Studying abroad can be an investment in your future, but between tuition and travel, the costs can really add up. For those of us who can’t simply pay out of pocket, financial aid is a saving grace. Luckily, award opportunities are more plentiful than ever. With a little help, and a bit of extra footwork, you can uncover financial aid opportunities in an abundance of easy to reach places.
Begin your search ahead of time – 6 to 12 months before your departure date. Deadlines hit as early as the February before the term you’ve applied for. Start a master calendar, or planner, to keep track of any application deadlines, payout dates and appointments related to your study abroad trip. If you’re tech savvy, set up an online calendar that will send reminders to your phone or email, to keep you on target.
Now, on to the important stuff: below are a plethora of places to begin your search for free money, ahem, financial aid.
Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), just as you would for a normal term. As long as you’re enrolled at least half time, your study abroad program is approved by your college, and you’ll be taking courses that will advance you toward your degree, the federal aid you qualify for can be used toward an out-of-country program. More remarkably, if your tuition abroad exceeds the cost of your tuition at home, it may increase your grant and loan eligibility. That’s more money, with no extra hassle.
Your School’s Financial Aid Office:
Make an appointment with your Financial Aid Advisor early on to learn the ins and outs of your financial situation. If you visit in person, rather than calling in, they’re usually more apt to finding you more aid. Don’t ask me why. As always, be polite and courteous, and show that you are ready to do your part, too. Remember that they’re the ones with the final say when it comes to your financial aid package.
Ask which forms of State Aid, such as grants, will apply to your trip. Often times there are hoops to jump through to qualify for tuition waivers that may be necessary to cover your trip. Also, talk about your loan eligibility and whether it will increase for your semester abroad. If the cost of attendance is high, and/or other aid is scarce, loans could be worthwhile options as supplements or backup funds.
Don’t forget to ask when your aid will be released to you, and at what intervals, if not all at once. Many schools won’t release aid until the start of their on-campus term; others split your loan checks into two disbursements. You do not want to find out several months down the road that a $500 program deposit and your $1,700 plane tickets need to be paid for before any money hits your account. Mark these dates on your master calendar and jot down any preceding costs or payment deadlines so you can make arrangements accordingly.
The On-Campus Scholarship Office:
If your school has a scholarship office, go have a look around to see what you may qualify for. Better yet, make an appointment with one of the scholarship coordinators. Chances are, they will find scholarships and grants that you never knew existed.
When you’re searching for aid, don’t limit yourself to awards specific to international education. You may be eligible for other awards based on any number of factors, such as financial need, merit, sports abilities, major, heritage, etc. There are even scholarships available for those who are unusually tall. For information on unusual scholarships, try doing web search. There are tons of crazy ways to get paid.
On The Web:
One of the easiest ways to track down extra aid is to use a searchable database site such as Fastweb, or MoolahSPOT. Sites like these are free to use and allow you to make an account so they can base their recommendations on your personal information. Take care when filling out their registration forms to ensure your information is accurate. Also, avoid checking any boxes for “special offers” or mailing lists. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with an inbox full of spam.
Junk mail aside, these sites are great for finding scholarships based on a huge variety of criteria. Don’t forget to look through your results, though. You can’t win, unless you take the time to actually apply. If you’re like me, you’ll print down any worthwhile applications at a free on-campus computer lab, and record their deadlines and payout dates on your master calendar. Staying organized and following through are the keys to receiving as much aid as possible.
Your Study Abroad Program:
I may have been luckier than some others, but the program I applied to study abroad through, The American Institute for Foreign Study, has tons of extra ways to save. For applying early, I became eligible for a $1,000 discount. For being a student of an AIFS affiliated university, I qualified for another $400. If I happen to receive the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I will receive another $500 bonus from AIFS. As if these weren’t enough, they offer additional scholarships with super simple applications.
Check out your program’s website to locate their Scholarships and Grants page. Even if they don’t offer any aid, directly, they will probably have a list of scholarships and grants from companies they are affiliated with. If you can’t find anything, try contacting your admissions advisor or the company’s helpline. They may be sitting on a gold mine that students have trouble getting to, meaning low application rates, and better odds of winning for those who went the extra mile to find them.
By Word Of Mouth:
Ask around your school to see what everyone else has applied for. Also, ask your study abroad advisor if you can contact alumni who have already been abroad, to ask them how they paid their way. Their insight could be the difference between floating along, and just sliding by.
If you’re a member of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, they offer a number of different study abroad scholarships like the Scholar Abroad Scholarships, the Academy Abroad Scholarships, and the Semester at Sea Scholarships.
Try not to be overwhelmed when you search for scholarships and grants. Use your master calendar to keep track of deadlines, and set weekly goals. Keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities that may present themselves, and apply for as many grants and scholarships as you feel comfortable with.
On the next addition of RAFSA, I’ll give you tips on writing successful scholarship essays. If you have any questions, comments, or tips on finding additional aid, don’t hesitate to leave them below.
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
Self-proclaimed “Francophile” Jessica Longshore is a sophomore French major at Western Illinois University. On Campus, her involvement includes being a member of NSCS, a Centennial Honors College member, and Vice President of Western’s Ambassadors for Study Abroad (WASA). During her free time, she likes to cook, do her nails, and write. She is also looking forward to studying abroad in Cannes, France this coming fall, and blogging about her travels.