How to Pay for Study Abroad as a College Student

One of the more interesting and even rewarding parts of the college experience is the chance to study abroad for a semester or even an entire year. In the 2016-2017 school year, almost 335,000 students left the United States for at least a semester to study outside the country, according to NAFSA.

Yet, that number still represents less than 2% of the total college student population—and while many students consider studying abroad, paying for it is another matter entirely. There are, however, a variety of options available that can help defray the costs of your trip.

How Much Does Study Abroad Cost

The cost of a semester abroad can vary wildly and is subject to a number of factors, including geographical location, the field of study, and the institution where you’ll be studying. A program in India, for instance, may cost far less than a semester in London if you’re leaving from the United States.

The average cost, according to, for a semester abroad is about $18,000. That number includes tuition at your chosen institution, housing, transportation, and support for things such as medical emergencies or communication help.

Those extra support costs aren’t always necessary, especially if you already speak the language of the country that you’ll be going to, but having that help network can be invaluable if you need it.

It’s imperative that you do some extensive research on your chosen location in order to understand what will be needed and how much it will cost. Thankfully, regardless of what your total cost looks like, there are a few ways you can pay for it.

How to Pay for the Trip

There are three main ways to pay for a study abroad program. The good news is that at least one of these may work for you.

Finding a Scholarship

There are many scholarships specifically designed to help students pay for the experience of a semester abroad. It’s essentially free money if you get awarded the scholarship, and students that take advantage of them can enjoy their time overseas without having to worry about paying the money back or scraping up enough cash to get there.

Scholarships, however, also have a few caveats. The programs are highly competitive, and in order to apply, you’ll need to do some work to create an application package. The packages might require personal and professional recommendations, essays, and transcripts. Each program has its own requirements and deadlines, so you’ll also need to keep track of all of those.

Scholarships aren’t the easiest thing to get, but if you’re willing to put in the work, then you could end up getting to study abroad for free.

Paying Out of Pocket

This might not be the most attractive or even possible option for many, but if you can pay for your trip out of pocket, that’s often the easiest. It requires no applications, credit checks, or other snags that can pop up in other processes.

The downside, of course, is that your trip will cost a fair amount of cash—all of which you or your family will be expected to provide. As such, this isn’t the most desirable option for most people. If you can use scholarships to pay, it is always better than using your own money.

Taking Out a New Student Loan

Though many people don’t know it, you can actually use student loans to fund your trip. Student loans are generally easy to get through the federal government, and if your credit is solid, you might also be able to get a student loan through a private lender.

Using student loans has its own set of cons. You’ll be making payments on this trip for years to come, and you’ll pay interest on that balance as well. A $20,000 student loan for a semester abroad could end up costing you far more by the time it’s paid off, and most students already graduate with a fair amount of student loan debt. This isn’t the best option, but it may work if you can’t find other sources of funding.

Is Study Abroad Worth It?

Students who go abroad for a semester overwhelmingly say yes. The networking opportunities, cultural exposure, and many other factors combine to provide an excellent experience, even in light of the high cost.

If you can get scholarships or have the cash to pay for it, going abroad for a semester can be an excellent resume item that pays for itself many times over later.

Guest Post by: Andrew Rombach

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