How Financial Aid for Study Abroad Works

Study Abroad Funding

American Fulbright Fellow Angela Stone-MacDonald teaches children with disabilities at the Irente Rainbow School (IRS) in Lushoto, Tanzania.
American Fulbright Fellow Angela Stone-MacDonald teaches children with disabilities at the Irente Rainbow School (IRS) in Lushoto, Tanzania.
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If you've already looked into sources of financial aid for college, or if you're already receiving it, than you know about some of the major sources of assistance for study abroad. Schools are required by law to apply federal, need-based aid (and often state, too) toward study-abroad programs they've approved. In an exchange program, where a school in the United States and a foreign school host each other's students, financial aid always transfers [source: NAFSA]. A school will often put previously granted aid toward outside study-abroad programs, too.

Public sources of financial aid that can typically be used for international study in an approved program include both loans, which have to be repaid, and grants and scholarships, which don't. Federal sources include the need-based Pell Grant, Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grant (SEOG) and Perkins Loan and the non-need-based Stafford Loan. There's also the David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarships for Study Abroad, which is offered by the National Security Education Program to students focused on cultures related to U.S. security concerns, such as areas in the Middle East. (No one gets a Boren Scholarship to study in Britain or Canada.)

One of the most well-known scholarships, the federally funded Fulbright, is a study-abroad scholarship. See the Institute of International Education to find out about the Fulbright (along with lots of other fellowships, grants and scholarships).

State aid works differently from federal aid, and comes in a lot of different forms. To find out if you can put it toward study abroad, talk to the financial advisor at your school.

Applying for federal aid is pretty straightforward. The first step is always to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and find out what you qualify for. Private aid is a different animal. Private foundations, organizations and individual schools offer aid packages that may or may not be need-based and that often target specific types of students -- types that have little to do with financial condition. Finding private scholarships and grants can take some effort, and this is where a financial-aid consultant can be especially handy.

Just a few of the private sources for study-abroad financing include:

Sometimes, even with federal and/or private assistance, studying abroad is still a reach. In that case, a student might consider work-study opportunities in the host country. It's not easy to pull off because of international work restrictions, but it can be done. Talk to your school's study-abroad advisor to find out if working could work for you. The extra effort could be worth it if it gets you a year in Tokyo.

For more information on study abroad, financial aid and related topics, look over the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Erin Alisa Guntly. "International Fellowships and Scholarships: Take Advantage of Existing Opportunities for Study Abroad." Transitions Abroad.
  • Financial Aid for Study Abroad: An Undergraduate Student's Resource. NAFSA.
  • Myths and Realities of Financing Study Abroad. NAFSA.
  • Pappano, Laura. "Why Study Abroad Costs So Much, What to Do About it." The New York Times. Nov. 4, 2007.
  • Study Abroad Financial Aid. StudyAbroad.
  • Using Your Financial Aid to Study Abroad. Peterson's.