Study Abroad During College with the Help of Financial Aid

Steve Wynne Student Choice

Written by: Steve Wynne of Student Choice

An Intro to Study Abroad

Imagine this.

You are in a large room in the British Library translating one of only four surviving texts of the Magna Carta 1215 – alone – when you find the first recorded use of the term “freeman.”

Or, you’re startled to the point of speechlessness when seeing “Dachau” as a train station in Germany and realize it is also the name of a town.

Or, you get lost in Paris at 11:00 pm with three friends and are the only one who speaks French – excruciatingly bad French. But you franticly use it to find your way back to Le Madeleine in time to make your bus back to London.

If those experiences sound even remotely interesting to you – consider taking a semester or year studying abroad. I did – and because those things all happened to me – it was one of the most rewarding times in my life. The best part?  It cost approximately what my tuition, fees and housing would have been back in the United Sates. Plus – I was able to utilize financial aid.


Some Study Abroad Stats

Who Goes
Where do they go?
How long do they stay?

Latest statistics from academic year 2011/12 reported a record 273,996 American students studied abroad, a 1.3% increase over the previous year. So you won’t be alone!

  • Gender:
    • 64% are female / 36% are male
  • Year of Study:
    • 36% are juniors, 22% are seniors and 13% are sophomores
  • Ethnicity:
    • 78% are White, 8% are Asian, 7% are Hispanic/Latino and 5% are African American

The Top Five Destinations:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Italy
  3. Spain
  4. France
  5. China

However, 14 of the top 25 destinations are outside Europe with the largest increases being in students travelling to Costa Rica, South Korea, Brazil, India and Denmark.

study abroad


Duration of Study

  • 70% of students choose to study aboard for one semester or summer term
  • Only 4% of students went abroad for a full academic year.


What Kind of Study Abroad Programs Are There?

Generally, there are three types of programs:

  1. Sponsored by a Foreign University:
    These are direct exchange or direct enroll programs where you apply to a foreign university. Typically, this is for a full year of study to conform to the foreign university’s academic schedule.
  2. Sponsored by a US University: 
    These are study centers or international branch campuses of US universities, located overseas and typically staffed by a mix of American and local faculty. These programs are typically US semester based.
  3. Sponsored by a Third Party Provider:
    These are offered by non-university private companies and can be non-profit or for-profit programs


Now…About that Financial Aid

Your campus financial aid office will advise you how to access affordable study abroad programs and how to obtain the best financial assistance to suit your needs. But the great news is – if you qualify for financial aid at the US university you are attending, your aid resources may be used to make study abroad more affordable.

  • Schools are NOT allowed to deny federal aid because a student is participating in a program of study abroad
  • For students enrolled full-time and working toward a degree while studying abroad, any existing student loans you may have should NOT go into repayment
  • Most federal, state and institutional aid cannot be used if a student’s travel does not earn credit and/or is exclusively for work, an internship, field experience or volunteer activities


Steps You Need to Take

  • If  you have not already done so, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for federal student aid
  • Utilize federal and state aid first
  • Utilize Institutional Aid: your university may have funds specifically targeted to study abroad programs. But note: institutional aid may be restricted to use on your home campus or home state depending on the funding source
  • Utilize Private or state scholarships or grants from foundations, associations, clubs or groups tied to the country or region in which you want to study


Some Fast Facts on Eligibility for Aid

  • Students who have never before applied for financial aid can apply in the same manner as students who will be attending a US university
  • Must be a US citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Must attend an accredited international institution, a US university located outside of the US, or be matriculated in a valid-degree program
  • Must be meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress
  • Males over 18 must be registered with the US Selective Service
  • Must not be in default in any US government federal student loans or owe a grant overpayment
  • Must not have any federal or state convictions for sale or possession of illegal substances/drugs

But – even with all that information, do your research. Ensure that your college will meet your financial aid needs and be sure to meet all study abroad financing deadlines!


Study Abroad Resources

Several national organizations have statistics and guides for students and parents, including:

  • Institute of International Education (IIE)
    The largest US organization devoted exclusively to international educational exchanges, publishers of Open Doors annual reports.  Open Doors®, supported by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State, is a comprehensive information resource on international students and scholars studying or teaching at higher education institutions in the United States, and US students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities
  • The Princeton Review
    The standardized test preparation and admissions counseling company also has detailed online and print recourses about studying abroad.
  •  NAFSA
    The Association of International Educators is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA’s 10,000 members are located at more than 3,500 institutions worldwide, in over 150 countries. Provides useful information and resources to help plan a successful study abroad experience as well as having links to a wide range of study abroad opportunities


Before You Go

US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs

The State Department website has specific information pertaining to individual country and general information regarding travel and safety, including:

  • How to obtain a passport and/or visa for the country where you will be studying abroad – visa requirements vary per country
  • Travel Warnings
  • Travel Public Announcements
  • Travel Information by destination country and countries through which the student may travel to reach a final destination.


A Checklist for Your Family

  • Confirm all financial aid information
  • Confirm overseas housing, program schedules, survival guides, registration
  • Confirm courses approval by your US college
  • Make and confirm flight arrangements
  • Research and follow health and safety guidelines for your destination
  • Insurance – most schools with large programs mandate students have international study abroad insurance coverage. The insurance fee is usually included in the program fee and covers the student from the time they leave the US until the time they return
  • Students should be in adequate health to participate in study abroad programs. Medical clearance and physicals are sometimes required.

So with all this great information I hope you make the same decision I did – and head off on what I can promise you will be one of the greatest experiences of your life – study abroad.

Still not convinced?
Remember what Wayne Gretzky said:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”



Find a credit union and apply


  • “2012 Open Doors Report – Valuing Study Abroad: The Global Mandate for Higher Education,” a briefing paper from IIE’s Center for Academic Mobility Research International Conference, March 27, 2012
  •  Williamson, Wendy (2008). Study Abroad 101 (Second Edition). Agapy LLC, Illinois.

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