I recently graduated from Bentley University this past May. While completing my undergrad, I had the opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. My time in Spain exposed me to major courses in a different environment (International Finance for me), while also creating lifetime memories and lasting relationships along the way. For many parents of high school and college age students, this type of study abroad experience is exactly what they want for their children, yet they wonder, “Are there ways to study abroad without breaking the bank?” The answer is−Yes!
There are a number of strategies to utilize when cutting the cost of study abroad, but one of the most overlooked ideas for students is to choose a less expensive country. As study abroad is meant for cultural immersion, the idea of your child going to the most popular choice with their ten best friends may not produce the best opportunities. And for the students that do their research, some countries such as Norway, Germany and Argentina offer discounted tuition rates for study abroad students. These can be a huge money saver, potentially making study abroad cheaper than a semester at their home institution.
Even if your child has a desired country in mind, there are always other ways to save money. To start, many study abroad programs feature the option of a homestay with a family in the host country. Instead of students renting overpriced apartments, they opt to live with a host family in their new country. These families will offer cheaper housing, cook multiple meals a day for the student, and best of all sometimes even do their laundry−Always a major draw for college students!
Another option is the numerous educational scholarships offered to study abroad students either in the form of a grant or through a research project to be completed by the student while enjoying their abroad experience. For obtaining these opportunities, the most important thing that your student can do is to start their research early. Applying in advance, you would be surprised to the large number of scholarships available both locally and nationally to fund student study abroad experiences.
For those families that have saved for their children’s college through a 529 college savings plan, a common question that we receive is “Can you use a 529 plan to fund study abroad?” And as long as the classes in the study abroad program are accepted for credit by the accredited US college or university, the answer is yes! For many of these institutions, they will accept tuition and fees, books and supplies and room and board as qualified educational expenses up to the cost of the home college or university. Expenses that are not considered covered as qualified expenses include the cost of travel and international health insurance costs.
It should be noted when using money from a 529 plan to fund study abroad, your child must be at least a half time student. e.g. taking 2-3 courses. This means that while these funds can be used for your child’s abroad semester with a full course load in Barcelona, the 529 funds will likely not be available for a month long individual summer course in Milan.
As with any of these things, a student’s number one resource is to contact the home university’s study abroad counselor with these questions. They are there to help, and will provide clarity as to which study abroad options make the most sense for each student’s individual financial situation. By doing the proper planning now, your family can rest assured that your student is studying abroad in the most economical way. As a study abroad student during my time in college, I can attest to the lifetime memories that make it an experience to never forget, and a worthwhile investment when planned properly.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
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All the best,
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