How to Pay for College Study Abroad Programs

 April 8, 2021
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Studying in another country can be a great opportunity to learn about a new language and culture while immersing yourself in international life. But the problem is how to pay for study abroad.

Fortunately, you should still be able to use federal financial aid for your study abroad program as long as you’re attending an eligible institution. In fact, there are many different ways — from obtaining scholarships to fundraising — to fund your studies in another country.

Here are six valuable tips on how to pay for college when studying abroad:

1. Get international student aid
2. Apply early
3. Choose an inexpensive country
4. Get a job abroad
5. Consider fundraising
6. Take on a side hustle before you leave
● Plus: Explore all your financing options for studying abroad

1. Get international student aid

Wondering how to pay for a study abroad program? Your first step should be to consider financial aid options.

Qualifying for international financial aid can be as easy as qualifying for regular student aid. For example, you may use federal student loans for your study abroad experience. Contact your financial aid office to make sure.

Even better, if you have a Pell Grant, you may be eligible for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a study abroad grant program based on economic need. Unlike loans, grants and scholarships don’t need to be paid back, so they are a great funding resource.

Here is a list of additional study abroad scholarships for which you may be eligible.

If you’re using 529 plan funds to pay for your education, you also may be able to make use of them for a study abroad program, as long as the associated institution is eligible. Keep in mind that costs covered would not include travel expenses, which can be hefty. Many websites offer deals on airline tickets, so do extensive research before purchasing.

2. Apply early

You wouldn’t wait until the week before classes start to apply to college, so why wait to apply for a study abroad program? As you’ll likely be working with many people on campus to coordinate your study abroad, it’s best to start early.

Applying early will give you more time to work out your schedule, housing and estimated costs. Some schools offer ways to pay for college study abroad programs through payment plans, which can allow you to pay off your trip in increments.

You’ll also have more time to find and apply for scholarships. You’ll be competing with other students for scholarship money, so starting early could give you an advantage over someone who files their application later in the process.

3. Choose an inexpensive country

If you aren’t picky about where you go, you might save some serious cash.

Some Western European countries, for example, can be more expensive because their exchange rates aren’t always favorable. If you choose a country with a better exchange rate or low overall cost of living, such as Thailand or Ecuador, your money for daily expenses will likely go further.

Another cost to consider is the price of your program’s tuition. You may get cheap or free tuition in countries that have low college costs to begin with, such as Germany. Do your research and talk to the study abroad coordinator at your school to see which program will be the best fit for you and your wallet.

4. Get a job abroad

If a part-time job is helping you pay for college, consider working while you’re studying abroad, too.

Some student visas permit you to work in a foreign country. You might be able to work in a restaurant or bar, teach English or obtain on-campus employment. You also could look into remote work opportunities, which likely won’t come with the same rules and restrictions as a traditional job in a foreign country.

Understand that balancing work, study and getting used to a foreign culture might be challenging, so be realistic about what you think you can manage when exploring this option.

5. Consider fundraising

Hosting a fundraising party may help you pay for a college study abroad program by tapping into your supportive community. Invite your parents, relatives and other people who might be willing to donate to your trip. Consider setting a theme for your party to the country you’re visiting to give your guests an idea of what you’ll be doing while you’re abroad.

Make the party’s purpose clear on the invite and discuss what you hope to gain from the trip as you mingle. People may respond better to a personal call to arms than they do to a plea on Facebook or a crowdfunding site.

That said, crowdfunding on sites such as GoFundMe may work to raise some funds, particularly if you have any kind of philanthropic aim. For example, you may intend to volunteer for a social services organization while you are abroad, or your study program may be related to giving back to a specific community.

How do you fundraise to study abroad?
If you’re thinking about trying a crowdfunding platform to get money for an overseas study program (or even just to pay off some of your student loans), check out these tips for successful fundraising, as well as our post on the pros and cons of using this approach.

It may also help to offer incentives for people to support your trip. For example, if someone donates $5, you’ll send them a postcard from your host country. Perhaps a donation of $10 gets them a letter or small souvenir.

Locally owned businesses can also be a source of sponsorships. You can even throw in some social media promotion to sweeten the deal. If a company is willing to give you money to wear its T-shirt in front of the Eiffel Tower, wouldn’t you do it? This may be a long shot, but it can’t hurt to try.

6. Take on a side hustle before you leave

If studying abroad is your goal and you know you’ll need some extra cash to pay for it, look into ways to make money part time with a side hustle. You could apply for scheduled work in retail, for example, or take advantage of the growing gig economy by working for apps such as Uber, TaskRabbit and DoorDash.

With these apps, there’s no upfront cost or scheduling to worry about, and you can make more when you work more. You can even take on multiple side hustles to increase your earning potential and save up for your semester abroad.

Or you could try starting your own side business to make extra money. One woman profiled by Student Loan Hero makes $1,000 with a cookie-baking side hustle while holding down a full-time day job as an executive producer.

Although it may seem overwhelming to take on extra work while you’re in school, it is possible.

Explore all your financing options for studying abroad

As you look for ways to afford study abroad, remember to research all costs, including travel expenses and financing options. This way you’ll be better able to enjoy your international experience instead of worrying about debt.

If you have exhausted all other study abroad financing options and still have some costs to cover, you might also consider taking out a private student loan. There are many pros and cons to private loans, including less favorable rates, but they may help you with study abroad costs that aren’t otherwise covered. You can explore private student loan options here.

Keep in mind also that some U.S. students do not choose to study abroad for just a semester or a year, but actually attend an international college for their comprehensive college education. Here you can find 7 countries with nearly free college.

Rebecca Safier, Rebecca Stropoli and Lauren Bowling contributed to this report.

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