How Financial Aid for Study Abroad Works

Students can study abroad practically anywhere, like King's College, Cambridge in England. See more college pictures.

A few months in Rome or Paris, a year in Tokyo, a summer in Berlin -- they're far-off dreams for most Americans. Most working stiffs can barely manage a weekend road trip.

Who has the time?

Students have the time. For road trips and so much more. They have an entire infrastructure dedicated to getting them out of the country for extended periods to explore other countries, cultures and people while studying for college credit. It's a beautiful thing called study abroad, and it's one of the most desirable components of a higher education.

It's pretty flexible. For a month or a year, students can live abroad practically anywhere: Britain, Finland, Spain, Canada, Lebanon, Russia, Israel, Morocco or Tanzania, and pretty much anywhere else. Three journalism students at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks got to spend a month embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq in 2009 [source: CSM]. Programs can be geared toward work experience, language study, research, volunteering, or the same type of university studies the student would be engaged in at home but with the added bonus of cultural immersion in a distant land. It's as much of an adventure as the student is comfortable with, and anybody can go -- from undergraduates to doctoral candidates. There are opportunities for people who aren't even enrolled in school.

During the 2007-2008 school year, more than 260,000 U.S. students participated in a study abroad program, and nearly two-and-a-half times that number came from other countries to study in the United States [sources: VistaWide,]. The consistently increasing number of study-abroad participants belies an underlying problem with the system, though: the price. The beautiful thing called study abroad costs a fortune. The cost is even more extreme in the 21st century due to a weakening U.S. dollar.

While students may have the time, they typically don't have the money, and there can often be confusion about whether financial aid can be used for study abroad. In this article, we'll find out how financial aid applies to study-abroad programs. We'll see when it can be used, when it can't, how to get extra help and what's involved in setting up funding for international study.

First thing first: How much money are we talking about here?