Finance ‘still biggest’ US study abroad barrier

Published 16/04/2024

The difficulty of finding financial aid, and cost or finance in general, is still the biggest concern when it comes to being able to study abroad, a survey has revealed.

Terra Dotta’s Voice of the Students: Study Abroad 2024 surveyed around 300 college students on various aspects of their study abroad experience, revealing positive aspects, but also some problem areas for the sector to address.

Some 67% of respondents said cost or finance would “prevent” them from studying abroad, in one concerning finding – as well as almost half saying they would need help even learning about financial aid opportunities.

“In addition to costly program fees – including passport fees – and tuition for classes, students who study abroad may have to pay for flights, accommodations, food and additional travel while studying abroad.

“These costs add up for students, making study abroad inaccessible for many,” Ron Carson, Terra Dotta’s CMO, told The PIE News.

Some 44% said that they spend at least $5,000 to $10,000 on their study abroad plans, with 30% spending between $10,000 and $15,000 and 11% even spending over that.

Crucially, 40% said they would be using financial aid to pay for their study abroad experience – scholarships were or are being used by 29% of respondents, but just 11% said it was included in their tuition.

“Study abroad offices can make it easier for students by offering a financial aid resources page with links to available scholarships and grants and automating mundane financial aid and credit transfer workflows,” suggested Carson.

Despite this issue, interest in study abroad is still high. Some 73% of students said they hope or plan to study abroad, and over half (54%) of respondents said they would do it as soon as spring 2025.

Some 90% said that it’s an “important” aspect of their personal professional growth.

The most popular form study abroad, according to the survey, is a semester in Europe – most popular among them is Italy.

“Generally speaking, European countries are more familiar for American students, creating an easier travel experience and Italy is a perennial favourite,” noted Carson.

“With a central location in Europe, it’s easy for students studying in Italy to travel to other countries, making the most of their trip abroad. Potential language barriers are also a factor. Many European countries, including Italy, speak English, alleviating that concern for students,” he continued.

“These costs add up for students, making study abroad inaccessible for many”

However, the third most popular destination (following Italy and the UK), is Japan – which has grown in popularity among study abroad students in recent years, with Japan also vowing to take in many more international students, whether it’s a semester or full degree program.

Safety is also a top concern among the respondents after the financial issue.

Some 36% said general safety concerns – followed by 25% saying “worried parents” – would prevent them from going abroad.

Despite such concerns, students are becoming interested in the prospect earlier than ever before. Almost half of those surveyed said they were first interested in high school, and 47% even said it factored into their decision to pick a college or university.

Carson noted that this is perhaps due to pend up demand and exploration from the pandemic.

“Some institutions even provide virtual advising to high school students and incoming college freshmen to promote early interest in and selection of study abroad programs,” he noted.

Most schools clearly already have a study abroad website, due to 47% of respondents saying that’s how they found most of their information – third party providers, which have grown in popularity in recent years, were primarily used by 22% of those surveyed.

Not included in the survey was the diversity of the students surveyed, but as recently highlighted by various professors, diverse programming is necessary – and Carson agreed it was “critical”.

“[That] includes dedicated outreach to ensure first generation students and other underrepresented populations are aware of the opportunities.

“International travel can be seen as intimidating, expensive or frightening. institutions should actively cultivate opportunities to dispel these misconceptions – whether that is through unique scholarship programs or shorter sponsored and supervised trips out of the country to build confidence and self-sufficiency for future study opportunities,” Carson added.

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