Alicia Hamilton is a History student at Harvard University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London in England in 2016. Alicia is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.
Spending a semester abroad and taking in the sights and sounds of another country seems like a luxury that only a lucky few can afford. However, if you plan carefully, spending a semester abroad can be an affordable option. Here are my four major financial keys to making your dream semester abroad a reality.
1. Consider the cost at home vs. abroad.
Depending on your home university’s policies, spending a term abroad can actually be a cheaper option than staying at your school for the semester. In England the government subsidizes university fees, so the cost of one semester at the University College London (UCL) was less than the cost of a semester at Harvard. On top of this, most colleges offer grants or financial aid that you can apply for in order to partially or fully fund your semester abroad. For example, Harvard has a policy in which all of my financial aid carries over to my term abroad. Thus my home university covered the major costs of my semester abroad, such as tuition, travel, and housing.
Spending a term abroad can actually be a cheaper option than staying at your school for the semester.
However, even if your home university’s study abroad policies are not as generous as you would like them to be, there are also several outside scholarships designed to help fund study abroad, such as the Gilman Scholarship for students on Pell Grants, the Institute of International Education, and Diversity Abroad. Additionally, if you choose to study abroad through IFSA-Butler, you have access to program-specific scholarships and opportunities to work while abroad.
2. Go through a program.
Look into programs that facilitate study abroad like IFSA-Butler. IFSA-Butler assisted with my university application, organized the details of my visa, offered group travel arrangements, provided full medical insurance (something crucial that I had not considered), and gave me access to financial plans to help manage paying for my time abroad.
However, if you do choose to go through a program like IFSA-Butler, do not feel tied to every aspect of it. For example, during a conversation soon after arriving to London, my friend Victoria shared with me that she had “saved a bit of money by booking [her flight] through a student travel site” instead of using the group arrangements.
3. Location, location, location.
When choosing where in the world you will spend your semester abroad, be sure to consider differences in cost-of-living. For example, I knew that studying in England would mean my American dollar would not go as far because of the differences in currency value. Still, London made financial sense for me because I had family living near the city. They helped me reduce the initial start-up costs of studying abroad by loaning me things like linens and crockery and setting me up with a U.K. phone plan. So if you are not too attached to any one location, look into programs in countries where you can get more bang for your American buck.
Look into programs in countries where you can get more bang for your American buck.
Wherever you choose to go, once you get to your location keep an eye out for student discounts and guides for cheap living in your city. For example, almost all the stores and coffee shops around my London campus offer student discounts when you present your UCL ID. Also, students qualify for student railcards (for over ground transport) and Oyster Cards (for underground transport) which grant a 1/3 discount on travel. Lastly, in London all of the museums are free including the National Gallery with its stunning collection of paintings from the 13th – 19th century.
4. Plan ahead.
Finally, the most important financial key to making your study abroad dreams an affordable reality is to plan in advance. Starting your planning early will not only save you from being overwhelmed, but also rescue you from having to pay expensive fees for missing deadlines and ensure that you send in scholarship/grant applications on time. Give yourself a good 2-3 months to work on the applications. Winter break is a great time to start planning for a fall term abroad and the summer is a good time to look into spending the following spring abroad. The earlier you start your planning, the less stressful the process will be.
Additionally, make sure to create a budget for yourself before you leave for your term abroad. Before coming to London, I used the Personal Cost Estimates tool on IFSA-Butler’s UCL program page to help me figure out how much money I would need over my three months abroad. I also used the living-costs estimates found on the University College London’s study abroad page to help me get a rough idea of how many pounds the average student in London spends during a week. Together these tools allowed me to plan for the day-to-day expenses I would incur while studying in the U.K.
So make sure to keep these keys in mind when considering whether or not you will study abroad. Above all ask yourself, when else in your life will you be able to pick up and spend a few months living and learning in a different part of the world so affordably?