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Financing Study Abroad: Financial Aid & Scholarships

Financial Aid Give It A Shot

Financial aid - don't be afraid! (photo from Alicante, Spain)

Financing Study Abroad: Financial Aid & Scholarships

Study Abroad Financial Aid Overview

This article is an overview of ways that students can make study abroad more affordable. It is geared to university students in the United States.

If you think that a study abroad program is beyond your means, then these tips may be useful. Make a plan and work toward your dream of overseas study during your degree program.

According to many experts, the number one reason students don’t study abroad is cost. Many students do not know that “financial aid for study abroad” is available, and it can apply at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Your undergraduate or graduate status will also affect aid eligibility for funds available at your campus and national awards.

The process changes depending on the type of program you’re taking, be it a study abroad semester or a full degree overseas. This article focuses on credit-bearing programs that are not for full degrees.

What requirements are there to access study abroad financial aid?

Requirements depend on what you’re applying for and whether you are currently receiving financial aid from your state or the federal government.

Many state and federal grants automatically apply to a semester abroad, so little extra paperwork is needed. You must check that your college or university sanctions the use of specific grants, however.

Scholarships at campuses designated for study abroad generally have their own application requirements, although most follow a similar, straightforward process. One important key is to think at least a year in advance since all schools have different deadlines. Most schools will consider either financial need, academic excellence, or both.

In many cases, you will need to complete your “FAFSA” application (see below) to determine eligibility. If you have applied for study abroad, you already have familiarity with this form.

Study Abroad Financial Aid 2

Overlooking Salta, Argentina - by Kayla Cooley.

What types of study abroad financial aid are available?

1.Federal Student Loans & Grants for studying abroad

The process of applying for aid for study abroad is usually very similar to applying for financial aid for on-campus studies. Below are some key links and tips to get started.

Federal grants using FAFSA for study abroad

FAFSA is the standard form for all post-secondary financial aid. The federal government offers various forms of student loans and grants to students across the U.S. You can learn about all types here.

Can I get a student loan for international study?

The answer is yes! U.S. students can use their federal student loans to pay for their international programs. Every participating American school has a financial aid office. Work with your local office to find out everything you can about applying financial aid to study abroad and using your current financial aid for a study abroad semester. Put this meeting at the top of your action plan.

Can I get a student loan for a foreign university?

Federal financial aid (FAFSA) is applicable to study at international schools abroad.

If you’re planning on doing your full degree abroad, check out this directory of schools – including international schools – that accept FAFSA. To find out more, complete your FAFSA application.

(you will need your log-in information for your FAFSA forms)

How much can I apply for in federal grants and loans?

What you can borrow at the time of writing varies from $5,500 to $20,500, depending on your year of study, your ‘financial need’, and whether you are a dependent or independent student (this means if you are dependent upon your parents’ financial support or not). See the latest figures here.

Your FAFSA application is by far the most important thing you need. It will tell you if you are eligible for any federal grants and loans. It is also a prerequisite for these further financial applications.

How does the government define financial need?

 ‘Financial need’ is the difference between the cost of attendance (COA) at a school and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). While COA varies significantly from school to school, your EFC does not change because it is based on an assessment of your family’s resources.

Interest rates at the time of writing are between 5-7%, although you should check directly here. The great thing is that these interest rates are fixed-rate for the life of the loan.

Study Abroad Financial Aid 4

Duke University students in Alicante, Spain

Federal Pell Grant

The Pell grant is usually awarded to undergraduates who can show exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.

The amount granted changes with each recipient, but the maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $6,345 for the 2020–21 award year (July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021)

You apply for the Federal Pell Grant by completing the FAFSA application here. It is all part of the same process.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

These grants are awarded to students with very limited resources based on your FAFSA. 

Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans

Also known as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans, these are low-interest loans provided by the U.S. Department of Education to help low-income families pay for university.

The difference between subsidized and unsubsidized is whether the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on your loan. 

Here is an official explanation of the Direct Stafford Loan process and how to apply.

William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program

In this type of loan, eligible students borrow directly from the U.S. Department of Education instead of a commercial lending institution.

Direct PLUS loans

The student or the parent can additionally apply for a Direct PLUS loan. This loan will cover the COA (Cost of Attendance) at a school, minus any other financial aid you receive.

2.State Aid

Study Abroad Financial Aid 3

Photo by: Felix Salamin

Each state has different policies and can allocate very different amounts of resources.

This aid can be need-based or merit-based, in the form of a grant or loan. Speak to an advisor at your university’s financial aid office.

3.Institutional Aid

Once you decide what program you wish to take, look into financial aid options for that specific institution and program.

You can use your state and federal grants at many campuses to study abroad but not your “institutional aid”. 

Institutional aid is essentially discounting provided by your college to make it more affordable to you. 

Schools that include institutional aid in sanctioned study abroad programs often have high participation rates in international education.

Speak to the educational establishment that offers your program to find information on any grants or scholarships available.

For example, Spanish Studies Abroad offers both a merit-based and diversity-based scholarship.

4.Scholarships to study abroad

This is not an exhaustive list of all of the scholarship options available to you. Our intention is to provide you with a wide variety of ideas which help you understand the many channels you have at your disposition. 

Explore them all! Speak to your university about all available scholarship options. Plan early visits with your campus’ education abroad office and financial aid office.

Online Scholarship Databases!

