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Study Abroad in High School for Free (Or Very Cheap!)

cheap teen study abroad programs

So you’ve convinced your parents to let you study abroad – congratulations! The hardest part is over! But how are you going to make it happen without breaking the bank? Sure, you can save from your summer job, but even the most generous tipper can’t sponsor a whole semester in Europe. Going abroad can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be, if you know how to watch where your money goes.

Here are some ideas to prevent your study abroad program from devouring your entire college fund before you even finish studying for the SATs.

Money Saving Tips Before You Go

Taking your study abroad hopes from simply an "idea" to a "reality" is going to take some careful planning. We recommend to begin financially planning for your trip as well in advance as possible - at least a year is ideal. This will give you enough time to save steadily without missing out on your regular social activities, like football games or catching new releases.

Apply for Study Abroad Scholarships

Scholarships aren’t just for athletes – they can also be a great way to finance your overseas adventures. As with all other types of funding opportunities, the money is out there – you just have to do the homework of looking for it. Start by asking your school’s guidance office if they know of any potential scholarships that you might be qualified for, either through the school or external funders. If you’re involved with any organizations like the Rotary Club or Boy Scouts, ask the folks in charge if they know of any scholarship or funding opportunities available to members like you.After that, it’s time to take to the internet and put those Googling skills of yours to good use.

first day in london

AFS has a good list of scholarships available for students headed to particular regions, and other organizations like SYA and CIEE offer scholarships to participants. If you’re going with a program, get in touch with them and ask about funding opportunities – they may be available, even if they aren’t listed on the program’s site.

Don't forget to check out our list of 65 study abroad grants and scholarships. Go Overseas also offers two $500 scholarships each year - be sure to apply!

Start Fundraising

Though you might think that fundraising is only for nonprofits or organizations to help starving children in distant countries, there’s no reason you can’t take this approach to your study abroad program, too. Your study abroad experience is an investment, after all, and people like to get involved in solid investments. It’s probably not advisable to go around just asking people to give you money to sponsor your fun semester in Norway, but you’re a smart person, so figure out some ideas, projects or events you can take on to raise money.

You could do a Kickstarter-type campaign, where donors will receive something in return, or stick to the classic methods like hosting an event or even the world’s best bake sale. If you can create something that people will pay money for, there’s no reason you can’t use that money for that fun semester. Here are 40 whole ideas for fundraising, so you have no excuse for lacking ideas.

Find a family or friend living abroad.

This is probably the most luck-dependent option, but if you can make it work, it’s a winner. At this point, most of us know people who live in other countries – if you don’t, someone in your family almost certainly does. Of course, this will only work if they know you well, but it’s worth it to find out if they’d be willing to host you as an exchange student at a school where they live. While staying with a family you know won’t save you entirely from some of the big expenses (airfare, visas, health insurance), it can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on housing, transportation and maybe even food, if they’re particularly generous friends.

Score a Cheap Flight

The biggest impediment to free trips is almost always airfare, but we’re here to help! Take a look at our tips for finding cheap flights so you can stay on budget. If you anticipate booking your flight online, stick with student-oriented websites such as StudentUniverse. You might even opt to ask your parents for a unique gift - some of their leftover frequent flyer miles!

Money Saving Tips Once You're There

Wahoo, you did it! You made it all the way across the world and lived to tell the tale. Now that you've arrived, the fun can really begin. Time to spend those hard earned dollars on delicious food, weekend excursions, and as many souvenirs as you can. However, be warned! You still have many days ahead of you, so no need to go on a shopping spree this instant. Here are ways to make your bucks go further, even after they've been exchanged for more colorful monies in your study abroad destination.

Go to a local, public school.

Programs will be happy to charge you thousands of dollars to set you up at a special school that can cater to your every whim and provide you with the best possible education your program fees can buy – but is that what you want? You’re not looking to get your degree from this school – the point is to have a cultural and language immersion experience, and the best way to do that is to actually spend time with real people, in a real school.

Teens in England having tea time

Of course, you don’t want to go to school somewhere dangerous, or where class gets canceled every other day because of monsoons, but if there’s no compelling reason why you can’t survive in the local public school, why wouldn’t you give it a try? You’ll certainly pick up the language faster if you’re taking all (or most) of your classes in that language – and the best part is, public schools never charge!

Focus on free events.

Living abroad is an easy way to empty your piggy bank, but doing so right before you head off to college may not be the wisest idea. You should certainly take advantage of the culture and unique opportunities your new home has to offer, but try to do it in a budget-conscious way.

Most other countries are more generous with free cultural events like concerts and museums, and the locals are almost guaranteed to know the spots that will give you the most bang for your buck (or even for no bucks). Ask your friends, look through local blogs and try to keep your wallet from flying open every few hours.

Other ways to enjoy a new place for free is to tie up those shoelaces (or slip on your flats) and get walking. Taking in the sights and exploring your new surroundings doesn't have to cost you nothing but time.

Eat at Home

Why not get to know the culture of your new homestead by perusing the aisles of the supermarket and stocking up on ingredients you can't find elsewhere? Try your luck at creating local dishes (start simple, unless you already feel adequately prepared to attack difficult dishes like a buche du noel). You'll spend a bit more money up front but you will definitely spend less overall, and have some pretty funny culinary adventures to share with your new friends.

Sign up for a homestay.

Disregarding the fact that it will be almost impossible for you to find housing on your own in a foreign country, a homestay is the best way for you to get immersed in the culture and save some bucks. Many organizations offer a homestay as part of their program, and these homestays often include all (or almost all) meals. With a homestay, you’ll have someone to help you practice your language, a roof over your head and food on your plate – you won’t even have to learn to cook for yourself if you don’t want to! Just make sure you know how to make the best of your homestay for everyone.

Though you might think that fundraising is only for nonprofits or organizations to help starving children in distant countries, there’s no reason you can’t take this approach to your study abroad program, too.

If all else fails, there’s always the tried and true method of begging your parents to pay for it and seeing if they say yes. Good luck with that one – it hasn’t worked for anyone I know yet, but there’s a first time for everything!

No matter what strategies you choose to manage/save/hide your money under your mattress, it’s important to keep in mind why you’re doing it -- to have a great experience studying abroad. Of course, it’s always easier to embark on a new adventure with extra funds in your pocket, but there’s something especially satisfying about successfully managing your own finances and making one of your goals a reality -- plus, it never hurts to start learning how to handle your own money. At the time, it might seem frustrating if everyone except you has money to go out or spend on fancy Italian shoes, but the ultimate point is to have the best experience possible, and as we all know, despite what travel companies want you to think, memories aren’t something money can buy.

Photo Credits: API Study Abroad.
Photo of Natalie Southwick

Natalie has made appearances in 16 different countries to date. Her favorite is definitely Colombia, where she spent 3.5 years ogling mountains on a daily basis, eating an overwhelming amount of arepas and working with human rights organizations. She's currently finishing up a master's degree in Denver, where her main activities are trying not to get in fights about Boston sports teams and attempting to convince herself that the Rocky Mountains are just as good as the Andes, even though we all know that's not true.