There's plenty to be gained by studying abroad during college. Not only does it give you a chance to travel and explore new corners of the world, but it also offers you an opportunity to meet interesting people and dabble in different cultures.
But if there's one downside of studying abroad, it's the expense involved. The average cost to study abroad is $14,295 per semester, reports GoAbroad.com, but that's just a ballpark estimate and doesn't necessarily include peripheral expenses like airfare. By contrast, the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at a four-year, in-state public college is $10,975 per semester.
As such, if you're intent on studying abroad, there's a good chance you'll need to take out student loans to make it happen. But in some cases, your borrowing options may be somewhat limited.
Taking out loans to study abroad
If you're eligible to take out federal student loans to attend college in the U.S., then you may be able to use some of that money to study abroad. To see if that's possible, you'll need to contact your school's financial aid office and see what your options are. If the college you attend doesn't participate in the federal student aid programs, then taking out federal loans to study abroad is off the table.
If you do take out federal loans to study abroad, the repayment process is the same as it is for loans taken out to study domestically: You get a six-month grace period following graduation (or following the date your studies end), after which your monthly payments begin coming due.
If taking out federal student loans to study abroad isn't possible, you can try borrowing privately instead. But know this: Private student loans tend to come with less favorable borrowing terms than federal loans. For one thing, the interest rates attached to them are typically much higher than those associated with federal loans. And whereas federal loan interest rates are fixed, private loan interest can be variable. This could cause your monthly payments to climb once you're in the process of repaying your debt.
Private student loans also don't offer the same official borrower protections as federal loans, like income-driven repayment plans or the option to defer payments. That said, it's worth noting that many private lenders do work with borrowers who experience financial hardships and need adjustments to their repayment terms or schedules.
Does it pay to study abroad?
Now that you know that it's possible to take out student loans to study abroad, the question becomes: Is it worth it?
If you're eager to explore another country, it could make more sense to travel there during a school break on the cheap rather than spend the money to live there for an entire semester. You'll also need to do some digging to see how well the credits you earn abroad will apply to your degree. And if you're behind on classes for your major, and the courses you need for it aren't offered abroad, you'll need to weigh the drawback of having to extend your studies beyond four years to complete your degree.
On the other hand, in some cases, you might find that studying abroad is actually less expensive than paying for a semester of tuition, fees, and room and board at the U.S. college you attend. Therefore, don't be so quick to write off the idea. If you can swing the cost of that semester abroad, or borrow affordably to fund it, you could wind up getting a great experience without burdening yourself too much financially.