Studying abroad was always on my radar; I knew I wanted to spend (at least) a semester abroad. The problem was that when I thought about how I would foot the bill for tuition and room and board, I faced a big, fat question mark. I am a first generation college student, so the college experience and affording it is all new for me. My financial uncertainties made me believe that studying abroad would be impossible. Nonetheless, studying abroad was my dream and I knew I needed to make it happen. Facing struggle when affording college is common, and you are not alone. Even more, wanting to study abroad despite these financial struggles is not an unattainable dream, even though it may feel that way. Take it from me, you can do it. Although my search for programs and financial aid was met with anxiety, stress, and tears, I made it. I am writing this blog in my wonderful flat in Murcia, Spain with friends from across the globe surrounding me.
Below are some sources of financial aid and helpful tips I used while preparing for, and during, my six months in Spain at Universidad de Murcia. Although I did not receive all the scholarships or grants I applied for, and I have had to pay out of pocket, I have learned invaluable lessons about the fundraising process and about hard work.
1 . Start EARLY
The first, and most important step, in affording a semester abroad is to start planning early. This probably seems like a “duh,” but many students think they can sign up for a semester abroad the month before their plane takes off (which may be true for some programs, but most require more planning!). The earlier you start, the longer you have to save! So now that you have chosen to go abroad, make it happen: get a job (or a few) and start saving, start planning, and start applying. I worked at a gas station, for a roofing company, and as a tutor in order to save money. There are many options available for college-aged students looking for work. Although they are not all desirable, they will allow you to save and can be a useful addition of experience on your resume.
Another reason you need to start early is because program and scholarship deadlines often pass quickly. Whether it is an application for your international university or for a scholarship, you do not want to lose out because you did not keep an eye on the calendar! You do not want to miss an opportunity for free money, which leads me to my next point.
2. Scholarships, Grants, and More FREE MONEY
Do a quick search on google and you will see that there is a plethora of scholarship opportunities for students who want to go abroad. The best advice I can give is to apply to every single one that you possibly can. Keep a document full of scholarship essays, since many of them are often similar, and use them to apply to every grant you find. One of the best scholarship organizations I found during my search was a United States funded scholarship: the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program which has made many students’ dreams of studying internationally come true.
Don’t forget to check with your home university’s global education office to see if your university offers private scholarships or loans. (For example, I received one from my school’s language department since I am studying Spanish in Spain.) ISEP also offers great opportunities for scholarships that I encourage you to take advantage of. There is no denying that applying for scholarships can be tedious, but there is nothing to lose and literally the world to gain from applying.
3. Budget Baby, Budget!
First thing is first, you need to know how much money you will need. Before you leave, do some research and make a spreadsheet to track every possible expense you will encounter while you are abroad. From your plane ticket and your tuition, to day-to-day expenses, make sure to include it all. Try to give yourself a generous budget so that you have an idea of what amount of money you should aim to leave with.
Then, once you are abroad, keep a running document of what you purchase— and I mean everything. Stick to a grocery budget, a drink budget, a shopping budget, and never stray from them. I currently have a tab open with a spreadsheet detailing every euro I have spent since my arrival to Murcia. It keeps me grounded and on track so that I never overspend.
4. People Like to Make Dreams Come True
Whether it is a gofundme, a letter to your aunt, or networking with alumni at your university, tell everyone about your dream of studying abroad. Passion can be a rarity, so when people see it, they want to fuel it. Sharing your hopes and dreams could ultimately help you find a major financial assistance whether it be through a fellowship, scholarship, or something else. So, the point is, do not shut up about wanting to study abroad!
5. Shout-out to ISEP Programs
I could not have made this semester happen without the help of ISEP. On an ISEP Exchange program, you pay what you would normally pay for your home university’s tuition, on campus housing, and meals. Extra costs include visa fees, airfare and other expenses. ISEP Direct programs vary by price (could cost even less than a semester at your home institution!) and have flexible options for housing and meals. While I fundraised and worked for a lot of my expenses, ISEP provides some programs with a stipend to cover housing and day-to-day expenses. Instead of worrying about how I would pay my rent, thanks to ISEP, I was able to focus on affording my plane ticket. Keep this in mind when you choose your program!
All in all, studying abroad won’t be easy, but I can promise you that it will not be impossible. I had days where I did not even know how I would pay my tuition at my home university, but with hard work and the help of fundraising, I am currently living a life that I had only ever fantasized about.
Like this Story? Also like us on Facebook.