How to Pay for Your Study Abroad Dreams

Written by Sophie December 22, 2016

So you want to go abroad. Yay! But it costs money. Boooo…

You’re not the first student to have this realization or the first to wonder about where that money will come from. Luckily, there are plenty of resources, people, and guides to help you through the process of financing for your international adventures. Just remember to start looking early.

1. Scholarships: We’ll start with the obvious. Scholarships are everyone’s favorite type of spending money because it comes from someone else. There are plenty of scholarships out there, you just have to start early and be willing to sift through a lot of application information and scholarship websites. Here’s where I would start:

  • The study abroad office. Talk to your study abroad advisor. They’ll be able to tell you what scholarships their office offers as well as 3rd party scholarships students at your home institution have had success with in the past.
  • Your college or department. Ask your academic advisor or professors if they know of any scholarship you could apply for. Oftentimes, the college you’re enrolled in (eg. College of Business) or your major department (eg. Department of Management) will have their own scholarships earmarked for international education.
  • Your study abroad program. Believe it or not, study abroad providers want you to go abroad, regardless of cost. Those of us who work in the global education industry do so because we believe in the importance of an international experience. At CIMBA, we’ve offered everything from one-time scholarship giveaways to adversity scholarships. In fact, we currently list 9 scholarships on our website and 3 of those were added in just the past year, so the financial support to send you abroad is  
  • Student Orgs. Are you a member of a Greek or professional organization on campus? There’s a good chance they have a little money to give away.
  • The internet. You wouldn’t believe the number of seemingly random and highly specific scholarships there are in the world. Without some investigating, you would have no idea that a scholarship exists for Iowa residents who want to study abroad in one of Iowa’s 9 Sister States (of which the Veneto region in Italy is one). Believe it or not, many scholarships don’t receive enough applicants, so it’s worth the effort of writing a few extra essays since you’ll almost guaranteed to be accepted for at least 1 or 2 awards.

2. Financial Aid (Grants & Federal Loans): If you’re an American citizen, you may already receive some kind of federal financial aid. In many cases, you can actually use this aid to study abroad as well (dependent on the partnership agreement your university has with the study abroad provider or foreign university). The key to making this work is talking to your financial aid office as soon as feasibly possible – I’m talking freshman year. Soon enough for you?

Since federal aid is typically distributed for 2 semesters only, it’s easiest to use these funds to study abroad during an academic semester or year. If you’d like to go abroad for a summer session, using aid may still be possible, but you’ll need to let the financial aid office know several semesters in advance. Once you notify them, they can redistribute your aid across 3 semesters (fall, spring, and summer). Just remember that you may not get additional funds to go in the summer, so if they need to redistribute your aid, you’re going to have less money to put toward school during the fall and spring of that year.     

3. Loans: Once you’ve covered the options above, you may also consider taking out a small private loan. There are quite a few lenders out there who are willing to work with students, just make sure you’re going with a reputable institution. Some may have specific enrollment requirements, such as the length of the study abroad program. A cosigner may be required in cases of minimal or no credit history.

There are also several new companies now offering students the means to fundraise or find private student loans easily and online. Options such as LendKey, Greennote, or FundMyTravel may be good ones to explore. (Please note: I have not used these websites and cannot vouch for or endorse their services. I just know they exist and have been used successfully by students in the past. Always do your research before accepting a loan or giving out your information to any financial institution.)

4. Other: There are a few other places you might look. If you have the support of family and friends, they may be able to offer a little financial assistance to help offset the costs. I also recommend checking with your state and local governments, as well as any non-profits and organizations in your hometown, such as a rotary club. There is often significantly less competition for academic scholarships outside of the college towns.


So that’s the run-down on financing study abroad. It’s nothing revolutionary or unusual, but hopefully it’s still helpful. The best advice I can give is to start your search for financing early and ask as many questions as possible. You never know where you’ll find hidden funds to help make your study abroad dreams come true.