I have always dreamt of traveling to Australia to explore the rich cultural diversity, amazing land and seascapes, and the exotic wildlife; as a full-time student who is paying for college on my own, I never thought I’d be able to afford it. Want to know how I was able to finance my semester abroad?
I was on my way to meet a friend when I accidentally walked past my campus Study Abroad office. There, I browsed through pictures of UMM alumni zorbing down New Zealand hills, riding gondolas in the Venice canals, walking through ancient temples, and eating at French cafes. I was insanely jealous of these students. I wanted to be in those pictures. I wanted to pack my bags and fly around the world to a place where I didn’t know a single soul, but was still excited about the prospect of meeting new people who would eventually become some of my greatest friends. I wanted what they’d already had, that much was clear. They’ve had these life-changing cultural experiences, so why couldn’t I? Australia popped into my head and suddenly my vision of learning firsthand about Aboriginals and speaking the Aussie lingo didn’t seem so far out of reach. But one question still remained: How can I afford this?
I had a few minutes to spare, so I talked to the Study Abroad Advisor about my financing. The very first question she asked me was if I had completed my FAFSA. Of course! This was my ticket to becoming the next face on those amazing study abroad pictures.
So what is a FAFSA? It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which can help finance a college education, including time spent studying abroad. This means that you may be able to get assistance in paying for your educational costs, like tuition, room and board, books, student fees, transportation, etc. FAFSA is designed to assess your financial need, which is determined by a simple calculation: The difference of your college cost of attendance and estimated family contribution (EFC) decides the maximum financial aid award. All students are encouraged to apply, but the amount of aid awarded by your school is based on financial need.
Because personal and family finances can drastically fluctuate from one year to the next, the FAFSA must be completed every year. The priority deadline usually falls on March 1st on a first come, first serve policy. What I found easiest is to do my FAFSA while doing my taxes; the information is easily transferable and you’ll have more time to devote to planning your study abroad experience.
Money surely can’t be free, can it? Well in some cases, yes! Common forms of aid include Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, and Federal Work-Study. Pell Grants may be granted up to $5,550, which does not need to ever be paid back. Stafford Loans may be subsidized or unsubsidized. Students do not have to pay interest while in school if they have a subsidized loan, but interest will accrue and be added to the loan if unsubsidized. Perkins Loans are similar to Stafford Loans, except they are distributed by the individual schools. Work-Study students may work part-time for their school and the government will reimburse them for 75% of their wages.
Completing the FAFSA is easy; you can apply online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Make sure you have yours and your parent’(s) tax information readily available for a simple EFC calculation. Once your FAFSA has been successfully completed, it will be sent to your school for awarding, which usually takes place a month before the beginning of the academic year.
Studying abroad is the chance of a lifetime. To experience another culture, another world is no longer an impossible dream with the help of financial aid. FAFSA was designed for people like me who have dreams and may not be able to finance them on their own. Without FAFSA, I would never have been able to fly Down Under and not only get a great educational experience, but also enjoy adventurous trips to sun bake in Surfer’s Paradise, snorkel and scuba in the Great Barrier Reef, climb the Blue Mountains, and still have time to feed some kangaroos. My picture now hangs alongside the others on the Study Abroad office bulletin board, and yours could be, too, with the help of FAFSA.