Study abroad is one of the best and most rewarding experiences you can undertake in college. But for a lot of students, the financial aspect of a semester abroad can be daunting, and may be one of the biggest factors in deciding whether to go abroad. So how do you afford your time abroad?
Sponsored vs. non-sponsored programs
There are dozens of study abroad programs to choose from, each with their own unique opportunities and experiences to pursue. While they’re all great programs, not all of them carry the same implications when it comes to financial aid. The single biggest factor here is whether the program is University of Rochester-sponsored or not.
UR-sponsored study abroad programs are pre-approved by the University and carry a handful of perks with them, including financial aid. If you’re studying abroad on a sponsored program, you get to keep your UR financial aid. That means your federal grants and loans and University grants and scholarships can “travel” with you and help pay for your semester abroad. You’ll also be billed UR tuition and room fees as if you were on campus for a normal semester.
For non-UR-sponsored programs, though, you can’t receive any funding through the University, and in many cases, you also aren’t eligible for federal funding. That can often make non-sponsored programs a lot more expensive, so you’ll want to consider that when you decide on a program.
Can aid change?
Even on UR-sponsored programs, you can sometimes see a change to your financial aid package. What might those changes be? First, in all cases, you would have your Federal Work Study award removed for your semester abroad. After all, you’re not allowed to work in a foreign country! Beyond that, some countries have a higher or lower cost of living than the States, so you might also see a change on that basis. If the cost of living in your host country is a lot lower than in the US, you may see a change to your UR grant funding to account for the difference.
It is so important to budget your money while you’re abroad. On one end, you have to think about how much you’ll owe to the University directly. But what about the other costs? You may want to eat some meals out to experience the local cuisine, or travel to neighboring cities or countries to broaden your horizons. Before you even get on that plane, it’s worth putting together a budget to make sure you’ll be financially secure while you’re in your host nation.
Start with how much money you’ll have, and from there figure out what you’d like to do and what it will cost. Break it down into categories like food, travel, sporting events, and entertainment. Look up the exchange rate for your host nation’s currency. Then, once you arrive, stick to the budget! Keep a spreadsheet or notepad documenting your spending, and track it to make sure that you’re not exceeding your budget in any category. If you do go over budget on one, maybe spend a little less on another to make sure your overall budget will work. Visit our financial literacy blog for tips and tricks on budgeting and money management that will help you both at home and abroad.
There are usually at least a couple of expenses that come up before you go abroad, your plane ticket being perhaps the biggest one. Since it’s before the semester begins, your financial aid won’t have kicked in yet. So how do you cover those without the benefit of financial aid? There are a few creative options here, and I’ll start by highly recommending you discuss the situation with your financial aid counselor. Some options you might be presented with are using any remaining loan eligibility you have in the fall to allow yourself a refund after your bill is paid. You can put that refund in the bank near the end of fall semester, and keep it there to be used toward your plane tickets, electronics adapters, and anything else you’ll need to be prepared for your semester abroad. Another option is increasing your work hours at school or working throughout winter break to make some money and put it toward those costs. Outside scholarships can be another great resource.
There is a wide range of outside scholarship opportunities to pursue for semesters abroad. If you’re on a program that is run by the Institute for International Education Students (IES) or the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS), those agencies have a handful of dedicated need-based and merit-based scholarships with online applications. If you’re not in an IES or DIS program, check in with the Center for Education Abroad (2-161 Dewey Hall) to see if there are any scholarships offered by your particular program. And always keep an eye on our outside scholarships page, which gets updated frequently with new scholarship opportunities.
At the end of the day, financing a semester abroad can be a daunting prospect. The Center for Education Abroad and the Financial Aid Office should both be stops you make before the end of the semester, since we can give you the full rundown on all the options. Try connecting with an alumnus/a of the program you’re planning to attend and see how they made it work financially. Overall, there are lots of resources out there to help you manage a semester abroad, and now’s the time to start finding them!