Europe’s history, Japan’s tradition, and Australia’s Outback often come to mind when one thinks of spending a semester abroad. But these popular destinations are increasingly out of reach for many college students who have had their sights set on studying overseas. Even in an economic downturn, you don’t have to give up the dream of experiencing another country during your college career.
“One thing that schools are looking at is keeping the program on North American shores in countries like Canada and Mexico, but still sending the students abroad,” says Kevin Stoy, marketing coordinator for the Center for Global Education at George Mason University. “A flight to Mexico City is much cheaper than a flight to London.” Semester-long trips to Europe arranged by a university often cost around $14,000, not including round-trip airfare. American students who choose a program in South America, South Africa, or parts of Asia may find that they're paying 40 percent less than their friends who've hopped across the pond. “A program in a developing country like Costa Rica will be generally less expensive than in Sweden, and a program in the Philipines is much more affordable than one in Europe,” says Stoy. Once you arrive in your destination, you'll find that your dollar will go further in developing countries than in places like Japan, Australia, and Western Europe.
WorldEndeavors.com provides estimates of the typical price per semester in a number of countries, minus round-trip airfare and textbooks:
$8,000: Ecuador, Mexico, Philippines, Thailand, China
$10,000: France and Spain
$13,000: Australia, Italy and New Zealand
$14,000: England and Ireland
$15,000: Northern Ireland
If spending a full semester abroad isn’t a financially viable option, consider these non-college credit alternatives:
Short-term stays: Many colleges offer 2-6 week study abroad options that are jam-packed with excursions. These tours are significantly cheaper since they don't require you to pay college tuition, but they still offer an invaluable experience. The benefit of school-sponsored visits vs. a regular vacation? You can often use your financial aid and grants to help fund these short trips.
Cut your cost in half by volunteering: Can’t afford a full-semester stay at less popular destinations? When you sign up for a volunteer program in developing countries, your expenses can be cut in half. For example, a semester-long study abroad program in Ecuador can set you back about $8,000 a semester, not including airfare and textbooks. Compare that to a 12-week volunteer experience for just $2,520. Housing arrangements are usually modest, but included. Typical programs in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Phillipines, Thailand and India range from 4-6 weeks in length and cost about $1,600 (airfare excluded). Of course, these prices do not include tuition for classes that would count toward graduation. Still, this is a relatively inexpensive option for those who want to experience a different country, practice a new language, and pick up a potentially useful resume item.
Intern and save money: Just like volunteering, interning abroad could save you money. In lieu of taking classes, you get valuable work experience that can help you stand out during a job interview. For example, an internship in Australia will cost you $4,350 for 3 months, compared to three times as much for a semester’s study in the country. These programs may not include food and housing; once those expenses are taken into consideration, you would only be cutting the cost of your trip by about 50 percent compared to a semester of study.
It's important to start researching study abroad and options at least six months before your projected departure. So if you’re planning to travel abroad the first semester of your junior year, start planning your trip during second semester sophomore year.