- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

There is financial help available for students who want to study abroad, but as the summer academic migration begins in earnest, aid advisers say more applicants should start early and prepare a solid plan to pay for a three-month excursion that can cost as much as a small car.

American students will pay anywhere from $4,000 to $14,000 for a semester — generally three to five months — at a foreign university, said Peggy Blumenthal, educational services vice president of the Institute of International Education (IIE), a New York, nonprofit that tracks international education.

While 70 percent of the 154,168 students studying overseas from 2000 to 2001 relied on Mom, Dad and friends, Ms. Blumenthal said more students are using their college financial aid and government programs to foot the bill.

“Colleges are making financial aid more portable because they’re seeing studying abroad programs as part of the four-year degree,” she said.

Early planners can get the government to pay part of the bill through programs like the Gillman scholarship, Pell grants, supplemental education-opportunity grants, PLUS loans, Stafford loans, Perkins loans and federal work-study.

These programs are offered through the Education Department and can typically finance up to $5,000 of the trip, depending on the length of the program.

Dwight Peterson, president of International Education Finance Corp., a Braintree, Mass., international-education loan provider, warned students to apply a year in advance of their trip for most of the grants and scholarships.

“Only a handful of students successfully finance their trip through scholarships, so they need to start researching their options early on to see if it’s possible,” he said.

But Scott Loose, a junior and history major at George Mason University, said he started planning for his three-week sojourn to Cambridge, England, last March, when he won a $500 scholarship for the $3,500 trip.

“It was a little last-minute, but I had to go for it because it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals,” said Mr. Loose. “I think if I were going longer, I would have planned more, but my main plan is to live as cheaply as possible.”

Part of the beginning research includes detailing potential geographic areas to study, Mr. Peterson said. “A student can go to Mexico or Spain to study Spanish at two different prices, but there is a trade-off in what the student can do,” he said.

Sara Dumont, study-abroad director at the University of Maryland, recommended having a backup city in case the area faces a catastrophe like the SARS epidemic, the pneumonialike severe acute respiratory syndrome virus that has wiped out most study-abroad programs in China for the summer.

About 48 percent of American students head to the United Kingdom or other European countries such as Italy, Spain and France, according to an IIE report.

After calculating the cost for housing, tuition, books, food, airfare, health insurance, entertainment and potential medical problems, Yehuda Lukacs, director of George Mason University’s Global Education Center, advised students to exchange the total in the country’s currency. If a student goes to Italy this summer on a program that covers housing and tuition, he should budget 150 to 200 euros, or $175 to $234, each week, Mr. Lukacs said.

Ms. Dumont said most students pay an additional $5,000 in travel and entertainment expenses while overseas, and cautioned parents to monitor the amount of money they send to students.

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