Everyone likes to make their money go as far as it can, and we in the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC) want to help. Engaging in study away (study abroad or Study USA) is expensive, so understanding the different opportunities making a plan to manage both anticipated and unanticipated expenses is critical to success. We in the GEC are here to support you, and want to do everything we can to make your program a success.
The Global Education Center (GEC) offers several different types of opportunities for study abroad or Study USA programs, each of which have positives and negatives from a financial perspective. The options can be broadly summarized this way:
- Short-term programs
- Terms: winter term, summer
- Ideal for students whose family or work situations preclude being gone for an extended period
- On balance, not always the most cost-effective options and could require more out-of-pocket expense than longer programs
- Additional funding available, but most existing scholarship money cannot be applied (except for travel grants through programs like Fellows or Odyssey)
- Easy to fit into an academic plan
- Semester, year, or longer programs
- Terms: fall or spring semester, academic year, calendar year, two-year dual degree (business students only)
- Most existing scholarship funding can be applied, in addition to travel grants through programs like Fellows or Odyssey
- Additional funding available
- Requires detailed planning to fit into an academic plan
- Duration may be difficult for people with jobs or family responsibilities
Participating in a program during the fall or spring semester is usually the most cost-effective way to participate in a study abroad or Study USA program, because in many cases the expenses of participating in the program are covered by your regular tuition and fees to Elon along with any scholarship funds you may have. Most scholarships, grants, and loans that you receive to attend Elon are applied to semester study abroad and Study USA programs, but you should double-check your package with Financial Planning just to be sure.
All semester-long programs do have out-of-pocket expenses that you can expect to have to account for, but many of our semester-long programs have a total expected additional cost (that is, costs beyond what you pay in any given semester to attend Elon) lower than the costs of a short-term program, and some even cost less than attending Elon for a semester.
On the other hand, there are several reasons why a semester-long program may not be practical for all students. Work, family, academic plans, or simply not wanting to be away from home that long are all reasons why a short-term program might be a better fit. The drawback to short-term programs is that all program fees and living costs are out-of-pocket, instead of being covered by existing financial aid. Additional funding is frequently available for these programs, but usually only covers a portion of the costs. Elon Experience grants can usually be applied to these programs.
Program Budget Sheets
The Global Education Center maintains a program budget sheet for each of our programs. To find the program budget sheet, find the brochure page of the program you’re interested in and then click the “costs” tab.
Budget sheets vary dramatically depending on the program type, but they will all have three main sections:
- Billable costs, which are the costs of the program that will show up on your Elon bill; these costs are inclusive of tuition
- Non-billable costs, which represent the GEC’s best estimates of the costs you’ll pay out-of-pocket
- Notes, in which you will find the term for which the budget sheet is valid as well as a little more information on what’s included in the cost of the program and things that may be specific to that program.
It is critically important that you ensure that you understand the budget sheet in its entirety for the programs you are considering, including what is included and not included in each program. Even programs that appear similar in many ways may vary dramatically in what’s included. If something is unclear, a GEC advisor will be glad to go over the budget sheet with you.
Good questions to ask include:
- Are there different housing options with different costs?
- Are meals included in any of the housing options?
- Is there a kitchen, and if so is it equipped with cookware?
- Is the housing fully furnished or is there an expectation that students purchase some items (such as linens or towels)?
- Is a visa and/or residence permit required for this program, and if so what does that process entail?
- How do students get from place to place while on the program?
- What sorts of activities does the program provide, and do they have an extra cost associated?
- How far does the US Dollar (or your home currency) go in this location? Exchange rates are useful, but can be misleading.
For approved semester, year-long, and two-year dual-degree programs, most scholarships, grants, or loans that students receive on a regular basis at Elon can be applied to the cost of the program. Students should check with Financial Planning for specifics on their package. In addition, Elon Experience Grants offered through programs such as the Oddysey Scholars, Honors Fellows, Leadership Fellows, etc. can be applied to all approved programs regardless of the term, subject to approval by the program coordinator. Students should check with the program coordinator for their scholarship program.
Students with an Elon Engagement Scholarship who wish to have their grant released should complete this form through the Koenigsberger Learning Center.
In addition to any funding already available to you through your existing grants, loans, and scholarships, there are many sources for additional funding.
Global Education Center scholarships
The GEC gives out about $1 million per year in additional funding to Elon students across all application cycles. Any student with a FAFSA on file that indicates need will receive some funding from the GEC, but it is rare that the GEC is able to fully fund a student’s program. To apply for a GEC scholarship, students simply indicate their interest in being considered when they are completing their program application.
Students typically can apply for programs either during an “early action” cycle or during the rolling admission period. When a student chooses to apply does not make a difference in terms of whether a student is awarded funding or how much a student is awarded, but a student who applies to a program during the “early action” cycle is able to find out how much they will receive well in advance of a student who applies during the “rolling” period. For example, a student who applies during the “early action” period to study abroad in the spring semester will learn what their GEC award is three to four months in advance of a student who applies during the rolling period.
Other Elon funding sources
Many academic departments and programs at Elon have their own scholarship funds that may be able to help. It never hurts to ask the departments or programs you’re involved in. A list of opportunities the GEC is aware of can be found here (link).
Students may also wish to inquire with Financial Planning if any other funding is available through them.
External funding sources
In addition to funding available through Elon, there are many external scholarship programs for students.
