Study Abroad Myths Dispelled! Part I: It's too Expensive!

Top Articles on Studying Abroad from Students and Experts

story by Trixie Cordova

“If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

When I pose this question to students during the Go Global Tour, I get so many responses:




Yet, when I ask the question, “Have you considered studying abroad?”, there are very few hands that go up in the air. The follow-up responses I get are much less enthusiastic:

“Nope -- it’s way too expensive!”

“I can’t, I’m a senior.”

“I’m an Engineering major, so I just can’t fit it into my schedule”.

“No thanks, it’s not for me.”

It can be so frustrating as an International Education professional (and enthusiast!) to hear students easily dismiss going abroad to study, intern or volunteer without even researching how feasible it can be.

Over the next few weeks, Diversity Abroad will dispel the various study abroad myths associated with going abroad. Our challenge to you is that you throw out any ideas or preconceived notions you have about what it takes to see yourself in another country, and to just think differently about the entire process. Our hope is that all students -- regardless of identity, background, life experience or academic focus -- realize they can go abroad if they truly wish to make it happen.

Our first study abroad myth: Study Abroad is way too expensive!

According to the Institute of International Education, the average cost of studying abroad for one semester during the 2012-13 academic year was $17,785. I would argue that most programs, especially those offered through your school, will cost much less than this. Although it’s true that some program costs can be anywhere from $5,000-$12,000, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of resources that exist to help you cover those costs.

To start, here’s a little exercise to help you overcome your initial “sticker shock”:

On average, how much does it cost to be a student at your school for a quarter or semester?

If you don’t know this amount off the top of your head, take a quick glance at your financial aid statement to assess what tuition costs at your school. On top of that, add the costs for housing, books/materials, transportation, and additional expenses.

Now, what’s that total cost for the semester or quarter? How about for the full academic year?

According to the College Board, “a "moderate" college budget for an in-state public college for the 2014–2015 academic year averaged $23,410. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $46,272.

Doesn’t THAT number look unreal on paper?

Even though the cost to be a U.S. college student is high, many students find ways to pay to go to school. From federal and state loans and grants, to scholarships and fellowships, to good old fashioned savings, there are plenty of ways to pay for college.

Since most study abroad programs allow you to earn academic credit towards your degree, that means there are just as many financial resources out there to get you to earn those credits abroad. Below is a brief list of the types of funding you can potentially receive and use to go abroad:

  1. Scholarships, of course! Check out our database at Diversity Abroad here, or ask your school’s Study Abroad office or Financial Aid office to get some ideas. Some of the biggest and most popular include the Gilman Scholarship, which is specifically for Pell-Grant recipients.

  2. Fellowships. Fellowships to go abroad provide you with funding, in addition to specific skills training. One popular example is the Boren Fellowship, which is open to graduate students and allows them to develop foreign language proficiency, specifically in countries critical to U.S. interests.

  3. Institution-based aid. Check with your school’s study abroad office and financial aid office to learn more about school-based funding opportunities. There may be campus-wide funding, or specific scholarships and grants through your academic department or program. Many schools and colleges have signed on to be a part of IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative to increase the number of students going abroad. Check if your school has signed on -- it may mean more funding to go abroad!

  4. Grants and Loans. Even if you’re still just thinking about studying abroad, visit your financial aid advisor and ask which components of your financial aid package can be applied to study abroad. Many federal loans can be applied abroad, whereas state or campus-based financial aid may vary. Make an appointment today to ask and clarify where your package stands.

  5. Crowd-Sourcing/Fundraising. Thanks to useful sites like Go Fund Me or Fund My Travel, you can ask friends, families and other supporters to help alleviate your program costs by donating. Just be mindful that each site does take a small percentage of your total raised, and some, such as Kickstarter, only gives you the amount pledged if you reach your campaign goals (so if you raise only $200 out of a $500 total, you get none!).

  6. Savings. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with good ‘ol saving up! If you work while you’re in school, consider taking a percentage of each paycheck and setting it aside to pay for your study abroad program. In fact, some study abroad programs such as those with IFSA-Butler will even match your savings up to $1,000 if you choose a program early. Learn more about their Fill The Gap (Global Account Program) here. So it just goes to show, it really can ‘pay to save’!

These are just a few suggestions to help alleviate program costs, and there are likely many more not listed. If you need more support in exploring the financial costs overall, check out our Financial Aid Center.

Ultimately, we want to challenge the idea that study abroad is too expensive to even consider. We hope you can see yourself going abroad now that it’s a little clearer just how feasible going abroad can be.

Stay tuned for the next article in our “Study Abroad Myths Dispelled” series, addressing the common response to “I can’t study abroad, I’m a graduating senior!”

Trixie Cordova


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