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A Look Behind the Realities of Financing Study Abroad

Visas, fees and paperwork can make it difficult to study abroad.

KELSEY RETTKE, Staff Writer

Over time, studying abroad has received a reputation that suggests the experience is for the “rich and wealthy” only. The cost of airfare, the international fees, the cost of living in foreign countries, the travel expenses can all be a factor in steering students away from studying abroad.

Beloit College, however, offers a wide range of opportunities and financial aid assistance for students wishing to make the journey to another country. Though the college advertises a number of programs in which students can enter a program directly through Beloit or through an international provider, findings have indicated that the latter is not a good choice if a student wishes to receive financial aid for their travels.

Julianne Angeli ’12, found this out the hard way. A French major, Angeli studied abroad in Montpellier, France for two semesters during her junior year. Having originally planned to study abroad for only one semester, Angeli was convinced by the college’s Office of International Education that two consecutive semesters in France would not only provide her with greater a experience, but also help improve her French. And indeed, she is fluent in the language. Though her experience was every bit as rich as the next person’s, she says the overall cost of the program was “kind of unpleasant.”

Angeli knew she wanted to study abroad even before she graduated high school; it was her dream to study in France.

“I have been saving for this for years, you don’t understand,” she says with a laugh as she remembers her eager high school self, saving every penny for a trip she knew she just had to take.

Angeli, however, did not enroll in a program directly through Beloit, choosing instead to go through an international program, the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). Though Beloit College is a member of ISEP, the financial disadvantages of applying through that instead of a Beloit program proved to be crippling. Unforeseen expenses were abundant.

“For some people, [deciding where to study abroad] might be based on the cheapest location they can find, but for me I stuck with what I wanted. I knew where I wanted to go. I wanted to be in a university. I wanted a more structured thing versus going to one of the Beloit programs in Senegal. So even though I knew that [the Senegal program] would be cheaper, I stuck with what I wanted. For some people that might not be an option. For me, it was an option.”

Little did Angeli know that funding for her international program would prove to be difficult to find. Since she chose to apply to a program not specifically offered by Beloit College, a lot of the funding that would have been available to her had she gone through the Senegal program, for instance, was not given.

Beloit has a Senegal program specifically offered for French majors. According to the Office of International Education’s (OIE) website, the costs include: Beloit College tuition, room and board, the Beloit activities fee, and a $50 overseas administrative fee. Though this may seem extensive, the college offers a number of different ways a student can go about funding such a program. Since the Senegal program is a Beloit Exchange program (and not an international one, as Angeli’s was) the funding is more readily available.

Ariana Anderson ‘12, who studied abroad as part of the Senegal program, says that she “found the process of studying abroad incredibly easy—all of the support structures that the school could provide are there,” and that ultimately, the cost of her semester abroad was the same as if she had stayed at Beloit for a term, with the exception of around $2000.

Associate Director of the OIE, Joshua Moore, says that Beloit strives to make study abroad “accessible to everyone.” About 45 percent of students study abroad during their four years at the college, and students hail from largely diverse economic backgrounds.

Financial aid for study abroad includes a number of options: aid that a student receives during a regular semester that the college can carry over (and in most cases does carry over) to any exchange program the college specifically offers, but usually only for tuition. Beloit ultimately pays for tuition in an enrollment abroad, while the student pays Beloit tuition to remain enrolled while away, and also for any exchange student that might take their place at the college. Loans and grants can also be adjusted according to the tuition at that time. The Financial Aid Department caps any funding for a student at $13,986, currently. (Though Angeli says that, when she applied to study abroad, the cap was only $12,000.)

“The cap changes with the tuition,” says Director of the Office of International Education, Betsy Brewer. There is expected to be a cap increase following the new year, in the ’12-’13 school year.

Aid can also include a number of Beloit Funds and other scholarships for students with financial need, says Moore.

