CAPA Ambassador Emily Mcgeary gets real about financing study abroad.
When I bring up my study abroad experience to fellow students, professors, co-workers, friends, etc., I usually hear one of two thoughts. First, that they also studied abroad and had the most amazing time and then we go back and forth sharing our favorite memories with each other, or second, that they regret never doing it or they want to in the future, but feel they can’t because of their circumstances. One of those circumstances tends to be that they don’t have the money. They believe studying abroad is expensive.
Well, they’re right.
Spending a semester studying overseas has major costs such as airfare, tuition, transportation, and of course there’s also that exchange rate which may or may not be in your favor. But think about all the things you have paid for or are currently paying for. College is expensive. A car is expensive. Life is generally expensive. Just because something is expensive though, doesn’t mean you have to rule it out completely or give up on a dream.
When I studied abroad last semester, I used an array of approaches to find the money to pay for it. It was a goal I’d had for such a long time and I was determined to see it met. I don’t want any students who have the dream to study abroad to let it go because of financial circumstance. So, I’ve decided to share with you the strategies and resources I used to pay for my CAPA experience.
1. CHECK WHAT EXISTING FINANCIAL AID WILL TRANSFER TO A STUDY ABROAD SEMESTER.
This is the easy one because it’s money you already have! I had a scholarship from Arizona State University that paid for a significant portion of my normal tuition cost. Since CAPA was a partnership program at ASU, my scholarship money could be directly applied to the cost of my semester abroad with CAPA. I also had a Federal Pell Grant as part of my financial aid package, which transferred over to a study abroad semester as well. Make sure you go in and talk to an advisor at your school, even if you don’t think any of your scholarships/grants can be used toward study abroad. They’ll have a lot of experience in this area and might be able to suggest something you hadn’t thought of!
2. SEARCH FOR SCHOLARSHIPS OFFERED THROUGH YOUR COLLEGE'S DEPARTMENT OR STUDY ABROAD OFFICE.
For example, the study abroad office at ASU offers a travel grant to students with financial need to assist with the cost of airfare. I received this grant and even though it was a smaller amount, every little bit helped! Your university or its study abroad office may have similar funds that they give out each semester. You can also look for study abroad scholarships within your major’s department. These will have a smaller applicant pool, so your chances of being selected will increase.
3. APPLY FOR PROGRAM SPECIFIC SCHOLARSHIPS.
One of the reasons I chose CAPA was their clear commitment to making study abroad available to everyone, no matter their financial situation. CAPA offers multiple scholarships based on financial need. I received a generous $2,500 need-based affiliate scholarship from CAPA, without which I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad. Additionally, CAPA has scholarships based on merit and diversity that you may qualify for.
I also received a grant from CAPA through the CAPA World Blog blogger/vlogger program. I got to write weekly posts on this very blog during my semester in London and received a $600 grant and a $300 explorer fund to use in-country.
4. APPLY FOR GENERAL STUDY ABROAD SCHOLARSHIPS.
There are lots of national scholarships out there for study abroad as well as for college in general that you can apply to your overseas semester. Try to find the ones most specific to you, as they’ll provide you with the best chance of actually winning. I didn’t receive funding from any of these, but they are definitely still worth a try and can certainly pay off in the end. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, Boren Scholarship, Fund for Education Abroad, and Diversity Abroad are some great and well-recognized examples.
5. SAVE YOUR MONEY!
I used $3,000 of my hard earned student job money to help pay for my study abroad experience. 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.
6. ASK FOR DONATIONS FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS.
Have a birthday coming up? Is Christmas around the corner? Can a study abroad donation be your early graduation gift? Make your dream known and you might be surprised at the level of support you receive. If you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle you can ask for donations, there are a few other ways you can collect funds with some extra effort. Try writing letters to your contacts and ask them to pass along the word to those they know, even if they themselves can’t donate. More popularly, start a crowd funding campaign. There are a lot of successful examples I’ve seen online. Just remember that no donation is too small. That $10 is one more day of lunch money you didn’t have before!
7. FINALLY, LOOK INTO A LOAN.
This is, of course, a last resort way of funding your study abroad semester. I took out a $5,000 student loan, but only after squeezing the last dollar out of all other possibilities. I hadn’t taken on much debt previously, so I was okay with it, but this is really the point where you’ll have to stop and decide what’s right for you financially.
MORE MONEY SAVING TIPS:
In addition to putting together as much money as I could, I also tried to lower my expenses as much as possible. Here are a few ways I did this.
- Living in a homestay: This was a huge money saver. 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+.
- Planning excursions ahead: Now, I don’t mean planning every single thing out ahead of time. What I do mean is arriving at your overseas destination with appropriate expectations and a wallet that meets those expectations. For example, I created an excel doc that listed all the London sights I was interested in visiting and looked up online how much they would cost. This came out to £200. Then, allowing £50 for unexpected sights I might visit and realizing I might not get around to everything I wanted to do, I created a budget of £250 for London sightseeing.
- Buying tickets online: If saving money is your goal, you should always check the price of your excursion tickets online once you’re in-country. It may sound more fun to saunter up to St. Paul’s Cathedral and buy a ticket, but with a little pre-planning, you can get the cheaper online ticket price and check if they offer a student discount—something you might not think to ask about or be prepared for if you try to visit the sights while out-and-about at your leisure.
So now that you know how much effort and energy I put into affording my overseas adventure, was it all worth it? Yes, it’s going to take a lot on your part, but trust me, it is well worth it and I would absolutely do it all over again. It’s really difficult to put a price on a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity like study abroad. It’s more than just a two-week long vacation. You get to really live and experience a foreign culture. From someone who understands the financial challenges of studying abroad, but made it through to the other side, I say go for it no matter the circumstances that you think may try to stop you. There’s always a way if you’re willing to work hard for something you truly want!