Bootstrapping Your Study Abroad Experience

Studying abroad doesn't have to burn your pockets. Depending on the depth of your creativity and how diligent you are in your search for a suitable program, the cost of studying abroad can actually be relatively minimal.

Below you'll find a few tips on how to bootstrap your study abroad experience.

1. First Things First

Determine your study abroad goals.

You should start first by examining your travel goals. Do you want to learn a language? Teach or volunteer? Maybe you want to obtain a full degree from an accredited university abroad? Whatever your goal, there's a program to suit your interest.

My undergraduate major was Spanish Language and Literature. I wanted to find a comprehensive program that taught a variety of different classes in Spanish, at an advanced level. My goal was fluency. Had I not been in my senior year when I decided to venture abroad, I would have chosen to pursue a full degree abroad.

Bottom line: Most study abroad programs offer the options of weekly, summer, semester, trimester, gap, and full year programs - lasting anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, 2 to 6 months or 2 to 6 years. Your costs are generally commensurate with the depth of your study and the length of time. In other words, the shorter your stay and the less intensive your goals, the cheaper it will be.**

Decide what type of program you're interested in.

When examining different programs, your first instinct might be to go with the programs partnered through your school or with the larger, more well-known organizations that offer all-inclusive packages.

Don't overlook smaller, cheaper study abroad organizations. A lot of times, with partnered programs and inclusive packages, you're paying for a team of staff, administration, the program's tuition - and if you're in school, your own - trips, and activities. Some of what is offered can be considered non-essential or are things that you can find and organize on your own.

I went with a mid-size study abroad program that provided a fair amount of amenities, and my roommate chose a smaller company and was still able to benefit from much of the same amenities that he had arranged on his own.

Bottom line: Look for small to medium-size study abroad organizations. Compare prices. Eliminate non-essentials and things that you can obtain on your own and see in what areas you have a chance at finding better pricing.**

2. Think Outside of the Global Box

Location, location, location!

Keep in mind that larger cities, urban areas and popular destinations will quickly add to the cost of your trip. For instance, if choosing Europe, Australia, England or Japan, expect to pay significantly more than if you were planning to travel to smaller, lesser developed countries, such as those in the Caribbean or South America.

When I studied in Spain, I chose Granada as my study abroad location. Granada is located on the southern tip of Spain, and is a relatively lesser known town but it gave me the big city feel without the big city cost. It was just a short bus ride to most of the major cities and I was able to book flights, quite cheaply, to Paris, Italy and other countries outside of Spain. You too, might find this a great way to shave your costs.

Bottom line: Consider smaller, lesser-known cities nestled in the outskirts of a major city or study in a developing country.**

Hosted, Hostel or Dorm Style?

Lots of study abroad travelers want to immerse themselves fully in their travel abroad experience - by fully, I mean living apart from the constraints of curfews and house rules or the nuances of a roommate and opt to live on their own. They'll rent or swap out a small apartment or will look to hostels or student residences.

Rather than living in a hostel or university-style residence, my recommendation is to live with a host family. In some cases, you'll find reasonable rates for hostels and dorm-style living, but when you consider all that a hosted family provides - language acquisition, food, suggestions on exploring the city and sometimes even laundry, seeking out this kind of arrangement is much more cost effective than staying on your own.

Bottom line:

If you consider the amenities and benefits a hosted family provides, you'll fare better in price and your experience will be much richer.**

3. Money Matters

Who pays?

When deciding who will finance your trip, scholarships and grants should be your first option. If you're a student, you can inquire about them through your school's Study Abroad Office, at the library or online. If you're an independent traveler, you can look for them through the program's office or through research at the library or online. Give yourself plenty of time to apply.

The second semester of my junior year is when I started the process - late compared to other eager beavers, but I was able to cover most of my costs through financial aid. What wasn't covered, I made up for through a small, private loan.

If you're not in a position to do either, try soliciting donations. I know several people who have (successfully) drafted up a short donation letter and sold family and friends on the idea of studying abroad. Relatively easy when you consider the real benefit: the opportunity of a lifetime.

Bottom line: You should first look into money that you don't have to repay: scholarships, grants, donations, money from a job or the assistance of family and friends. Next, look into financial aid. These loans have nominal interest rates and flexible repayment plans. If all else fails, try a private loan. Be sure to research all of your costs well, including incidentals, and up the total figures slightly when applying.**

Lucky for you, once you decide what, where, and how you want to study abroad, Noodle can help you find the programs that fit your budget and interests.

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