“First, students with the highest need, based on the FAFSA, will be considered for one of two travel grants from Beloit College.   Those grants come from the Ivan Stone fund and the Schroeder fund and will cover the flight expenses of the student.  If the student has high need, it is very likely that they also receive a Pell Grant, in which case they are eligible for the Gilman Scholarship.  If the Gilman is awarded — up to $5,000 in most cases, or $8,000 if the student is studying a “critical” language — then that student’s total need would be reassessed by the Financial Aid office.”

The Ivan Stone Fund and the Schroeder Fund are both scholarships that are readily available for students who have an exceptional need for financial aid. Students are automatically considered for these scholarships, with no outside application necessary.

Since Angeli’s program in Montpellier was an ISEP program, she was able to enroll directly, but ended up having to pay her own housing. As the cost of living in France is much more expensive than in the United States, she had to pay the French university that amount. But she had to pay it through Beloit College.

“I didn’t have any study abroad specific scholarships; I’m just here on scholarships [from the school]. They still applied, the school still took that money out, but, it didn’t break down the cost of the program at all. So, the total cost of the program was less than what my yearly contribution to the school is. So if I had just done the program without doing it through Beloit I could have spent less money. Which is frustrating. But there’s not really a way around it. The way Beloit chooses to do study abroad is really unpleasant. Because my program costs less than they cap their contribution at, saying ‘oh you get to keep your scholarships, you get to keep all this stuff’ which, in theory, you, do, but my program was much less than that. So if I had just done the program, and paid [the French university] directly, I would have ended up spending less money than I ended up having to spend through Beloit.”

Going through Beloit, for most programs though, is the way to go, says Moore. “First, Beloit College’s discount rate is at about 42%, so the average student only pays 58 percent of full tuition.  Beloit College has a home school tuition policy, which is widely adopted by US institutions.  It allows students to remain enrolled in their home institution while studying abroad, thereby qualifying for Federal loans and scholarships.”

He continues, “Students who study abroad at Beloit College pay the same amount of tuition to the college as they would if they stayed on campus.  That is, all their financial aid and scholarships, both from the Federal government and from the college, apply to their semester or year abroad.  The only exception to this is if the student is participating in a program that exceeds our tuition cap of $13,986, in which case the student would make up the difference between the program fee and the cap. Only about 5 percent of students choose such a program, and usually the program offers the student a scholarship that eliminates the need for extra tuition.”

Although, room and board seems to be the crucial factor in determining study abroad costs. The cost of living in many countries is more than in the states and therefore going through a Direct Enrollment program that Beloit College specifically offers (and not an international one like ISEP) can be beneficial in terms of saving money on the cost of living.

“Regarding room and board: for most exchange programs, students pay Beloit College tuition, room and board, and all of their fees will be paid for by a student in their host university who is either studying at Beloit College (reciprocal exchange) or anywhere in the ISEP Network (multilateral exchange),” explains Moore.

“In some of our exchange programs, though, students only pay for their rooms to Beloit, then buy their own meals abroad.  When a student studies through direct enrollment or with a program provider, they will pay their room and board fees either to their host university or to the provider.  Students are never double-billed for room and board, and the cost of these accommodations in their host institutions ranges from $1,000 to $7,000, depending on the cost of living in the country.  This is why exchanges can be favorable when studying in countries with high cost of living, as students can live there on Beloit prices, since they are paying their room and board to Beloit College and receiving a room and a stipend for meals there.”    Fees were another issue for Angeli, who says that she wasn’t prepared for the number of fees she found received upon arriving in France.  “I had to pay $300 when I got there to get on the national health care. I also had to pay like $400 to ISEP for insurance, which did absolutely nothing for me. So I had completely useless ISEP insurance that I had to pay for. And then I had the very, very helpful French insurance. It was absolutely fantastic. I loved everything about that.  It was like 200 euro, probably around $300, for the whole year.”

A number of other fees were necessary for visas and identification that Angeli had to pay. She received no assistance from the college for these fees.

