5 Study Abroad Considerations for Parents and Students

Julie Mayfield and Lindsey Mayfield

Many students have expectations for college beyond just getting a degree. Making great friends, finding a major they love, and having unforgettable experiences are just a few. For some students, studying abroad is an integral part of their ideal college experience

The path to studying abroad, however, can be much more complicated or costly than students expect. Luckily for study abroad novices, we are right in the middle of this process and can give some useful advice to make the path as painless as possible.

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Study abroad programs were probably brought up on every college visit your child took, and for good reason: Approximately 14 percent of American students earning bachelor's degrees participate in a study abroad program, according to the Institute of International Education.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to deciding whether study abroad is a good fit for your child--not the least of which is cost. Here are several things to be aware of when evaluating the cost.

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1. Program costs: The costs of study abroad programs vary greatly across schools and programs. Some costs are roughly the same as what you would spend studying at home, while others are significantly more. Your school's study abroad office should be able to give you a breakdown of what the costs will be.

Be sure to check for tuition, fees, room and board, and travel costs to and from the destination. There will be incidental living expenses as well, so make sure that the list of expenses you see is comprehensive and covers all these areas.

2. Extra travel costs: Since your student is in a part of the world that he or she has likely not been before, it's natural for him or her to want to explore a bit during free time.

That could be as simple as sightseeing in the city where he or she is living, or it could be as extensive as quick trips to other cities or even countries on the weekends. Discuss potential travel plans with your student ahead of time and be clear whose responsibility it is to cover these extra costs.

3. Lost wages: It's entirely possible that the time your student spends abroad will come with an opportunity cost as well: the opportunity to earn money. This will occur if your child is unable to work during his or her time abroad. Be sure to add these lost wages to the cost of the study abroad program itself when weighing the pros and cons.

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I am currently applying for a study abroad/internship program in London this summer, and I must admit that I didn't expect the process to be as intense as it is. Meeting the minimum program requirements is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are still program fees, applications, and scholarships to think about, and it's likely that plenty of other students at your school are trying to meet the same deadline. Here are some things to think about as you navigate the process.

1. The application: Chances are you've filled out dozens of applications in your life--for colleges, jobs, clubs, or leadership positions. In the past, I've been able to slide by with just an hour or two spent on an application, even for a really competitive position. Study abroad applications, I've found, are some of the most labor-intensive of the bunch.

This is because you're not applying for an organization at your own school or even in your own country. There are lots of cultural differences to consider, and the programs likely have something very specific they're looking for in your résumé, essay, or letter of reference.

Make sure to schedule an appointment with your school's study abroad office or a program adviser before submitting your application. If possible, have your entire application complete and ready for them to look over. This gives you the best chance of getting into the program you want, especially if placement is competitive.

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2. Scholarships: The average cost of studying abroad was also something for which I was unprepared. My mom and I often stress to continue applying for scholarships even in your first or second year of college, but study abroad costs are the first thing that made it absolutely necessary for me to seek more financial aid.

The great thing about this is that study abroad scholarships have a much smaller pool of candidates than regular college scholarships, so you have a good chance of receiving aid if you apply for several. Also check to see if the scholarships you already receive can be applied to your study abroad program.