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How to Study Abroad on a Budget

Whether you want to improve your foreign language skills or immerse yourself in a new culture, studying abroad can be a great way to expand your horizons and further your education. 

However, going to school outside of the country can be cost-prohibitive for some. The exact cost depends on the school you attend and the country you choose, but it can add up to $20,000 per semester. To put that number in perspective, that price tag is nearly double what a full year at a public four-year university costs, according to The College Board. Studying abroad can add a significant amount to your total education costs. 

If you want to study abroad, but can’t cover the cost out of your own savings, keep in mind that there may be other financing options available to you.

1. Come up with a Budget

First, come up with a budget for your semester abroad and calculate how much you’ll need for:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Books and supplies
  • Airfare
  • Passport or visa
  • Food
  • Health insurance
  • Personal expenses, like clothing or entertainment

Talk to your school’s financial aid office. The staff likely has budget worksheets or program overviews specific to the country you plan on studying in that tell you what to expect in terms of cost and the currency exchange rate.  

2. Explore Scholarship and Grant Opportunities

Once you know how much your semester abroad could cost, start looking for scholarships and grants. Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid. And, you can combine multiple ones together to pay for your education. Some scholarships and grants to consider include: 

  • Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship: A grant program operated by the US Department of State, this award was designed to help students with limited financial means to go to school overseas. Eligible students can receive up to $5,000 to study or intern abroad. Visit the grant website for more information and to apply. 
  • Good Colleges Study Abroad Award: Eligible undergraduate students who plan to study abroad can submit a short essay to be considered for the Good Colleges Study Abroad Award. The winner of the scholarship will receive $2,000 to pay for their education. Visit the Good Colleges’ website for more information and to apply online. 
  • Travel Safe Abroad Scholarship: If you write an essay on how to stay safe while traveling abroad, you could win a $1,000 scholarship to offset your education costs. Visit the Travel Safe website for more information and to apply. 

Use sites like Unigo and Scholarships.com to find relevant scholarships and grants to help you pay for your semester abroad. 

3. Check into Federal Financial Aid

In some cases, you may still be able to use federal financial aid—including federal grants and student loans—to pay for your study abroad program. Make sure you complete the FAFSA so you’re eligible for federal aid. Then, contact your school’s financial aid office to see what types of aid you’ll be able to use abroad.

Many colleges have partnerships with international schools, so the cost of a semester abroad may be the same as you’d pay if you stayed home. You’ll still have to cover extra costs like airfare, but going to a partner university can help you save money. 

The earlier you start the process, the better. It’s essential that you submit the necessary paperwork on time to the American school and the international school you’ve chosen so that you can use your federal aid.

4. Work Remotely

You can greatly offset your education costs while overseas by working in your spare time. International labor laws can vary, so you may not be able to get a part-time job while abroad. However, you can still earn income by working remotely for US businesses or clients. 

For example, you could be a virtual assistant on UpWork, complete graphic design jobs on Fiverr, or teach English with VIPKid

You can take on gigs when it works for your schedule, and you can use the extra cash you earn to pay for some of your expenses (or give yourself some additional spending money!).

Use sites like Remote.co and Freelancer.com to find remote opportunities that fit your needs. 

5. Apply for Private Student Loans

Scholarships, grants, federal aid, and part-time jobs may not be enough to cover the full cost of your semester abroad. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need extra funding to cover the gap. That’s where private student loans can be a solution. 

With this approach, you take out a loan from a private lender like Earnest. You can borrow up to the total cost of attendance at your selected program, and you can decide to defer payments until after you graduate.

If you have good credit, or if you have a co-signer with good credit and stable income, you can qualify for a loan with a low interest rate, making the repayment more affordable. At Earnest, you can complete an eligibility check for a loan in two minutes without affecting your credit score.

Paying for a Semester Abroad

If you’ve always dreamed of seeing the world, studying abroad gives you a unique opportunity to explore a new country and learn about a different culture. If you’re worried about cost, make sure you research all of your financing options. There are grants and scholarships that can reduce your costs, and there are student loans available to help you finance the rest. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subject are not necessarily those of Earnest.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.