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Study abroad is a rite of passage in some circles.
And it’s gaining in popularity. More than 300,000 U.S. students studied abroad during the 2013–2014 academic year, according to the most recent figures from the Institute of International Education. That’s triple the amount from two decades ago.
Attending classes in a new country can be a great cultural experience. But it’s by no means mandatory for a student’s success. Hard work will determine that.
But if your student is itching to go abroad, we want you to be financially (and mentally) prepared for it. Here are seven questions to ask your son or daughter before they start booking plane tickets:
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1. Why do you want to go?
This should be the first question on your agenda. It’s important to know why your student is interested in studying abroad. If they’re only interested because a friend is going, what happens when their friend drops out? Get to the heart of the matter before you lose any deposits.
2. Where do you want to go?
Once your student explains why he or she wants to go overseas, grab a map. If a handful of countries sound awesome, narrow it down to just two or three. This will give you some specific programs to compare, instead of drowning in a sea of options.
3. How will this apply to your career/major?
Study abroad makes perfect sense if your daughter is a Spanish language major or your son is a French literature major. But what if their major is nursing or physical education? That’s okay too. Just ask them to explain the return on investment of studying abroad for their chosen career. This will serve as a goal for them too!
4. Will this derail your graduation path?
This is still school, remember? Will your student get enough course credits to graduate on time? Will a specific class they need for their major be offered the semester they’re away? This is important stuff. An oversight here could cost you an extra semester of tuition, room and board.
5. What’s the cost breakdown?
Many schools allow you to transfer regular tuition payments to a study abroad program. So your child’s semester away may not cost any more than a normal semester at home—as long as their financial aid package transfers as well. What will cost more is the transportation, extra travel and food costs. And summer or short-term programs don’t always function the same way. So figure out your bottom line before you sign the dotted line.
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6. What do you want to do (besides study)?
Does your student want to explore nearby countries while they’re in Europe or South America? Do they want to attend a certain festival or event? And what extra excursions will they sign up for? These cost money. Plan accordingly.
7. Who’s paying for what?
Ask your student how much they’re willing to pay toward their study abroad experience. If they’re serious about going, they should have some skin in the game. Let them suggest what they should pay and what you should pay. You don’t have to go along with their proposed plan, but this is a great lesson in budgeting.
After you’re in possession of all the facts, it’s time to make a decision. Think through factors like cost, safety, and the maturity of your child. If you decide study abroad is a wise move for your student, give them the green light. And be sure you have plenty of time to raise the cash needed.
If you decide against it, that’s okay too. But encourage your student to find other ways to experience new cultures right here in the United States. And if they’re dying to travel abroad, encourage them to start saving up for a post-graduation trip of their own.
They can do anything they put their mind and their money to!