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Study Abroad on a Budget

Create Your Own Programs and Cut Your Tuition in Half

When I decided to study abroad my parents and I agreed on a certain budget. They were willing to dish out only as much as they would for a typical semester at my in-state university. Once I actually started to research study abroad program costs it looked quite hopeless; most program fees were double my in-state tuition. After a few weeks I was pretty close to throwing in the towel when I came up with the question that made it all possible: why can’t I create my own program?

I wanted to find a Spanish immersion school in Costa Rica. The website of the school I wanted to attend showed an incredibly cheap program fee. But when I went to the study abroad office at my university the program cost quoted was three times more expensive. I dug a little deeper and found that another university acted as a sort of conduit for the credit transfer. It came to me instantly. One of the fundamental rules of business: cut out the middle-man.

I researched the program outline at the conduit university and found it offered one credit per week for attendance at the language school. I decided I would go for 15 weeks so I could earn the 15 credits that would keep me on schedule for graduation. Then I pulled out the student handbook that every college has, describing the various courses in each of the departments, and found five 3-credit classes that would presumably be covered in 15 weeks of Spanish immersion. Finally, I set up a meeting with the head of the Spanish department at my university. I made a well-researched presentation, but he still wanted to make sure I wasn’t conning my way into free credits. The solution was to get him in contact with the head of the language school. They emailed back and forth a couple times and, whaddayaknow, the shoe fit!

I attended the school and had the time of my life. Fast-forward to my return home. All that was required on my end was a transcript from the language school that documented my attendance and general progress. Of course, the language school directors were more than happy to assist me in that regard, and my credits transferred with ease. In the end, my total program cost was half of my semester tuition at home. And my parents were begging for more semesters abroad.

Since that time, nearly four years ago, I’ve helped a good number of students do the same thing. Creating your own program seems to work best at liberal arts schools, but there have been a few breakthroughs at more conservative institutions. Additionally, the best results have been with language schools. Foreign language teachers know there’s no substitute for immersion. If you can, model your program on one that already exists through a different accredited university. It might also help to gather a few other interested students before you make your presentation. Bottom line: your school may be willing to make it happen if you are willing to put in the time and effort. Do your research and cover all your bases.

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