Ah, we're halfway through our first year, meaning halfway to our first summer. For most of us, the approaching first college summer and sophomore fall semester that follow are our first opportunities to study abroad. Whether you're just itching to go, are required to have an expatriate experience, or are just exploring your options, the clock is ticking on opportunities for summer programs and the deadlines for fall are swiftly approaching. Studying abroad has a lot of moving parts to connect to actually go, so starting early is key and can alleviate a lot of the stress related to organizing your experience abroad. Not to mention, being organized is the best way to get mom and pop on board.
1. Research programs + schools
Your first stop should be your school's study abroad website, if they have one. It is the best place to start because these are the programs most likely to have been checked out and verified by your school. You should look for programs that compliment your major, career aspirations or passions. You can study abroad with the goal of improving a skill, learning a language, padding your resume, or simply gaining life experience. All are valuable, and there are hundreds more reasons. That means that your school knows these schools are good, and safe, and that they will accept the credits that those schools offer when you return. That being said, not all credit is created equal, which is why you need to.....
2. Meet with your academic advisor
It is true that you might feel an epic connection to a film-making program in Iceland, or a theatre program -- but these won't always be good for you in the long run as an electrical engineering major. It's true that study abroad's are an opportunity to explore your interests, but because they often bear high costs and time commitments, it's worth taking into account how it will fit into your major requirements or college curriculum. Whether you want to knock a semester off of your studies, do a minor, or just go for fun, run it by your advisor first.
3. ...and study abroad advisor
Once you know which programs are a good fit for your goals and interests, contact the study abroad office of your school or the coordinator for the specific program if you can hunt them down. Tell them which programs you are interested in. Ask about the costs, reviews from students who have previously gone, how competitive the application process is, and for any insights than can help you narrow your search down to one or two options to apply to and pursue. Once you know which ones, ask them about the application process. Take careful note of deadlines, requirements, and deposits.
4. ...and a financial aid counselor
These things are expensive, but you do have options to slim down the costs. Go to your financial aid counselor. Ask them to help you get the exact tuition cost. See what your financial aid or scholarships will cover and write that down. Ask them about potential grants, living stipends or scholarships that may be available. At the end, ask them to print you a budget sheet for the semester with lines blank for living cost, travel expenses, food, and extra cash.
5. Calculate rough costs
Don't book anything just yet. Keep your tuition cost in mind. Look for housing option -- both those provided by school and other options in the area that could help you save money. Get rough estimates for plane ticket averages from sites like Kayak, and set up a price alert for your destination and different dates to see when fares drop really low. Think of as many things as you can and add them to your budget. A bigger number won't look good, but will make your planning more accurate and you'll feel more secure. Things to find costs for: books, local travel in the area, food, trips in the area or further, entertainment, outings, public transit, cell phone plan, school fees, passport fee, visa fees, etc.
6. After those 3, talk to your parents or guardians.
With your beautiful, probably inaccurate budget and high hopes -- sit down with your parents. Don't ambush them. About a month before, mention that you want to go. About a week before, mention that you want to sit down and chat about it. When you're in a calm spot, sit down with them. Present the program and the school, why you think it is a good thing, and the benefits you get. Present it to them as an opportunity for you. Explain how much research you've done. Tell them all the people you've met. Show them how invested you are and how much work you're doing to make it work. Then drop the money part on them, gently.
7. Apply (to your school, and to the host school, and for a passport)
Many people don't realize that there are often two or three parts to applying. You usually have to apply separately to your own university and to the university abroad for the program. Sometimes there are additional forms to fill out to determine eligibility. Make sure you have all your signatures. Ask for recommendations early on. Apply for a passport now if you don't have one, because that can take up to two months. Start looking into Visas and any necessary shots or forms to go abroad. Make sure all deadlines are clear to you and that you meet them. If an application opens, apply that day. Sometimes things are first come, first serve.
8. Find housing
This may seem like something to be done after plane tickets and class choice, but really its the first thing. Your home base is the foundation for every part of your trip planning. You may be in class for 6 weeks, but might have to have an 8 week lease. This effects all of your travel documents, your plane tickets, and the rest of your budget. Do it first, because housing is probably the hardest thing to change once you've paid for it. Seek out cheap options before you apply, so that when you get accepted you can immediately pay your deposit for a place and you won't be scrambling to find accommodations.
9. Find plane tickets + get documents in order
Now that you know when you're moving into and out of your residence, figure out how you're going to get there. Like I mentioned, Kayak is a great resource for finding cheap flights. Experiment with a few possible departure and return dates to find the cheapest option, and be sure to check different airports in the area of your destination. When it comes to plane tickets, the earlier the better. You will want to be looking at least 6 months ahead for any international flights. If you have a lot of time, take advantage of price alerts and try to find the lowest flight. If you're cutting it close, better to go ahead and book the best thing you can find.
10. Find money + save as much as you can
Take advantage of your school's financial aid. Any time you meet with any advisor for this, ask them if they know any scholarship or grant opportunities for the experience. Check your school's financial aid and study abroad websites. Then, google google google for other opportunities. There are lists everywhere. You can get money for anything from just doing your FAFSA, to writing a blog about the experience, or even for just the location you're choosing to go. If you're helping to pay for study abroad, my recommendation is to forgo an expensive spring break, cut out shopping sprees, start a jar for travel money (save your coins), and ask yourself any time you're spending money if it would be better spend in Paris, London, Tokyo, or wherever you're heart is trying to take you.
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