If you find that your financial aid will not cover extra learning opportunities, such as J-Terms (January terms), summer terms, and study abroad programs, don't worry.
Here are some tips that will help you make it happen.
1. Plan ahead. Visit your financial aid office as soon as you think you might want to do an extra term, program or trip. Experts recommend starting the planning one year to six months beforehand -- or even earlier. This gives you time to get the money together, apply to the program, and map out how the credits and courses will fit into your degree. "The most disheartening is when seniors come to me and want to do it, and often they've missed the boat," says Sue Ponremy, director of international studies. "I suggest they start planning as a freshman. It's essential, especially if you want to spend a semester or a year abroad. Save the money, plan the courses, talk to mom and dad."
2. Attend a private college or university. Private schools typically have funds available to help students take advantage of opportunities that have extra costs associated with them. For example, Dominican University has needs-based money available, says Ponremy. "If it is a Dominican-approved program, their financial aid applies."
3. Search online and in person. Some go-to sites include studyabroadfunding.org, StudyAbroad.com and GradSchools.com. It's also important to inquire at your financial aid or program office about special scholarships. "There are federal scholarships out there such as Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program and the Boren Scholarship and Fellowship, plus state scholarships, and institutional scholarships at your school," says Joshua Irons of StudyAbroad.com.
"There are also third-party study abroad providers such as Academic Programs International and CEA, which give money for study abroad."
4. Do a mission trip or service learning project. Sometimes groups that sponsor these trips will help with costs; sometimes your school will do so or offer credit for your experience. It's also easy to drum up community support for this type of learning. Marc Davidson, an alumnus of Benedictine University and now an employee at the school, took two university-sponsored mission trips to Bolivia and the Philippines. "I fundraised a lot, I spoke at a couple of parishes, and even did a bake sale," he says. "My family also helped."
5. Consider a short-term experience. Many schools offer short learning trips during spring break, J-Term or right after spring semester ends. At Dominican, they cost as little as $1,500-$3,000.
6. Consider exchange programs. According to the National Association of International Educators, students can attend a foreign university in exchange for their home institution hosting a student from the overseas institution. This enables students to maintain the same financial aid package. If they are at a public or state institution, exchange programs can be particularly cost-effective because the student would pay the same tuition and fees as if they were stateside.
7. Wait until graduate school. Many grad programs -- particularly law and business -- have extra experiences such as travel and international study built into the cost of the program. "I studied in Milan as part of my MBA, and it was included in the costs. I just paid airfare and incidentals," Irons says. Alternatively, some courses have travel components built in during the last two weeks. For example, a class on Chinese economics might spend the last two weeks of the semester in Beijing.
8. Don't assume your federal financial aid will not cover a J-Term -- it might. (However, Illinois state and federal aid does not cover summer terms.) Check with your financial aid office ahead of time because you might have to fill out a special form to get J-Term aid. As with all federal aid, you will need to have a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) on file for that academic year.
9. Don't assume your federal financial aid cannot be used at an international university. Many accept U.S. federal financial aid. But this is something you have to verify with the international university directly.
10. Consider private loans. "Those students who go abroad in the summer often use loans taken out by themselves or their parents," says Eric Weems, director of financial aid at Loyola University. "Some students use loans even if they have the money to pay for the tuition and room and board, because they need it for airfare, trips they take, the out-of-pocket types of things. Weems says private loans work well for summer study because the institutional aid (such as scholarships and grants from the school) often do not apply in the summer, nor do Illinois MAP (Monetary Award Program) grants.