How to study abroad with not much dinero

"One of the best sources of funding is if there's a strong foreign language competency," says Berquist. But students must take enough language courses in time to effectively compete for these scholarships.

"Students can select more affordable destinations," says Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president at IIE. "Some countries outside of Western Europe are becoming increasingly popular, such as China, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina and South Africa."

"If (students) go someplace less popular, where the exchange rate is better, it can be less expensive," Niziolek says.

Berquist recently came back from a trip to Thailand where Michigan State will add programs. Through IES Abroad, programs in South America remain the least expensive, and the provider recently approved the opening of a low-cost program in Havana for those interested in Spanish-language immersion.

Another benefit of choosing the road less traveled: Scholarship money from the U.S. government to study abroad in countries of interest to national security. The Gilman International Scholarship Program, available for Pell Grant recipients, focuses on destinations outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and provides individual awards of up to $5,000 and an additional $3,000 for those studying Chinese, Korean, Russian, Swahili, and Arabic, Indic, Persian and Turkic languages.

Avoid misconceptions

Some students find bargain programs on their own or want to directly enroll in a university abroad. This strategy can sometimes backfire, Jambor-Smith says. "Students should research programs carefully to find out what is included in the program cost and what extra costs there may be," she says.

In the last few years, Michigan State has seen the biggest growth in short-term programs. But shorter-term programs don't necessarily mean savings, Berquist says. Financial aid packages follow the academic year, so there's more funding for semester- or year-long programs than for gigs during the summer or breaks.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that study abroad is only for a privileged few. In fact, 22 percent of MSU's study abroad participants are eligible for Pell Grants -- a definition of financial need -- almost mirroring the 24 percent of MSU's general population who are Pell Grant-eligible. "It's not just for the rich kids," Berquist says.

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