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  • Cortney Dowdle

Four Ways to Study Abroad on a Budget

Updated: May 27

Happy 2020 everyone! I hope you all has had a great New Year or Lunar New Year!


The past few blogs have been really focused on financial aid and paying for school. I have spent years educating students around the world on the reality of studying in the USA and what to expect. While us educators want all the students to study abroad, we often realize that it can be quite unrealistic for some families. I wanted to share a bit of my story for those students who aren’t sure if they can make it work. I’ll still throw some tips in at the end for those wanting to study abroad but struggling with the financial realities.


If you're short on time, here are the big takeaways:

  • Preparation is the key to studying in the USA.

  • It's okay if you can't afford to study abroad for your entire undergraduate or graduate degree, because there are other options that could be more affordable for you and still give you an amazing experience abroad.

  • Don't be afraid to think outside the box with multiple funding sources or other types of experiences (like work exchange after you complete your degree).

I grew up in Eastern Ohio, USA in a very small town. In the USA, people often say we’re a country built on the middle class, unlike many countries in the world. Here, you can grow up “middle class” and you pretty much have everything you need and live a comfortable life. Sometimes money is tight, and you don’t get to go on lavish vacations every summer, but for the most part you grow up feeling just like everyone else. You have food, nice clothes, cars to get around from place to place, and your parents scrape together money for extra things like school overnight trips and friend’s birthday parties. That’s how it was for me at least.


I grew up really lucky that my parents supported me so much. So so much.

My parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. I was the first one in my family who dreamed about studying in university and definitely the first one in my family who dreamed about traveling around the world. I went to public high school, so the guidance counseling wasn’t as in depth as a lot of private schools in the USA. I had little help when it came to figuring out the college admissions process and finding scholarships. I ended up going to a small private university, which was amazing and the best four years of my life, but I ended with over $75,000 USD in student loans. This is common for students in the USA, and if you haven’t heard the student loan debt in the USA is crazy high at over $1.56 trillion dollars. That’s right, TRILLION.


International students face many of the same struggles that we have in the USA when it comes to affording university studies. At the end of the day, my parents and I just weren’t prepared for the financial reality of me studying abroad. Studying abroad was thankfully a possibility as part of my degree program, so I didn’t have to spend more than I was already spending on studying in my university. I’m grateful for my degrees and how far they have taken me, but do I wish I had better advice about finding scholarships when I was going through the process. International students ask me all the time about financial aid and how it works for university studies. I’m happy to share my experiences and also try to help them find different angles to look at when considering studying abroad.


For international students and parents, I hope The Savvy International becomes a resource for you. If you are trying to study abroad in the next year, though, you may not have as much time to prepare as students who have two or more years to talk to their families, counselors, and research funding sources. And that’s okay too. You can still make study abroad dreams happen, whether it’s studying for one semester, one year, all of university, or even just for a few weeks. The experience can be life changing no matter the length.

Above everything else in this blog, the message I want to get across is that preparation is key to studying abroad.


In the past several blogs, we’ve talked about all sorts of ways you can pay for studying abroad. In this blog, I want to give you some alternatives to studying abroad for your entire four-year degree. I honestly hope that every single student who wants to study abroad for all of university gets that opportunity. But if finances are holding you back and getting you down, I want to give you some other options to check into.

  • Study abroad for one semester or one year, rather than all of university

  • Apply to be an exchange student from a university in your home country – often you can study for one semester or one year and schools will have partnerships with schools in the USA which allow you to pay the fees for your home university rather than for the university in the USA (*these are typically J1 visas rather than F1 visas)

  • Do a short term study abroad program from a university in your home country

  • Get your degree in your home country, and then do a volunteer or work exchange in the USA or abroad

*Don't be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to study abroad experiences!


There are over one million students from around the world studying in the USA. There are over 3.4 million students studying abroad every single year. It’s amazing! It’s amazing how far international education has come and how widespread the notion is for students to want to have this experience. It’s what gets me so excited about what I do! That being said, wanting to study abroad and being financially prepared to study abroad are two different things. If you haven’t already read the previous blogs on Financial Aid and Scholarships, please check those out!

Remember – knowledge is power and understanding the process is the absolute best way for students and parents to take on the incredible opportunity that is studying in the USA!


Get ready for the next blog as we start talking about advising and picking programs and majors in the USA! So much fun!

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