Affording Study Abroad
One of the biggest challenges to studying abroad can be financing it. If you find yourself hesitant to add a global experience to your college career because of the cost, consider the following:
Program costs vary. Overall, studying abroad is comparable to the cost of living and studying on-campus, but some programs cost considerably less than others. This may mean a shorter program, a location with a lower cost of living, or a hybrid program with on-campus or online components before and/or after a shorter travel component. Start researching your options early!
Use your financial aid, loans, and scholarships for semester and academic year programs. For semester or year-long programs financial aid applies just as if you were on campus, so a longer program does not necessarily mean higher costs. Depending on the cost of living, your wallet may not notice any difference between studying on-campus vs. abroad.
Apply for scholarships. Whether from the Office of Study Abroad, departments on campus, study abroad programs, or organizations outside the University, there are funds available. Spend some time researching and applying for multiple scholarships. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it can really pay off.
Some programs have built-in scholarships. Students approved for the fall semester Rome Empower Program receive a $2,000 scholarship just for being admitted, and if you want to study in Japan, Osaka Gakuin University offers full tuition scholarships! Talk to a study abroad advisor to discuss these and other programs with generous financial assistance.
Not every global experience means leaving the U.S. There are options for you to study ‘abroad’ within the US and even within Minnesota! There are many valuable international and intercultural experiences to be had right here in the Twin Cities. Imagine not having to pay for an international flight and being able to study from home. These programs may not be the standard study abroad experience, but they can still change your life and enhance your degree!
Cost isn’t everything. We want you to make smart choices with your money, but we also want you to recognize that there is significant ROI for selecting a program that fits your academic, personal, and professional goals even if it depletes your wallet. Studying abroad is an investment that can increase your intercultural skills in an increasingly global world and set you apart from other job candidates.
Budgeting for Study Abroad
Whether you’ve made the momentous decision to study abroad and you’re already approved, or you want to see beforehand if you can afford a particular program, here are some steps to help calculate expenses and manage your money before and after departure.
View your program budget. Access your program budget from the Office of Study Abroad website by searching for your program and opening the online program brochure. Just under the program name near the top of the page, you’ll see “Program Cost” and the term. Select your program term to pull up your budget. In the fine print, you will see the date your program budget was most recently updated. If the information is out-of-date, reach out to your advisor or program manager.
Make note of the billable vs. non-billable expenses. In your online program budget, the non-billable expenses are estimates of what we expect students to spend out-of-pocket whereas the billable expenses are what will show up on your student bill. As far as non-billable expenses go, some students spend far less than these estimates, some spend more. It all depends on your own budget, priorities, and spending plans.
Complete Financial Aid Action Steps. The Financial Aid Office provides term-specific worksheets for study abroad students, and these worksheets take all the work out of calculating costs. Just plug in the numbers from the online program budget and your Murphy Online financial aid award, and it does the math for you! To access these worksheets, visit the Financial Aid Office Study Abroad page and select the term that applies to you. Make note of your out-of-pocket costs and whether you need to meet with a financial aid counselor.
Do the math. Add up non-billable expenses from the program budget and out-of-pocket costs according to your Financial Aid Action Steps worksheet. Allowing for some variation based on your spending habits and travel plans, this total amount is what you will need to cover your overall experience abroad.
Make a plan for covering non-billable and out-of-pocket expenses. This may mean scraping together all your hard-earned cash, signing a supplemental loan, applying for every scholarship under the sun, and sitting down with your parents or a trusted adult to strategize. You can be creative with your fund sources: host a fundraiser such as a concert with your musician friends, use your skills to sell items on Etsy, ask for donations to your study abroad fund instead of birthday gifts. Visit IES abroad for more budgeting tips and student blog posts about budgeting.
Especially for international travel, it’s good to be prepared. You don’t want your bank to freeze your account when you’re thousands of miles from home. You don’t want to be a few Euros short of a bus fare when you walk out of the airport exhausted from your transatlantic flight. You don’t want to get charged excessive fees every time you take out your debit card at an ATM.
Familiarize yourself with the currency and exchange rate. This doesn’t just mean knowing what the currency exchange rate is, even though that’s important. It means knowing what the bills and coins look like and what they are worth. For instance, how much does a carton of milk or a dozen eggs cost, and if you had a handful of random coins in foreign currency, could you add them up to the right amount? Visit XE to learn the exchange rate.
Notify your bank about your travel plans. Some banks have made it super easy to share where you will be in the world and when, and you can simply login online and submit your itinerary. For others, you will have to call in order for them to make a note on your account. No matter what, make sure you notify your bank prior to departure.
Research ATM and foreign transaction fees. Generally speaking, the easiest and cheapest way to get money abroad is via an ATM, but in many cases your bank is going to charge an ATM transaction fee and may also charge a foreign transaction fee. In both cases, these fees are usually a small percentage of the amount you withdraw, but they add up. Do your research ahead of time! By switching banks before you go, you could end up with no fees at all. The same applies to credit cards – some cards charge foreign transaction fees, and others don’t.
Be sure you have at least two ways to access funds and cash. Even if you never need to use it, an additional card can be your emergency back-up while you are abroad. Visa and Mastercard tend to be the most widely accepted cards internationally, but check with your card(s) and see how widely they can be used in your destination.