Some kids dream of going to Harvard, some the state university and others would love to go to Oxford or study in Paris. Luckily, all these different dreams can be fulfilled, at least partially, with federal student loans.
Is My School of Choice Eligible?
The Department of Education assigns federal school codes to universities and post-secondary education programs that meet academic accreditation, financial and administrative requirements. (To find out if the foreign schools you are thinking about have federal codes, look them up at the FAFSA website.)
While there are more U.S. schools than foreign schools that have federal codes, there are hundreds of universities in exotic locales to choose from. If you don't find your school on this list, call the Department of Education's student aid information center at 1-800-4FEDAID. Some foreign schools don't have federal codes listed on the website, but do have a federal code you can acquire by contacting the school itself.
Free Applications When Studying Abroad
The FAFSA is filled out the same way as you would if you want to attend a school in the United States, but borrowers going to a foreign school should omit their e-mail address to request their student aid report in writing. While some foreign schools may download your financial aid information, it's likely you will need to mail them the written copy. To make sure what your perspective school needs, contact its financial aid office. (For more information on the FAFSA, read Student Financial Aid Changes: FAFSA 2009.)
How Student Aid Differs
You can still receive federal grants and all federal loans you would qualify for if you are studying in the United States. However, in most cases, state grants are usually restricted for use within the state.
Another difference is work-study. In work-study programs, the university financial aid office helps you by giving you a job to help pay for your tuition. Work-study program availability varies from university to university, both inside and outside the United States.
Distribution should be exactly the same as at a U.S. college. Any aid you receive will still be applied to your school account to pay your tuition and fees. Any excess should be sent to you in the form of a check.
In addition to whether work study is available, you may experience a restriction on working on-campus, off-campus or working at all. When evaluating in which countries you'd like to attend school, you should research the restrictions involved when you are in their country with a student Visa.
A Visa is a document that states the length of your stay in a foreign country, and the purpose of your trip. You should check with the embassies of the countries where you'd like to attend college to find out all their restrictions.
Calculate Cost of Living Differences
As you would for local colleges, contact student housing departments to get an accurate assessment of what it will cost for housing, food and transportation. But you also need to think about currency differences and work restrictions.
Currency differences can be an advantage or a disadvantage. For instance, if a U.S. dollar is only worth .80 euros, you'll only get 80 cents out of every dollar you bring with you to European countries. Then, if the value of the U.S. dollar goes down while you are abroad and you need to convert U.S. dollars into more euros to cover expenses, this could result in an unexpected increase in costs.
You have to plan for currency increases and decreases by giving yourself a living expenses buffer of 20-50% above the current cost. Planning for increases in currency differences is especially important because you may have a work restriction on your Visa that states you can't get a part-time job to make up for unplanned expenses. (For more information on currency, checkout How often do exchange rates fluctuate?)
U.S. University Home Base Alternative
If you would like to explore another culture but not have the hassles of the foreign student aid process, you may find it easiest to choose a United States university with embedded study-abroad programs. This way you should be able to get state grants if you would have otherwise qualified and make the process go more smoothly.
Learning in (and from) another culture can be an amazing life and educational experience, but it takes more financial preparation than attending school in the United States. Be ready to send in your student aid report in by mail, and you'll need to find funds in advance to make up for the difference between financial aid and scholarships versus your tuition.
But if you plan carefully, you'll be in Paris speaking French and eating baguettes in no time.