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10 Tips to Prepare Financially to Study Abroad

Nov 15, 2018 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

There's no doubt that studying abroad is the experience of a lifetime, but it is also one that needs careful planning, especially as it relates to finances. Studying abroad is possible even if money is an issue for you, but you need to give yourself enough time to save and apply for grants and scholarships.

There's really no magic short cut and students tend to fund their programs through a combination of efforts, but we hope these tips will give you some guidance. 

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1. GET A JOB ON OR OFF CAMPUS. There's no question that the best best way to save money is to make more than you spend, so send out your resume and ensure you have an income if you're serious about going abroad. If you're already employed, find out if it's possible to increase your hours slightly. For motivation, think of every $10 you make as another meal abroad.

"I saved a decent amount of money before I came to Dublin by working all the way up to the day before I left," said CAPA alumna Kaylen Nese

CAPA Sydney alumna Sierra Glasscock had been saving to study abroad since she was 16-years-old. "I had a part time job that helped with my expenses and plane ticket," she said. "I was very blessed that my parents paid for the school side of the program and my accommodation. My parents said as long as I had good grades through college, they would help pay for me to study abroad."

To fund her semester in London, Kathryn Tenney took on more than one part time job. "Ultimately, I took out loans to pay for my time abroad, but I also worked (on campus and as a babysitter) to have a decent amount of pocket money," she said. 

David Kozhuk and Jacquelyn Jones, also CAPA London alumni, shared that they too worked to raise money toward the goal of studying abroad. David spent a summer focusing on his role at an investment bank in New York and Jacquelyn secured a position a local supermarket. 

"I heard countless times that a semester abroad costs about the same as a semester at your home institution, but for me it was double," said CAPA London alumna Cassie Naes. "The first thing that helped me fund my time abroad was working a part-time job at Kohl’s. Although I was making basic minimum wage, I saved for a year and by the time I left for London I had $4,000 saved." 

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Photo: CAPA Sydney alumna Sierra Glasscock

2. BEGIN LIVING WITHIN A BUDGET. Practice cutting your costs while you're still at home. Set goals for yourself and download an app like Mint or Level Money to help keep you on track. Both apps are available free for iOS and Android and they both let you connect your personal accounts to see where you're spending most as well as set goals for saving. 

"While you should definitely expect to spend a lot, budgeting your time at home before you leave and being prepared to adjust to the exchange rates abroad are the best ways to prepare for your time overseas," said CAPA alumna Sophia Love. "Spending the money that I worked really hard to earn the year before I went to London is not a regret because I used the money to make memorable experiences for myself, which is better than spending my money on trivial things that I don’t really need."  

Think about the way you spend now and think twice before you make an impulse purchase. Can you walk more to spend less on public transportation or gas? Can you organize a cheaper night in that's just as fun as a night out? Change your mindset slightly and you'll reap the benefits: new shoes now or a train ticket from London to Amsterdam later? 

CAPA Sydney alumna, Celeste Guhl wrote a post for CAPA World called 7 Ways to Prep for Studying Abroad. It includes a section on money and budgeting that is worth reading. 

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Photo: CAPA London alumna Sophia Love

3. START SAVING. Now that you have your budgeting under control, squirrel that extra money away into your savings. 

"Saving is a lot easier when you have an end goal," said Cassie Naes. "What helped most was asking myself, 'Do you want this dress, or would you rather use this money in London?' I ended up spending all of the money I had saved while abroad, but I felt really independent being in London and being able to say all of my spending money was MINE, and not from my parents. Study abroad is expensive, but if you want to go, there are ways to cut corners and make it affordable. Also, finding a subleaser for your apartment at your home institution helps a lot!"

One saving trick to try? For the year before you leave, always pay with cash. Use notes only and drop all of your extra coins into a piggy bank. You'll be surprised at how much it can add up to in a year. Also, try Levo League's 7 Almost Effortless Ways to Save Money (yes, they do involve ditching the morning Starbucks run in favor of a travel mug, along with some other helpful ideas). 

"Plan ahead so you can save as much money as you can before you come!" CAPA Sydney alum Dustin Brown said, "I saved a good amount of money, and I can honestly say that there wasn't anything I wanted to do that I didn't get to do. I was broke the whole next year at uni, but it was definitely worth it."

CAPA London alumna Emily McGeary agrees on the importance of saving. "I used $3,000 of my hard-earned student job money to help pay for my study abroad experience," she said. "Every extra penny I made went directly into my savings account. Honestly, I wish I’d started saving a few semesters earlier. The sooner you start planning and start putting your money away for later (instead of on that new outfit or DVD you 'really want' in the moment), the closer you’ll be to the adventure of a lifetime."

