Sunday, August 19, 2012

So you want to study abroad?

There isn't much to report on the study abroad front right now. Things are pretty tame other than the fact that I can now apply for the Gilman Scholarship. I won't hear back on if I receive a scholarship until pretty close to my departure date I think though. On the topic of scholarships...

So you want to study abroad?

Well, obviously I’m not an expert on the topic as I’m still going through the process myself. Nevertheless a month or two back I was asked to do a college and study abroad presentation at North Eugene High School a couple of months ago. So I thought I’d pass on what I told those students, starting with college.

My first piece of advice was YOU CAN AFFORD COLLEGE! Yes, I said it. You can. You don’t have to come from a rich family to attend college. These days between FAFSA and scholarship websites you can easily afford college. Okay, maybe not easily. You have to be very careful of the websites you use for scholarship searches. If you find a scholarship that’s too good to be true, it probably is; back away quickly. Otherwise do a web search for that specific scholarship, see what other people have to say. The internet is a great place for information and you can usually find out if something is a scam with a simple search. Second, file your FAFSA, it makes you eligible for all kinds of grants and federal loans (which can be used to pay for study abroad!).

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Second. No 4.0? No problem. You don’t need a four point grade average to get into college or even to earn a scholarship. There are hundreds of scholarships out there that don’t focus on your academic history in the least or even some that are specifically for lower end GPA’s. If you’re interested in basketball or sewing or if you speak a foreign language or are intending to study one there are scholarships out there for you. Also, check your family’s union for scholarships. My first scholarship came from my grandmother’s union.

When to start looking? Yesterday. Seriously. The minute you enter high school you should be looking and applying for scholarships. There is a golden window in high school where every conceivable scholarship is out there for the taking and many are not awarded because no one applies. So look early, plan and APPLY early. Trust me, you can’t start soon enough. There are still scholarships available after high school, but they are fewer and far between unless you are a non-traditional student.

How does this tie into study abroad? Money, pure and simple. Scholarships, financial aid, savings they are the key to your study abroad program. You can study and keep your GPA at a 4.0, but unless you have the money that program is unaffordable. Of course, financial aid students can’t afford to study abroad in say Japan right? Wrong. You’d be surprised what your financial aid will cover. The key to this is selecting a program that is within your budget. By that I mean a program that costs the rough equivalent of the same amount of time spent at your home college. For example, studying abroad at Japan Women’s University will cost around $24,000 for the year while I receive about $18, 000 a year in financial aid. Add on the extra I’ve saved over the past year and I’m just less than $4,000 away from studying abroad, which isn’t nearly as large a gap as it seems.

That said, back to scholarships. APPLY for them! There are scholarships available for study abroad as well ranging anywhere from $500 and up. Don’t think any amount is too small to apply for. That $500 is $500 closer to your study abroad goals. The trick is to look early, start looking into programs your first year of college, find out the rough costs and start researching. If your school has a study abroad office pay them a visit and get the information. More than likely they have a list of scholarships for the country you want to study in and can help you select the right one.

DO remember that most financial aid and scholarships cannot be disbursed to you until your term actually begins. That means if you need vaccinations, doctor visits, passport, visa, a suitcase, etc. prior to leaving for your trip you will need access to funds to pay for them. That’s where saving comes in. Vaccinations and luggage sets can be expensive, not to mention the start-up costs of moving to another country for any amount of time. You’ll need to have that money to spend ahead of time. Oh, and usually you’ll have to pay for the cost of your round trip plane ticket (right around $1500-$1800 currently to Japan from what I’ve found) out of pocket prior to departure. There are some short term loans available in most places for this type of expenditure, but usually they must be repaid within 90 days and they have high interest rates.  So plan ahead. 4 years or however long it may be until you leave on your trip may seem like a long time, but you don’t want to come up short at the last minute and have to cancel your plans.

Also, don’t forget to apply for your passport early. It can take a LONG time to get your passport so it’s best to get it early. The first thing I did when I decided to study abroad was get my passport and it made the whole thing seem a lot more real. The prices can be easily found on the web but it can take anywhere from a month to six months to get your passport depending on waiting times. Your best bet is to go during a not so busy time of year (I went in October) so that the wait time will not be as long. Do keep in mind that different countries have different rules and sometimes you cannot enter a country if your passport is within a certain time frame (such as 6 months) prior to expiration. So make sure if you have one that’s nearing its expiration to check that country’s regulations so you don’t find yourself packed with nowhere to go. I don’t know much about this, but I’ve also heard that it is VERY bad to let your passport expire while you are abroad. So if you are getting close to expiration make sure to get your paperwork in good and early to avoid any fees or worse.

Okay, so that was a bit more info than I gave those students in some ways and less in others, but that’s my advice for the day if you’re thinking about studying abroad. I hope it’s useful to someone and not just a bunch of random gibberish floating around the web.

Until next time!


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