Study abroad programs can improve your skills in a foreign language, expose you to other cultures, and provide unforgettable learning experiences. However, the cost of your study abroad program is something you'll want to consider carefully. With the average student loan debt rising each year, it's smart to try to minimize the expenses associated with your study abroad experience.
Where you want to go for your semester abroad makes a huge difference in how much your program will cost. The most popular destinations for students in the United States who are interested in study abroad programs include the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, China, Australia, Germany, Mexico, Ireland, and Costa Rica. Of these, Mexico and Costa Rica tend to have the cheapest cost of living associated with a semester abroad. Other affordable destinations for study abroad programs include Thailand, Cambodia, Ecuador, and Vietnam.
When looking for cheap study abroad programs, remember that many international universities do accept federal U.S. financial aid for college students. You can use your Pell Grants and Stafford Loans for study abroad, but only if you have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is one of the most prestigious examples of financial assistance for the study abroad experience. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides fellowships for graduating seniors or graduate students who want to study abroad for one academic year. Awards include assistance with transportation, living expenses, tuition, and books or research allowances. Limited health benefits are also available for program participants.
If you don't qualify for a Fulbright award, look into scholarships offered directly from your college or university. Private colleges and universities are well known for having financial aid programs to help students pay for educational experiences that have extra costs associated with them.
You can also search for awards using an online scholarship directory such as FastWeb. Start your search as early as possible, since many of these programs have complicated application procedures and strict deadlines.
Third-party study abroad programs, such as the experiences offered by Academic Programs International (API) and CEA Global Education, may be an option to consider if you're looking for a budget-friendly study abroad experience. Many of these companies offer their own financial assistance programs to help students pay a portion of the expenses associated with the trip. For example, CEA has scholarships awarded on the basis of diversity, academic merit, and financial need, as well as special scholarships for students who are currently enrolled at a CEA Academic Affiliate school, or those who are interested in attending short-term summer programs instead of a completing a traditional year-long study abroad experience.
Service learning trips can be included as part of your study abroad experience. If you take this approach, you may be able to drum up community support for your experience by holding a fundraiser such as a car wash or bake sale. Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarships are also available to help support students who are planning civic-minded study abroad experiences.