We encourage you to visit each of these databases to find scholarships that may be applicable to your profile:

Government-funded scholarships

Gilman Scholarships

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program

Who is it for?: Undergraduate Students
Award: Up to $5,000
Requirements: Must be receiving a Federal Pell Grant
Deadline: Year-Round
Application: Click here

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Boren Awards for International Study

Who is it for?: Undergrad & Grad Students
Award: $2,500-$20,000
Requirements: Must be enrolled in an institute of higher education
Deadline: Feb (scholarships)/Jan (fellowships)
Application: Click here

Critical Language Scholarships

Critical Language Scholarships for Intensive Summer Institutes

Who is it for?: All students
Award: Varies
Requirements: Must be a U.S. citizen enrolled at a higher institution
Deadline: November 17, 2020
Application: Click here

Funding from private organizations

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Rotary Foundation Scholarships

Who is it for?: All Students (including High School!)
Award: Varies
Requirements: Varies
Deadline: Varies
Application: Click here

Marshall Logo

Marshall Scholarships

Who is it for?: U.S. Graduate students studying in UK
Award: Full fees and other costs (1-2 years)
Requirements: High academic achievement (3.7 GPA or higher) or leadership potential
Deadline: Mid-September
Application: Click here

Tortuga Backpacks

Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship

Who is it for?: Undergraduate Students
Award: $1,000
Requirements: Must be enrolled at a U.S. Institution
Deadline: Mid-April/Mid-November
Application: Click here

Centre For International Mobility Cimo Fellowships

Centre for International Mobility - CIMO Fellowships

Who is it for?: PhD students in Finland’s higher education sector
Award: Tuition and 1200€/month (max. 1 year)
Requirements: Specific areas of research
Deadline: Rolling applications
Application: Click here

Spanish Studies Aborad Logo

Spanish Studies Abroad

Who is it for?: Undergraduate students
Award: $500-$1500
Requirements: Must be an SSA program participant
Deadline: Rolling applications
Application: Click here


British Chevening Scholarships

Who is it for?: Graduate students
Award: Most of the cost of study
Requirements: Must have two years of work experience after undergrad studies
Deadline: Mid-July
Application: Click here


Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grants

Who is it for?: Undergraduate Students
Award: $1,000
Requirements: Must have an active Phi Kappa Phi chapter on your campus
Deadline: March 15, 2020
Application: Click here

Mitchell Logo

George Mitchell Scholarship

Who is it for?: 12 U.S. grad students to study in Ireland or N.I.
Award: Tuition fees, study & living costs
Requirements: Application demonstrating academic excellence and leadership
Deadline: Mid-September
Application: Click here

International Student Loan

International Student Loan Center

Who is it for?: Any Student
Award: Varies
Requirements: Varies
Deadline: Ongoing
Application: Click here

access scholarships logo

Access Scholarships - Too Cool to Pay for School

Who is it for?: Any student
Award: $1000
Requirements: Must be currently enrolled full time or enrolling within 24 months
Deadline: Quarterly
Application: Click here

Scholarships from foreign governments

Look into scholarship funds granted by the government of the country you plan to study in. Some examples include:

5.Private loans

Bank loans

If you finance your studies at least partially through loans, it is best first to maximize your federal loans. After that, most banks and other private lenders offer student loans for American students studying abroad, which can be applied to study abroad programs. This guide is a starting point for considering what lender to use. Also, speak to your family’s bank.

Loans from family & friends

Sometimes, family members can be a better option than working with a financial institution. Consider who in your family may be enthusiastic about helping you and discuss it openly. Be prepared to break down the timing and amount of payments to reimburse your family member.

Study Abroad Financial Aid 5

Students checking out historic sites with their professor.

6.Donations from local organizations

Most students have ties to many people in their hometowns through their time in school, sports, and community organizations. Small contributions for people who are “pulling for you” can add up to ease your financial burden for studying abroad. Think of who is in your network and where you might be known.

Religious groups

You should tread lightly in this area, but if you have been active in your church, they may let you announce in their bulletin or set up a table to meet with people after service or mass.

Charities and civic organizations

Your town may have many civic groups such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, etc. Research what other charitable organizations are in your area.

Getting started!

Getting Financial Aid An Uphill Battle?

"Hiking in the North of Argentina" photo credit: Kayla Cooley

Start with a plan of where you want to go, the approximate cost and goal for scholarships, grants, and fundraising. Our advice:


Speak to your home institution’s financial aid office to find out the specific process in your case, as it may vary from program to program.

In short, it is possible but is not usually the case. You may have to prove you are still ‘progressing’’ towards your degree. Ask your FA Advisor how the process works at your school and get confirmation of the amount of aid provided, before going abroad!

Only full-time credits will suffice for full aid. Other funding like subsidized and unsubsidized loans will require a minimum half-time enrollment. Check with your home institution for details. Keep in mind that full-time status for short programs may only be 3 credits. For semesters, you will likely need to take at least 12 credits.

For scholarships and grants, each funding source will have its own rules to follow.

Possibly! It would allow that person to sign in your name, or deposit checks for student aid, etc. Much of this can be done electronically from your place of study, but some students may wish to allow their parents to carry out essential administrative tasks while they’re away.


Your current financial aid can probably be applied to most for-credit study abroad programs. Make the most of all the additionally mentioned resources to check about funding and student loans for study abroad. You can make your study abroad dream come true, even if this means a shorter program than you envisioned.

Start with a plan and visits to your campus’ education abroad and financial aid offices. Leave yourself more than a year to execute your plan and apply for various grants. Being organized and thorough and beginning a year in advance can all lead to discovering more financial resources available to you than just your personal savings.

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Beth Tyler


Beth is your go-to contact for navigating the complex process of study abroad. 

She aims to respond to all inquiries within one business day.

Don’t hesitate to drop a message. No question is too small!

We're Here to Help!


Susan Hyman

Custom Programs Director

Susan is your go-to contact for navigating the complex process of customized programs. 

She aims to respond to all inquiries within one business day.

Don’t hesitate to drop a message. No question is too small!

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