Studying abroad is one of the most incredible, magical, exciting, terrifying, nauseatingly disorienting things you'll ever decide to do (probably). And for me, at least, I can count at least two or three times a week since the process began that I looked at all the paperwork and all my end-goals and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I found a lot of information about traveling abroad and my school had a decent amount of information about studying abroad with its own programs, but when it came to planning the trip with IES Abroad, I was left just a little bit on my own.
Applying for loans and scholarships, scheduling international classes, packing, filing flight information and navigating three airports to achieve the cheapest possible flight alone all seemed miles outside my comfort zone and I didn't know where to start. So I thought that in an effort to make future students' lives a little bit easier, I ought to write the comprehensive list I wish I'd had when starting my journey.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Upon making the decision to travel abroad, your academic advisor, study abroad office, and the IES Abroad website will become your new best friends. You should ideally speak with your academic advisor to "endorse" the program you're looking at before applying to IES Abroad directly. This helps to guarantee early on that any courses you take abroad will transfer successfully and count toward your degree before you have to pay any deposit fees.
Some universities (mine included) require the program credits to transfer through the University of Rochester (the school by which IES Abroad is authorized) to your home school's transcripts in order for the courses to count towards your major. Most universities which require this will charge you for this process. Others will accept an IES Abroad transcript directly, so make sure to check with your school to figure out whether or not this is a step you'll have to take! The individual courses will need to be processed to determine if they can count towards your degree, so this will generally take some time (possibly several weeks). Stay in close contact with all three offices in order to keep things from becoming too overwhelming. Make sure to talk to your study abroad office as well about the program early on to discuss the "Home School Authorization" forms needed in order to submit your application to IES Abroad and make sure to give it time to process.
Like I said, it's best to start these processes early on, however, if you start the approval process and "Home School Authorization" too close to your IES application deadline, you might end up working on several things at the same time.
Once you've made it into the program, paying for the trip itself can seem like the most daunting task and a lot of schools are hesitant to dole out scholarships and loans for third-party programs, meaning (you guessed it) even more paperwork for you. But, don't worry about it too much! Here's a few tips to help you get your money train back on track:
- IES Abroad offers tons of scholarships for all sorts of reasons, so make sure to check out their offers early on! (https://www.iesabroad.org/scholarships-financial-aid)
- Check your school's scholarship opportunities as well! Many honor's programs also offer study abroad stipends too, so if you're involved in one check in with your honor's advisor to see what you're already eligible for.
- If you have generous family and friends, you can always start a GoFundMe page. I knew a girl my freshman year who raised $8,000 for her study abroad this way, so get creative with your fundraisers and birthday requests to get a better handle on any costs that you can!
Once you've exhausted all potential "free-money" routes, the next step is seeking out some of those infamous student loans. Each school is responsible for determining the amount you can borrow (with some regulations based on your FAFSA information). See https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/subsidized-unsubsidized for more info on the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. As you work through this maze of loans and government documents and end up on a first name basis with everyone in your school's financial services office, keep a couple things in mind:
- If you do end up having to take out loans, go out of your way to funnel all funds through your 529 plan to take advantage of any tuition tax credit you can in order to get some of your money back.
- For any summer program, any loans you take out will be included in the statements for the previous school year, so if you've already maxed out your borrowing capacity of subsidized loans for the term, you'll have to break into those unsubsidized ones.
- Since IES is a third party program, your school will likely have to place you in what is called a "placeholder class" once your councilor approves the IES classes for your major. Because the Department of Education requires the student to be officially enrolled in a certain number of credit hours in order to be eligible, many schools have to add this placeholder class onto your home school's schedule until proof of enrollment can be produced or an official credit transfer is made. (Most universities will charge you for this process as well)
The idea of taking out loans and going (further) into debt can seem pretty intimidating, but keep in mind that money will come and go throughout your life with little impact on who you are in the long run. In the end the experiences you have today, tomorrow, and years from now will have a far greater impact on your life than a couple months or years of another bill. Right now you're in the middle of actively creating a story you'll tell for the rest of your life and that's pretty awesome.
Now, this post is already getting pretty long, so I'll cut it off here. However, if you're interested in any information regarding booking cheap flights, navigating international airports and customs, sidestepping unnecessary travel fees, packing for your destination, and avoiding pickpockets and other travel nuisances stay tuned! Part II is coming soon!
Until next time, stay adventurous wherever you may be!
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<p>I’m a twenty year old student living in Indianapolis, born and raised in Kokomo, IN. All my life I’ve watched the Food Network and the Travel Channel and movies about people pursuing passions outside the norm and experiencing life first and foremost. I love new experiences. I love new foods, new people, new perspectives, learning at all times from everything around me. I’ll try anything once (at least), whether its skydiving or swimming with sharks or the kind of food only Andrew Zimmerman would enjoy. When I’m not studying for school or working, I like to stay busy. I’m a writer, a traveler, a reader, a cook, an adventurer, a student long after I graduate. In everything that I do, I look to do it with the kind of enthusiasm that comes with experiencing new things and appreciating every opportunity that I am granted.</p>