Darius Carey currently works as an Institutional Relations Manager at the College of Global Studies. He studied abroad in 2014 at the University of Ghana in West Africa. To support his efforts, Darius was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, The Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship, and several institutional awards. In this edition of our Staff Voices series, Darius shares his experience with financing for study abroad and shares a few tips for students joining us on Arcadia programs.
My introduction to study abroad came in the form of well-traveled friends from high school who attended large state universities and studied in places like London, Italy, and Australia. It never crossed my mind that myself, a student that attended a community college from a single-parent household and fully supported by financial aid, would ever be able to afford such an experience. However, with some very strategic planning, a bit of hard work, and some great support systems, I was able to make this dream a reality.
Financing a study abroad experience can be challenging, but here are a few tips from my experience which can make studying abroad a part of your reality, regardless of what your financial situation is.
Plan Early and Ask Questions. This is crucial. It’s helpful to plan your semester abroad at least 6 months to one year in advance. This gives you plenty of time to work with the study abroad office to determine exactly what the right program is for you: personally, academically, and financially. Early planning also gives you time to work with the Financial Aid Office on your campus to determine how much of your aid will be applied to your semester abroad. This will give you a baseline for moving forward.
Use this time to research scholarships and other forms of funding that may be available to you. These awards could be scholarships, grants fellowships, and can be administered through your home institution, the federal government or special interest groups. Arcadia administers our scholarship program exclusively for students on our programs. We include an extensive list of general, diversity-related, STEM, country-related, and external commercial organization funding opportunities on our scholarships page. Once you have identified those that you are eligible for, then it’s time to move on to the next step, apply!
Apply for Scholarships! By this time you should have identified your program, your financial aid portability, and identified a (hopefully large) number of scholarships that intend to apply too. Now is the time to follow through. This can seem like a daunting task, especially if you plan on applying to multiple sources of funding but can be extremely rewarding. Make sure that you are on top of deadlines to ensure that all of your materials including transcripts, letters of reference, and personal essays are all submitted on time. Make sure that you are giving each material an appropriate amount of attention.
Your personal essay will be one of the most crucial components of your application and should be treated as such, ask your study abroad adviser to look it over. Chances are, they review applications for scholarships and know exactly what committees are looking for. If you are a first-generation student, come from a low-income background, are traveling to a non-traditional destination or studying a foreign language, be sure to highlight that in your essay. Anything that separates you from the “traditional US study abroad student” is a plus and should be featured. Finally, do not shy away from the time commitment that these applications may take. For my semester abroad I spent about 30 hours total on 3 scholarship applications, which ultimately translated into $10,000 in awards. When is the last time you were paid that much for a part-time work week?
Be sure to have a backup plan. The timing for the scholarship announcements and disbursements may not
always line up perfectly with the timeline for your program. For instance, you may need to commit your participation or make purchases (visa, flights, etc) prior to receiving the scholarship. Be sure to speak with your parents or guardian, family members to explain what this experience means to you (this goes back to your planning phase) at this point you should clearly be able to articulate the personal, professional and academic benefits to you studying abroad. This is important to have their support as you may need their help. It is also important to budget in the months leading up to your time abroad, if you need to ask for help it helps if you also have something to contribute.
Finally, thinking about finances does not stop after you depart the U.S. You want to make sure you are informed of the currency rates and cost of living in your host country. This will help you determine what your overall budget is for your time abroad. You will need to think about school-related costs such as books, local transportation, etc. You will also need to determine non-school related costs such as personal travel and food. When it comes to personal travel, it is important to be honest with yourself about your individual means. You will be studying with students from various backgrounds and locations, some of those students will indeed eat out every night or travel to a new country every weekend. The feeling that you need to do the same to fit in can be exhausting. You should be comfortable with cooking your own meals occasionally, and instead of traveling to a different country maybe try to find something engaging in your local community to interact with.
With these tips as a general guideline, you should be financially prepared for your time abroad!