How to study abroad with not much dinero

  • Early applicants often snag financial aid for studying in other countries.
  • Out-of-the-way destinations cost less and attract more aid dollars.
  • A longer stay might save more money, as counterintuitive as that sounds.

As college tuition continues to skyrocket, studying abroad may appear an academic luxury. But for even the financially neediest of students, study abroad remains within reach, experts say. So instead of putting the brakes on your kid's desire to roam the world, it's time to get that passport ready.

Plan ahead

"The biggest thing in study abroad, if budget is a big concern, is that the student plan ahead," says Brett Berquist, executive director of the Office of Study Abroad for Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. "An awful lot of students, particularly in public schools, end up making the choice of study abroad toward the end (of their academic career). And when they wait that long, they often miss the opportunity to really compete for big scholarships."

There's a ton of money to be had if you know where to look. The Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C., maintains an online searchable database of hundreds of study abroad scholarships, fellowships, grants and paid internships. IES Abroad, a nonprofit based in Chicago that provides study abroad programs for 185 U.S. colleges and universities, gives out $2.15 million per year in financial aid and scholarships for its study abroad programs.

But here, too, the early bird wins. "Many outside scholarships have early application deadlines between January and March and make awards only once per calendar year. Students should be sure to plan ahead and apply early," says Carol Jambor-Smith, IES associate vice president for institutional relations.

Students should explore study abroad programs when applying for colleges and visit the study abroad and financial aid offices, says Alice Niziolek, assistant director, international education and international student services at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill.

"Students are under a lot of misinformation," Niziolek says. "They don't really understand that there are ways of making it happen, up to and including loans. There are also additional grants for Pell Grant students."

Many colleges and universities allow students to transfer their financial aid package to an approved study abroad program, but not all do, so you'll want to find this out ahead of time. Only work-study awards are nontransferable because of student visa restrictions. So students shouldn't bank on working abroad to supplement their income, Niziolek says.


Educational exchanges provide another avenue to affordable global adventure. Universities allow their students to pay tuition, room and board at home, in exchange for tuition, room and board at the host university, which sends its own student over. "The only additional cost is the airfare to get there and if there's a difference in the cost of living," Berquist says.

Location, location, location

Choosing the right location can make the difference between simply an affordable program and one that might actually cost even less money than staying on campus. IES Abroad's annual survey of U.S. colleges and universities found European cities remain the most popular study abroad destinations, with London topping the list. But Western Europe, or programs focused on an English-speaking component, might have some economic disadvantages.

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