Looking for support? There are quite a few blogs out there where communities of savers exchange ideas and tips. Check out: SquawkfoxAnd Then We Saved, and MintLife

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Photo: CAPA London alumni Emily McGeary and Janel Forsythe

4. DETERMINE ADDITIONAL PROGRAM EXPENSES BEYOND DIRECT COST. When you choose to study abroad, CAPA advisors will be happy to help you determine what some of the additional costs of studying abroad will be. These include transportation from the airport to your accommodation and back again when you depart, textbooks, cell phone expenses, your meals, personal entertainment and side trips as well as general daily living expenses.  

You can also consider ways to cut your cost while you're making decisions about your program. For example, the average cost of living is much higher in London than, say, Buenos Aires. Check out Numbeo's Cost of Living Calculator. You can compare cities if you're considering different destinations. It will show you the average cost of everything from a pair of jeans to a loaf of bread to a cinema ticket. 

Emily McGeary also suggests considering a homestay. "Living in a homestay was a huge money saver," she said. "In a homestay, breakfast and dinner are provided every day. Apart from the awesome experience my homestay was, this component alone saved me around $800+."

5. EXPLORE CROWD-SOURCING OPTIONS. Each crowdfunding platform has different rules and regulations. Some only release money if you have met your full goal. Make sure you take time to research the right platform before you sign up and go through the effort of creating a profile. While study abroad students typically don't meet the requirements to use the popular Kickstarter site, for example, there are plenty of options to request funding for your adventures overseas.

GoFundMe is one of the biggest crowdfunding platforms and they do have an "education, schools and learning" category. FundMyTravel is the first crowdfunding platform created specifically for travelers, by travelers - the folks behind GoAbroad.com - to fund meaningful travel experiences like study abroad. A third platform to look at is GoEnnounce, which is all about empowering students. 

When you are creating your campaign, remember that you are asking for money from friends, family and strangers and they will want to know why this is a good investment. Spend time on your profile. Create a video. Share the reasons why you hope to study abroad and what you hope gain from the experience that will benefit you in the future. Share your personal goals, tell them about the internship component and the academics. Let them know that you are also making an effort to find funding in other places - working and applying for scholarships. Will you be blogging while you're abroad? Let them know that they'll be able to follow along on your adventures to track their investment. 

Once you've perfected your profile, start sharing the link with personal messages to the people you know and share on social media as well because you never know who might feel inclined to help send you on your way! 

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Photo: CAPA Florence alum Jonathan Boyden

6. RESEARCH NATIONAL, INSTITUTIONAL, LOCAL AND PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIPS. One of the most appealing ways to fund study abroad is through scholarships. Yes, they take some effort, but this is money you don't have to pay back which means it is well worth your while.

The CAPA website's scholarship page is one place to start. We'd also recommend visiting your study abroad office for advice. Your university's financial aid office will also be able to help you. StudyAbroad.com has a great scholarship resource. Once you've exhausted these pathways, Google is your best friend. If you put in the hard work, you'll find a scholarship that's right for you. 

Jonathan Boyden, a CAPA alum, knows that the efforts pay off. “The word ‘grateful’ does not come close to my feelings of having had the opportunity to study in Florence. It was an experience that I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life, and part of what made this possible were scholarships, financial aid, and donors," he said, "The scholarships include the CAPA Access Scholarship, Gilman Award, Diversity Abroad Scholarship, and the Nina T. Shephard scholarship from the University of Illinois at Chicago. There is absolutely no way that I could have come to Florence without receiving these scholarships. Trying to find funding was challenging, frustrating, and discouraging at times, but there were so many people that helped me both inside and outside CAPA. I am sad to have left Italy, but I am happy to take everything I learned with me to people that I love at home!”

Like Jonathan, CAPA London alum Frank Rocks was awarded a Gilman Scholarship. He took the time to write a blog post on CAPA World called "How to Study Abroad on a Gilman Scholarship" that is worth reading. 

If you're an avid writer, photographer or love to create videos, we encourage you to apply to become one of CAPA's official bloggers and vloggers during your time abroad. You'll create weekly content for the CAPA World blog in exchange for a grant and an explorer fund while you're in country. (Have a look at what our current bloggers and vloggers are up to by clicking on their images in the side bar to the right!)

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Photo: CAPA London alum Frank Rocks 

7. COMPLETE AND SUBMIT YOUR FAFSA EARLY. CAPA advisors recommend completing your FAFSA online application early (although not before January 1) for the following academic year. You can check the deadlines on the FAFSA website. The financial aid procedure for study abroad takes additional time and planning.

CAPA alumna Allison Knapp used funds from many different resources for her semester in London but recommends taking a loan if you need it to make ends meet. "Most of my funds came from money that my mom, grandfather and I had. I did receive a small scholarship from my college too. I worked as much as I could the last summer in order to save up money. I did have to take out a small loan as well, which I recommend if you need it, because it will be SO worth it. Sally Mae was super quick and easy! Try not to spend a lot on silly things and save for your trip. Just be smart," she said.

