the amount of money you’re borrowing, or maybe federal aid doesn’t quite cover everything. Similar to paying to study at a university in the United States, you might be able to use scholarships or grant money to help fund your study abroad program. These might be offered by a number of different organizations, with a variety of different requirements for eligibility. Possible options might include need-based aid, scholarships for achievement, or scholarships and grants based on diversity or other factors. Of course these are only a few of many potential scholarships, so do your research!
Your international school of choice might also have grant money set aside for this purpose; however, don’t limit your search there. If you expand your search, you might be able to find and apply to a bunch of great potential scholarships and grants you might not otherwise have known about. Not sure where to start? Check out our study abroad scholarship page!
3. Private Student Loans
So you’ve looked into your options for federal aid and potential scholarship and grant money, but you still need some help filing in the gaps. Private student loans might be a great option for you, if you need to borrow additional money to fund your trip, and if you apply and qualify. Be aware, private student loans might work a little bit differently than federal aid. This category might include any student loan that is not issued or guaranteed by the government. These loans also may have more variable terms, because of the variety of potential lenders. That means repayment, deferment, and forbearance terms may vary, as might your interest rate—which may be either variable or fixed, depending on the loan in question. Private student loans typically take your credit into consideration when evaluating your eligibility, meaning your good credit may help you find better terms.
If this sounds promising to you, or if you want to take a look at your potential options, you might want to visit LoanFinder to get started. Don’t be overwhelmed, they’re there to help!
4. Study Abroad Program Payment Plans
Even if you’ve gotten some money together to pay for your semester or year abroad, are you ready to pay for the full experience all at once? Some programs may offer payment plans, allowing you to pay for your experience in several installments rather than up front. This might be a valuable option for you, depending on your preferences and financial situation.
While a payment plan, if your program offers one, may allow you to make several payments at a more manageable size, make sure that the plan in question does not include additional fees or interest you’re not aware of. And of course every plan varies, so be sure to check with your intended program for details and requirements.
5. Save Your Money!
Finally, when all is said and done, paying for study abroad in cash is always an option. If you know you want to study abroad in the future, making sure you have money set aside is a great way to do that without incurring unnecessary debt. Whether that means you take a part time job, have a bake sale, or even a 529 College Savings Plan you might have access to, paying in cash is a solid, responsible way to pursue your dream of international study without adding onto your existing debt.
Deciding How to Pay to Study Abroad
With all of these options for funding your study abroad, how do you know which one is right for you? Luckily, you’re not limited to just one. You might find that you need to mix and match several different options for funding your study abroad. Using some federal student loan money, combined with scholarships money, savings, or a private loan—or some other combination—might be the most effective strategy for your financial situation and personal priorities.
Whether you’re focusing on finding the easiest and most straightforward option, on eliminating as much future debt as possible—after all, you’re going to have to repay all those loans—or a more balanced package of both, the right option might be there for you. And you might not have to figure it out on your own. The financial aid office at your school could be a great source of information and advice to help you identify the best decision for you. And don’t forget, you may have friends and family with some relevant experience.
The important thing is to get started as early as you can. Giving yourself that extra time might make it a little easier to figure out your priorities, and evaluate all of your potential options. While this might seem like a daunting task at first, by using the resources at your disposal, you can make big strides toward attending your dream study abroad program. It will likely be well worth it!
Sources: [i] studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools/types/international | [ii] studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools/types/international#financial-aid-for-degree