Gilman Scholarship for Pell Grant recipients
US citizens receiving Pell Grants are eligible to apply for the Gilman Scholarship. The Gilman scholarship is a competitive national scholarship program to help Pell Grant recipients fund study abroad opportunities. Though the application is competitive, generally about 1/3rd of applicants receive funding of up to $5,000.
Gilman applications are typically accepted twice a year, in the fall and the spring. There is overlap between the two application cycles (for instance, a student who wished to spend a fall semester abroad could apply either the fall prior or the spring prior). However, putting together a compelling Gilman application takes time, so plan ahead!
Other funding opportunities are available from a wide range of organizations, including some of Elon’s study abroad partners. See more here.
- 17 Smart and Realistic Tips for Your Study Abroad Budget
- How I Spent Less Money Abroad Than at My Home Institution
- How to Budget for Expenses Studying Abroad
When trying to study abroad on a budget, knowledge is your friend. As you prepare for departure, here are some things to think about:
- Get as much information as soon as you can about the process to get a visa and buy a flight, and check when your passport expires. All of those things are expensive, but they’re much more expensive if you have to do them in a rush at the last minute!
- Know if your credit/debit cards charge international transaction fees. If so, try to get an account that doesn’t. A few percentage points over the course of a semester add up.
- Note: in any case, it’s wise to have a backup credit or debit card in case there is a problem with the first one
- Learn as much as you can about the day-to-day living costs in your host city, such as the price of groceries and the cost of a restaurant meal. Set a weekly food budget, and leave something aside for basics like toothpaste.
- Research the availability and cost of any specific products (food items, hair care products, feminine hygiene products, etc.) you anticipate needing over the course of your time abroad; decide whether it’s more reasonable to buy on-site, bring it from home, or do without.
- Note: also check to see what kind of food items can be brought into your host country! Most countries have customs rules about what kind of food items can be brought in.
- Learn about and prioritize the big-ticket things you want to do while abroad so you can budget for those.
- Make sure you understand the baggage allowance on your flights, as excess baggage is expensive!
- Pro tip: invest in a small luggage scale (available at Target, Amazon, etc.) to make sure your bag is under the weight limit!
Buying a plane ticket
One of the most significant out-of-pocket costs for many programs, especially semester and summer programs, will be airfare. Generally, the earlier you buy a plane ticket, the better price you’ll get. Shopping around is a good idea, but be sure you know what you’re getting. A great deal on a flight that doesn’t include a checked bag allowance can end up costing more than you expect.
It is also wise to try to minimize the number of stops and changing airlines. The more frequently you have to connect to a different flight, the higher the probability that something will go wrong. If something does go wrong, it is more likely to be resolved at no cost to you if your whole journey is booked on one ticket with one airline. You may be able to save money upfront with a complicated itinerary, but if something goes wrong it can end up being really expensive.
For example, let’s say you are flying from your hometown to New York to catch your international flight to France, but your flight to New York is delayed, causing you to miss your flight to Paris. If you booked the whole journey on one airline, the airline is likely to re-book you automatically on the next available flight. If you however decided to fly to New York on one airline and then to France on another, the airline operating the international flight may charge you a large fee to change to a later flight or simply make you buy a whole new ticket. Delays like this can be very costly.
Carrying cash abroad
Generally, US credit and debit cards are widely accepted abroad. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted. It is not necessary or advisable to bring large amounts of cash with you as you travel to your program, as in the vast majority of cases cash is readily available through local banks with a US debit card. If you do choose to carry cash abroad, we recommend not more than $100 or equivalent in local currency. Buying local currency from a US bank or exchanging cash for local currency on site is one of the more expensive ways to access money (see ‘Spend Smart’, below).
Understand your cards
Be sure you understand whether the payment cards you have are credit or debit cards, and that you understand the difference. When using a credit card, do not use it to withdraw money from an ATM. This is called a ‘cash advance’ and typically incurs a much higher interest rate than other credit card purchases.
Not necessarily in terms of what you buy, but how you get the money to buy it. In almost all cases the cheapest way to get local cash is to withdraw from a local bank. Buying foreign currency from a US bank prior to departure or using a currency exchange on-site are likely to be very expensive. Be wary also of ATM’s that are not affiliated with a bank, as these exchange rates are often significantly worse than what you will get from a bank. Finally, with some debit/credit card purchases you may be asked if you want to buy in local currency or your home currency. In this case it’s cheaper to use the local currency option, as they add conversion fees to the charge if you choose home currency.
Monitor your spending
Keep an eye on your spending and try to categorize it, to make sure it matches your expectations and the budget you set for yourself. Adjust if necessary.
If you have more than one credit or debit card, only carry your primary card with you when you go out. Leave your secondary card in a safe location in your residence as a backup in case you lose your primary card. Likewise, only carry as much cash as you need for the immediate future with you. Stolen cash can’t be replaced.
During your time abroad you may encounter people trying to sell you goods, trips, outings, etc. Use good judgment. If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.
Find the free stuff
Most places have some kind of information source (newspaper, website, Facebook group) advertising cheap or free things happening in the area. Figure out what that is in your host city and take advantage of it!
Many study abroad programs will also offer cheap or free outings. Take advantage of those too!
Mind the baggage allowance on the return flight! You probably picked up a few things while abroad, so you probably have more stuff to fit in on the way home.
When you get back, get in touch with your GEC advisor and let them know how the budget sheet can be made more accurate. The out-of-pocket expenses listed on the budget sheets are estimates based on the information we have available. Your experience will really help us improve the information we offer.