“Also, we had to fill out a whole bunch of paperwork when we got there to get our visas stamped. There was an additional $70 or so fee with that. Just like, things that they didn’t really tell us we needed, that added up really fast. We needed to have identification photos. I think I ended up with twelve ID photos I needed, and they were not cheap. Yeah, [I had to pay for each photo]. So we didn’t know about any of this beforehand, and then all of a sudden you get there and it’s …”

The overwhelming number of unexpected fees forced Angeli to quickly call her mother in order to pay them, since she had not brought a substantial amount of money with her to cover the costs. She would not have been able to participate in the program had she been unable to account for the money.

“My mom was cosigning the card, so she would put money in my debit [account] so I could withdraw money to make all these payments, because it had to be cash or money order. I ended up having to frantically get in touch with my parents almost as soon as I got there saying ‘you need to put like $500 on my card right now because I have a week to do all this stuff or else I’m in trouble’ But it was mostly my money, so it wasn’t like we had to free it up. I had been saving, expecting that something like that was gonna happen.”

Beloit offers students a chance to estimate the total costs of their programs and other fees with a budget sheet, which is offered on the OIE website and is also strongly encouraged to be discussed in the Office of Financial Aid.  On top of that, the budget sheet is required by the Office of Financial Aid to be completed to help calculate the cost of each student’s program,” says Moore.

“The budget sheets, I feel, are very helpful,” says Director of Financial Aid Jane Hessian.  “After I do a student’s aid award for study abroad, I want to personally meet with the student and go over their study abroad plans and complete the worksheet.  During our meeting, we go over all the costs involved with study abroad as well as the financial aid the student is offered to help with the costs of studying abroad.  After discussing and completing the worksheet, I give the student two copies of the worksheet.  One is for the student and the other for the student to give to their parents.  I know financial planning is an important part of the process.  When the worksheet is completed, a student knows how much they will need to pay Beloit College and if using a program provider how much to pay the program provider.”

However, accuracy depends on the student, warns Brewer. “The budget sheet is as accurate as the estimates a student arrives at. We created it as a guide for students’ planning, as we encountered students who had applied to study abroad and selected programs without thinking about the cost.”

As Angeli found out, estimates can only go so far. “I found [the budget sheet] helpful until I got there, and realized that it wasn’t really accurate. So I had to reconfigure my plan a little bit. I’m sure it’s accurate for other people in other situations. I’m sure it’s more helpful for exchange students than it was for me, because my food costs I think were terribly unanticipated. So there are a lot of factors playing into it. I mean, it’s not a bad tool to use at all, because it gets you thinking about it. Even if you end up being wrong, at least it gets you thinking about it.”

However, Hessian says that “financial aid does factor into the sum since the Financial Aid Office uses a “Cost of Attendance” budget to determine the student’s aid eligibility.  For the semester abroad, your budget includes an allowance for air fare and additional expenses associated with study abroad such as obtaining a passport, insurance, immunizations, etc.”

Airfare is, indeed, an expensive problem for a lot of the students studying abroad. “With the Beloit Exchange programs, frequently the cost for your airfare is the major difference between studying on campus versus studying abroad,” says Hessian.

Armstrong also encountered significant airfare costs when he studied abroad for a semester in Egypt, and later Turkey. Following a number of peaceful protests that began in Egypt in early January, Egyptian President Hosnia Mubarak was overthrown. Though most of the protests for the civil-rights campaign remained non-violent, a number of violent and fatal incidents taking place in major cities like Cairo and Alexandria forced Armstrong to relocate to Turkey. He was forced to evacuate his position at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, where he was studying Egyptology, and head to Istanbul, Turkey to finish the remainder of his semester abroad, where he enrolled in Yeditepe University.

His financial situation had changed with his program. Armstrongtook immense advantage of scholarships that were being offered for his programs and elsewhere, explaining that “money is always an issue for my family. In fact, the financial aid was the deciding factor between going to Beloit College and the University of Evansville.”

