If only money grew on trees. This is a feeling that can be popular among college students. As I write this entry from Accra, Ghana, I have the aforementioned feeling, but I also realize how salient and life-changing traveling outside one’s country truly is. It is an experience everyone should be able to have at least once during their life. However, anyone who has ever done a study or volunteer abroad program during their undergraduate career will tell you how strenuous and tedious the entire process can be. Obtaining your Visa, getting the required immunizations and medication, and most of all, securing the money for the program tuition and fees. No matter where in the world you may be traveling, these fees can quickly add up and, on average, you will have to pay out at least $2,000 to participate in a volunteer abroad program, $5,000 for a summer study abroad program, and $10,000 for a semester abroad program. I think I speak for most college students when I say that college is expensive enough as it is, and $2,000-$10,000 is a substantial cost—a sum that cannot be casually given away. So, how can you get over the fact that money can’t be found on tree limbs in order to go about funding such potentially life-changing international experiences? Well, the first thing you need to do is have an understanding of your options.
Just as there are a variety of undergraduate international programs, there are a variety of ways to fund such experiences. Depending on the description of the program you are doing including: length and time of stay, location, if you are taking courses, if you are performing research, etc your financial-aid options will change. In order to better help you visualize your options I will use a list to break international programs up into three types: Semester Programs, Summer Programs, and Volunteer Programs.
* Denotes aid that can be used for any program type
Semester programs have the largest amount of funding options. What makes them the most ideal type of program is the fact that you will be taking classes abroad at the same time you would be taking them at your home institution, which allows almost all of the financial aid that you have received from the government and from your school to be transferred over to the school located abroad. If you have been accepted into this type of program, you should contact your school's financial aid office in order to start the process to transfer both your governmental aid and institutional aid, including your Pell Grant and merit- or need-based scholarships and grants. Another fairly simple way to receive funds is to meet with the chair of your major’s department and the director of international affairs to give them a description of the program you have been accepted to and to make your case as to why you should receive funding.
Summer programs have fewer options than semester programs, but they are less expensive. You will not be able to use any governmental or institutional aid that has been designated for the academic year; however, this does not mean you cannot receive funds from your school. Like semester programs, you can schedule meetings with your major’s department chair and director of international affairs in attempts to receive funds. In addition to this, you can utilize the aid listed below in the *Aid that Can be Used for Any Program section.
Volunteer programs have the least amount of options for funding, but fortunately, they are also the cheapest type of international program. Options that can be utilized for these types of programs are listed below in the *Aid that Can be Used for Any Program section.
Most international programs are handled by some type of company that specializes in sending students abroad and providing needed services abroad such as insurance, transportation, housing, etc. These companies almost always have opportunities to apply for scholarships and grants. These opportunities will be very scarce so you must apply for them very early. In addition to these opportunities from the specific study abroad company, you can use outside scholarships you have received to fund your program. For instance, if you have received a scholarship from an organization in your hometown, you can ask the organization to allow you to use your funds for an international experience. Also, there are scholarships and fellowships that are specifically for students who want to study abroad, such as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Lastly, fund-raising can be the difference between having just enough to complete your international program and staying at home. You can raise funds by drafting a letter that describes your program and why it is important for you to go. This letter can be given to family members, professors, churches, businesses, etc., and should illustrate that you are passionate about going abroad. It should move people enough to give you a small or generous donation. Fund-raising can also be done via social networking sites.
Now that you are aware of your options, it's time to get your international experience funded. Even if you will not be going abroad in the near future it is best to plan early so that you will be able to take advantage of all your options. Though there may not be any money on the trees outside your dorm, you can still find money to see the world.