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Photo: CAPA Sydney alum Hunter Shull

8. MAP OUT COSTS YOU WILL INCUR BEFORE YOU DEPART. Before you leave the country, you'll have some costs like organizing your passport if you don't already have one, your visa if you need one, and your flights, for example. 

Make a plan for how you will cover these costs and when they will be paid. Some of these are pretty much set in stone, but you can be smart about how you approach buying your flight like CAPA Sydney alum Hunter Shull recommends. "Money was a big worry for me before I left and also while I was in Australia," he said. "When looking for a flight, I looked every day from July to November so I could find the best deal possible. Most people paid around $2,000 for a flight, so I was happy that I found a good deal even though the flight took longer than normal."

There are many hacks for getting the best deal on a flight. You may have to leave very early in the morning or stop over instead over flying directly to your destination, but these small sacrifices can save you money. Travel guru and blogger Johnny Jet shares 12 Ways to Find Cheap Flights to get you started. (Follow our Travel Tips board on Pinterest for more ways to save when you travel.)

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Photo: CAPA Florence alumna Alex St. John

9. SET A DAILY/WEEKLY/MONTHLY BUDGET FOR YOUR TIME ABROAD. Keep in mind that you won't be working while you are abroad, so the money you have in your account will need to stretch throughout your entire trip. Those budgeting apps we mentioned up in point two will continue to come in handy once you're overseas. 

"For most college students traveling abroad, money is a huge concern. Making it stretch to achieve your travel goals is tricky," CAPA alumna Alex St. John said. "My biggest piece of advice is planning your trips and expenses as early as possible. Eating out every meal will not allow your money to stretch as much as you want it to. Grocery shopping and cooking is more challenging but planning your meals so you can eat in will save money." 

CAPA alumna Susie Blair agrees on living like a local while you're abroad. "Before I left, everyone warned me about how expensive London is," she said. "After being there a while, I learned how to live cheaply - where to eat, shop and go out [in a way that I could] save money but still enjoy myself."

Tim Burdsall, another CAPA alum, wrote a blog post for CAPA World that you might enjoy about Grocery Shopping in Sydney and how it helped him save money. 

Alex also offers some advice on traveling once you are abroad and stretching your funds. "Save the money for the trips you want to take most," she said. "Look at the total costs of trips you plan to take. Just because you get a cheap plane or train ticket does not always mean that it's the cheapest option. Many trains and planes will take you to locations near the city, but you still have to pay for a cab or metro ride. Stay organized to avoid expensive mistakes." 

CAPA's past vloggers and bloggers have also touched on money saving tips. Check out Anita Chomenko's video, Saving Money Abroad and US-UK Shop Comparisons if you're going to London. If your destination is Dublin, you'll enjoy Samantha Gauvain's Studying Abroad in Dublin and Living on a Budget post

 

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Photo: CAPA Sydney alum Tim Burdsall 

10. FIND OUT THE DISBURSEMENT DATES FOR YOUR FINANCIAL AID. It's super important to keep on top of your financial aid and know where you stand in terms of money while you're planning your trip and while you're abroad. Finding out the disbursement dates is crucial for helping to keep yourself on track.

"One of the biggest challenges I faced was the cost of living. In college, I was on financial aid and loans, so being financially responsible was critical for me," said CAPA alum Chris Churma. "London is one of the most expensive cities, and I definitely felt it. A lot of students who study in Europe, myself included, think they are going to travel all over the continent. You quickly realize how unrealistic that is, particularly when costs are involved. The upside to being financially forced to stay local was that I got to know London very well. Its one of the best things I could have done looking back. And London on a budget is completely possible - there are tons of free museums and things to see and do!"

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Photo: CAPA London alumni - Meghan Murphy with a friend

Remember, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars during your semester abroad. You are there to gain the experience of studying and living in a new culture. The most authentic way to do this is not by taking all of your meals at restaurants or traveling each weekend. It is by mirroring the lifestyle of the residents of the country in which you are studying, which is likely NOT excessive. This may include going to markets for the majority of your food shopping, cooking for yourself and using your weekends to deepen your familiarity with the city in which you live. 

"I panicked when I saw how much this one semester would cost, but I wanted to go so I knew I had to work for it," said CAPA alumna Meghan Murphy. "I applied for every scholarship under the sun and actually managed to get two of them which helped to pay for my airfare and some of my tuition. I also picked up a job over winter break just to earn some extra money. I am very fortunate to have such generous parents who helped to pay the rest of the program cost and I tried to spend my money sparingly once I arrived in London. Many people say they can’t study abroad because it’s too expensive, but if you really want to make it happen, you find ways. You borrow money or take out loans but you make it real because, as the saying goes, 'Travel is the only thing you can buy that actually makes you richer.'"

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