The cost factor of studying abroad
That nasty little drawback to study abroad -- the cost. While I would steadfastly argue that the the benefits of studying abroad not only justify but outweigh the impending costs, the financial commitment still remains an important factor when students are considering studying abroad. For some students, the cost influences their choice between programs or destinations, and for others, its a deciding factor before even committing to studying abroad in the first place!
However, I'm going to go out on a limb here and challenge you to realistically consider the amount of money you spend on education in the United States. Right now the average cost of public in-state tuition is $7,600 annually. Private schools are significantly more expensive: $27,000 annually. Tack on living expenses (too varied to get too into here) and a college education is a significant investment. Studying and living abroad, however, does not always have to be more money and in fact in some places can actually save you money.
Varying Approaches to Tuition Costs
Your home university's tuition policy is perhaps the single most influential factor as far as costs go. It could also very well influence your ability to transfer financial aid. Some organizations will charge you regular on-campus tuition for their study abroad programs, while there is also the option to pay the foreign university directly. Take these numbers for example:
The spring 2012 CIEE program fee for a semester in Shanghai, China is $13,250, which also includes housing and other support. The program is hosted by the East China Normal University who also accept direct enrollment of international students. Tuition for a semester is roughly $3,900, which does not include housing and only limited support. However, even when you add in additional living expenses it is still very possible to come out on top. Key point to take away: If you're willing to go alone and forgo a program coordinator holding your hand the entire time, you can study abroad without breaking the bank.
Understandably, the above option might not appeal to everyone. Students who have limited travel experience might really appreciate that extra level of support and social activities, and I'm sure a few parents out there would sleep better knowing that if something goes wrong there's someone there to help. Which leads us to a growing number of U.S universities who are ignoring the relative costs of foreign institutions and charging equivalent tuition fees. In favor of protecting the institution, students' bills are the same whether they are studying on US soil or not. The only difference is living costs, which may or may not be more expensive. Hint: South America is a great place to save on living costs!.
A semester in foggy London-town? Sign me up!
Naturally, most U.S. universities would also prefer students to support their own study abroad programs. This means it's likely that you can earn more scholarship money by studying abroad through your own university. According to the New York Times:
...in an October study of about 100 institutions and study-abroad organizations by the Forum on Education Abroad... 74 percent of colleges let students apply need-based institutional aid to programs they run themselves; 61 percent to approved programs operated by others.
There is also a final option of applying through a 3rd party provider to study abroad. Organizations such as CIEE, API, and AustraLearn will organize programs and generally have their own staff on site, but students will usually attend a local university with local students. The key advantage of this option is the availability of programs that may not be offered by your home university, plus receiving a high level of support before, during, and after you study abroad. The disadvantage is cost--similar to what you would pay enrolling through your home university, but still typically higher than enrolling directly into a foreign university.
Let's take a closer look:
Let's pretend you are a University of California student hoping to study abroad in England.
While it is true there is an increasing trend in students selecting more diverse locations for their study abroad programs, the United Kingdom is time and again the reigning study abroad destination champion. Lacking the foreign-language buffer and being relatively familiar in the exotic spectrum, students still receive an authentic overseas experience, without getting lost in translation (save for the occasional "flat," "lift," or "bollocks" thrown in the conversation). The U.K. is also home to a wealth of excellent universities--8 of the top 50 universities worldwide are in the U.K. It's no wonder many students opt to hop the big pond and study here for a semester.
Option 1 - Direct enrollment:
- Average UK tuition costs and fees: $8,000 per semester
- On campus living costs (including accommodation, meals): $5,792 per semester
- Off campus living costs (accommodation): from $800/semester to $2400/semester
Consider these factors:
- There will be no individual guidance; must be self-sufficient
- You can choose your courses from a diverse selection offered at your local university
- Any credit to your home university is not guaranteed to transfer
- Note the differences in your host country's academic calendar
- You will not pay UC tuition. Room and board are paid directly to host institution
- Financial aid (loans, grants, scholarships) applicability varies
Option 2 - Through your home university:
- Tuition costs AND room and board for a UC Berkeley student in London: $20,500 per semester
Consider these factors:
- Program often led by your home university's faculty
- Programs are often designed to cater to American style learning environment
- Credit for coursework is guaranteed
- Home institution financial aid (loans, grants, scholarships) applicable
- It may be more difficult to integrate with locals and local culture
Option 3 - Through a third party institution or school:
- Ex. API in London tuition costs AND housing (not food): $18,800 per semester
Consider these factors:
- Generally, third party programs will provide assistance for logistical arrangements, such as travel, visas, housing, etc, as well as academic and social guidance
- You will befriend Americans from all across the country, not just your home institution
- Many travel excursions are built-in to the program costs
- This program option is worth considering if your home institution does not offer a program in the destination of your choice
- Credit is not guaranteed to transfer to your home university
- Financial aid (loans, grants, scholarships) varies in applicability
- Out-of-state students may find that programs offered through their home state universities are more economical
The numbers don't lie. While you may be willing to pay the extra thousands of dollars for the convenience of everything being organized, others will find the challenge and adventure for attending all their needs in a foreign country to be the exciting and life-changing trials that a study abroad experience should be about.
The Choice is Yours.. Make it a Good One!
Students should aim to select a program that fits their budget as well as meets their academic and personal goals. Make the most of this opportunity to study abroad: research, plan, and collect as much background information as possible to ensure your experience is exactly how you want it to be.
Most importantly, cost is not the only factor to consider when choosing where to study abroad. Keep in mind that while some programs may be cheaper (such as those in Nepal or Indonesia), if you are a hardcore Spanish major, it may not make the most sense to study in Asia (though I say follow your heart).