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Four Ways to Make Study Abroad Happen on a Budget

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As a low-income student, I didn’t think study abroad would be an option for me, but with encouragement from my study abroad advisor, I applied to a few programs. When I was accepted to the IFSA London program at King’s College, I was hesitant, knowing I couldn’t afford London prices for five months.  

Thankfully, with the help of scholarships and saving techniques, I was able to enjoy London to the fullest without going broke. You can too! Here are some tips and resources to help finance your study abroad experience.  

1. Talk to your college or university financial aid people. This is one of the most important steps. Once you have applied to study abroad, meet with someone at your financial aid office. Have an honest discussion and ask: Does your aid transfer? Will your financial aid be sent directly to your study abroad office or will you need to send it? Can you use it to help pay for flights or other expenses?  

2. Apply for study abroad scholarships. Not to sound like a parent, but apply, apply, apply to everything! There are countless programs that give thousands of dollars to U.S. students to help finance study abroad. Many require only a few items, including a personal statement and transcript. 

I received a Gilman Scholarship, part of a national scholarship program for undergrad students with limited funding to study abroad, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. I also applied to the Fund for Education Abroad, a nonprofit organization that provide scholarships for students who are underrepresented in the U.S. study abroad population. I also received a similar scholarship from my college study abroad office. Lastly, IFSA has a wide variety of scholarships.  

3. Budget spending for each month. This was critical. Using Microsoft Excel (or Google Sheets) allocate a certain amount for each kind of expense: books, eating out, groceries, rent, travel, transportation, and miscellaneous costs. Your expenses might differ each month, but this will help you stay accountable. You could also use a personal expense app like Mint or PocketGuard. However you do it, budgeting and tracking expenses helps you visualize how much you’re spending and reminds you to review your goals. 

4. Take advantage of free fun and food. Food is one of the largest expenses in London. Of course, when you’re abroad you want to try local cuisine. I tried to cook at home whenever possible, but I also treated myself to new cuisine and different restaurants. The free app Too Good To Go helped me find amazing unsold food from a variety of restaurants in London for at least half the original price!  

Traveling and exploring locally are also expensive. But you can have fun for free! In London, you’ll never get tired of sightseeing—there is always more to see. Also, check out Time Out London, an online magazine with free daily events and attractions. I relied on this to stay on top of new events and stay on budget. 

If you’re a low-income student, study abroad really is possible, even in expensive cities like London. I had the best time in London, and I got to experience everything I wanted to—despite financial restrictions. 

—Ramisa T., (Hamilton College), King’s College London