For a regular semester at Beloit, Armstrong held an impressive number of financial scholarships. “I was receiving half-tuition in the form of the Maurer Presidential Scholarship, as well as the Federal Pell Grant of (I believe) around $3000 each year.  I further received a grant from the TRIO program (through Student Support Services) of a few hundred dollars, and I also received a couple of outside scholarships, of $1000 each, for my freshman year.  Besides that, I receive the rest through Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, the Beloit College Loan, and (now two) Sallie Mae student Loans.”

With the exception of a $2000 loan that he had to pay back for the cost of his program, Armstrong had successfully funded his study abroad program. “When I was at AUC [American University in Cairo], everything was paid for.  Actually, Beloit owed me money initially.  However, that changed when I was relocated to Yeditepe, as their fees were a bit higher, hence the $2000 discrepancy.” His father, however, was able to take out a Parent PLUS loan this current semester for the remaining $2000.

A number of unexpected fees and other finances also arose upon his move to Istanbul. “My money did not go as far in Turkey as it did in Egypt, I ended up needing some of it to pay for higher tuition at Yeditepe, and I would not have used Chase [credit cards] at all.  Their international fees were ridiculous, and cost me a lot of my available money (also, I didn’t have my real card before going abroad, so I was hit with those fees besides).  Finally, I would never have decided to use traveler’s checks for some of the money, which proved almost impossible to cash.”

However, while he had to pay Beloit College tuition to the school while abroad (Beloit and a number of scholarships, including the Gilman scholarship paid for his tuition abroad) his financial aid applied for the total cost which, as Armstrong puts it, “is less, as you are not paying for Beloit’s room and board.  Also, it’s only for one semester, not a full year.”

Overall, Armstrong and Angeli, despite the unexpected issues that arose during their time abroad and some unwelcome financial situations, both say that the experience was well worth it.

“When I compared my experience, connecting with my school versus my friends at larger schools, it was easier to get in touch, the personalized approach was part of the reason I picked Beloit, just for academics in general,” says Angeli. “So that was nice; people in the OIE and elsewhere were really understanding, people were concerned.” During her time spent abroad, she was able to travel throughout much of Europe (on her own expense), going to places like Morocco, Spain, Italy, Scotland, and England—all because she was able to find a program in France. She is now an ISEP ambassador and hopes to work abroad someday.

Anderson also thinks highly of the study abroad program at Beloit. “I came to Beloit knowing that I wanted to study abroad to expand my view of the world. Also, when else am I going to be able to live in another country for four months? Maybe never again.”

Armstrong adds that “The OIE people are so helpful in finding scholarships to cover costs. Josh Moore is amazing, especially as he was able to get something figured out for me on such short notice when I had to be evacuated and had no other back-up plan (it was too late in the semester at Beloit for me to return and pick up classes here).”

Sherrick O’Quinn ‘10 says “Study abroad is about being open minded and taking risks. But you should never doubt your ability to study abroad.  Don’t give up on finding something for your major. Don’t let money be an obstacle.  The Office of Financial Aid helped me find money to make my experience possible. I was a two-sport varsity athlete and managed to study abroad.  It is a wonderful opportunity to expand on your liberal arts education, diversify it and immerse yourself in the global world that exists around you.  As a college student, you have a chance to effect change and to change yourself.  Study abroad provides life-long lessons and opens up new possibilities for your future.”

“It is a myth that study abroad is for the few,” concludes Moore, who many of the students referenced as now their advisor and close mentor, since he has helped many a student find a way to finance a seemingly impossible dream of studying abroad.

“I’m glad I did it,” Angeli says simply. “It was a really valued experience.”

And indeed, with the right program, a detailed and well-planned goal, and a thorough search for funding, the OIE, Office of Financial Aid, and advisors like Josh Moore and Betsy Brewer seem determined to make that happen for any student interested in a study abroad adventure.

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