As a low-income student, I didn’t think study abroad would be an option for me. In high school, I simply wanted to be able to afford a college education – anything else beyond this goal was not on my mind. After my first few years in college, I realized how important it is to explore and study in a different culture and country. With the encouragement of my study abroad advisor, I applied to a few programs in Europe and South Asia.
When I was accepted to the IFSA London Program at King’s College London, I was hesitant about the offer. Through my study abroad advisor, friends who visited London before, and Google, I realized the costs I would bear while living in London, (a $5 coffee in the U.S. is almost nine pounds in the U.K). I knew I couldn’t afford five months living there.
However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of excitement and the prospect of exploring London and studying at KCL. I knew this would be one be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Thankfully, with the help of scholarships and smart money-saving techniques, I was able to enjoy London to the fullest without going broke! If you’re a low-income student, do not let the fear of finances stop you from studying abroad. Many resources exist to help finance your time abroad! Here are some tips and resources I used abroad. I hope they will also work for you!
Talk to your College/University’s Financial Aid Office
This is one of the most important steps to financing your time abroad! Once you have applied to your specific study abroad destinations, meet with your college or university’s financial aid office to understand if your financial aid/in-school scholarships transfer to your study abroad location. Some schools specifically in countries like England where the cost of living is much higher have much more expensive study abroad programs (although this is not always the case).
Have an honest discussion about your financial aid office and ask them questions about studying abroad. Does your aid transfer? Will your financial aid be sent directly to your study abroad office or will you have to send it yourself? Can your aid assist you in paying for flights or other expenses? These are important questions to ask and will provide a foundational understanding of how to finance your time abroad!
Apply to International/National Study Abroad Scholarships
Not to sound like a parent, but apply, apply, apply to everything! There are countless scholarship opportunities available for study abroad students. For example, I applied and received the Gilman Scholarship–a national scholarship program for undergraduate students with limited funding to study abroad. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I also applied to the Fund for Education Abroad, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide scholarships and support for students who are underrepresented in the U.S. study abroad population. Similarly, I also received a scholarship from my study abroad office. Lastly, IFSA has various scholarship options including scholarships for first-generation students, diversity scholarships, IFSA general scholarships, and country-specific scholarships. They can all be found on IFSA’s website. These scholarship programs give out thousands of dollars to students from all over the nation and can be very helpful to finance your time abroad. For many of these programs, you only need to submit a few items including a personal statement and transcript.
Once you’ve applied for (and received) those scholarships, talked to your financial aid office, and have made it safe in your study abroad country, make the effort to budget your money. This is critical in financing your time abroad. In London, I made sure to budget every month’s spending. For example, you can make a Microsoft Excel or Google Sheet and allocate a certain amount for each kind of expense. Some things you might consider allocating some money for are books, restaurants and eating out, groceries (if you have to cook on your own) rent, travel, transportation, and miscellaneous costs. Your monthly expenses might differ for each month, but this is a great way to keep yourself accountable! If Excel and Google sheets are not your things, there are quite a few personal expense apps that can be helpful with your finances such as Mint and PocketGuard. However, if you really like your handwriting, IFSA provides a planner where you can jot down your budget goals! This was really important for my time abroad; I was able to visualize how much I was spending each month and it kept me in check with my goals.
You can Have Fun and Food for Free
One of the largest expenses in London, and by extension Europe, is the food! Of course, when you’re abroad you want to try the local cuisine, but this can definitely hurt your finances. I tried as much as I could to go grocery shopping and cook at home. But I definitely treated myself to exploring new cuisine and different restaurants abroad. Something I found very helpful was the app Too Good To Go, a free app that allows you to purchase unsold food from a variety of restaurants in London for half (sometimes even more) of the original price! You can get really delicious meals at a super inexpensive price. Another usual pricey cost for me was traveling or in general exploring. You can have fun for free – it’s possible. Besides sightseeing (which you’ll never get tired of because there is always something new to see in London), check out Time Out London. The online magazine offers daily events and attractions in London and you can attend free of costs!! I used Time Out London a lot to stay on top of new events occurring in the city AND it helped me stay on budget.
These are just a couple of practices I employed during my time abroad. I want to emphasize that it is possible to study abroad even in expensive cities like London if you’re a low-income student. Don’t let this prevent you from exploring a culture you’re interested in. I had the best time in London, and I got to experience everything I wanted to – despite the financial restrictions!
Ramisa Tasnim is a government major at Hamilton College and studied abroad with IFSA at King’s College London in Spring 2019.