By Sylvia Gaenzle
Figuring out how to pay for a study abroad trip can often be the most intimidating part of the process, and can leave students feeling lost. When should you start looking for financial assistance? Where should you look? What type of financial help is the most beneficial? How much help should you look for? Don’t panic. There are several different ways to get your trip funded. Before we go into detail, however, lets cover some basics.
When and How to Begin your Search
Begin looking for financial help as soon as you receive notice that you have been accepted into your program. For trips that will require more expenses and run for longer periods of time, you will need ideally about four to six months to search. Don’t wait any longer than three months prior for shorter trips, though. This ensures that your applications, letters, and essays have time to be submitted, judged, and rewarded to you. This will also give you time to tally all of your expenses for the trip, and then allocate the funding you receive appropriately. A simple excel spreadsheet detailing your budget will help you to ensure that you know where your money is going. List your expenses from highest to lowest, and then re-order them by priority if necessary. It is important, for example, to make sure your flights and housing are completely covered before you give yourself any money for luggage or food, even though those expenses can sometimes be higher.
Where to Look inside Your University
The best resource available to you on campus is your study abroad office. Some offices will accept applications for grants or scholarships funded by the university itself. Others will have already gathered information on where to look for funding. If you are traveling through a university-sponsored program (USAC and ISA are common ones), there may be extra help already in place for you to take advantage of. Gather all the information you can, and start applying.
Your financial aid office is the next place to visit. Explain that you are looking to travel abroad, and ask about getting extra assistance for the trip. For trips that take place over the summer months, it is important to make sure that your aid covers three semesters; otherwise you will not be able to take advantage of the help offered.
Finally, go to the office for your field of study, and ask about any major-specific scholarships that you can apply for. Even if they are not directly related to study abroad, or if they would be rewarded to you for the following semester or year, you can use the savings gained from winning to fund your trip now. For example, if you are awarded five hundred dollars to pay for your textbooks the following semester, the money you already set aside to pay for those books goes back into your pocket for whatever help you need.
Finding Funding off Campus
When all of your applications for on-campus scholarships, grants, and financial aid have been filled out, it’s time to take the search to the web. Look again at all the resources your study abroad office provided you, and also try a simple Google search for study abroad funding. Apply to everything you are qualified for, no matter how big or small the reward is. Being awarded ten different scholarships for one hundred dollars is much easier to obtain than winning just one for a thousand.
While you are online, look up any societies or clubs dedicated to the cultural awareness of the country you are visiting. It never hurts to drop them a line and ask for assistance (and advice on transitioning to the culture, while you are at it). Be sure to let them know how long you will be there, what you are studying, why you chose that particular country, and what you hope to gain from the experience. The worst thing that can happen is that you receive some great advice and encouragement from them, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Finally, write some letters to your family members and friends. Handwritten letters in the mail make a great impact. Be sure to stress again how important the trip is to you, how it will affect your education, and the things you are excited about. You should also stress that any amount, even twenty dollars, would be a huge help. This is a great way to cover those last few expenses at the bottom of your budget, to make sure you have absolutely everything you need.
Final Thoughts: How Much is Too Much?
Paying for study abroad is not necessarily an easy process, but it does not have to be very stressful, either. Frankly, you can never over-apply for study abroad funding. The ideal goal is to cover every expense you have, right? The more you apply, the better your chances are to fully fund your program, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime without any financial stress. However, it is also important to budget your time wisely, and don’t work during long periods of time if you don’t have to. Make sure you set aside time each and every day to apply, write, and ask for help. An hour a day for just three months will equate to about ninety hours of work if you stick with it.
It is so important to approach every application and letter with confidence, optimism, and excitement. Never be afraid to simply ask. Keep the dream alive, and you can make it happen. Good luck, and safe travels!