World Wednesdays - How to study abroad?

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World Wednesdays - How to study abroad?

(10-15 minute read)

Part 2 of 3 in a series dedicated to studying abroad on why you should, how to do it, and what to expect.

Now that you decided you want to study abroad it is time to figure out how exactly to accomplish that goal, because that is the hardest part.

Although this guide will have information for studying abroad in general its focus will be on France. This will also cover studying abroad for a whole semester (or year). I will cover shorter summer programs like ESA Paris in another post.

This guide will cover the major aspects of making your studying abroad dream a reality, with links to specific details and resources. Keep in mind that program dates, prices, and procedures are subject to change. Let’s get started. 

As soon as you know that you want to study abroad the planning process begins. Ideally you want to give yourself a year to comfortably get everything in proper order without stressing yourself if you decide to do it last minute.

You can complete the process of planning your trip in 6-8 months but 6 would be the absolute minimum, given the requirements for most applications, meeting financial goals, and filing visa/international paperwork.

Your priority will be on hitting your financial targets, which is not just critical to being able to live abroad, but also mandatory for being granted a student visa. Most visa requirements also have very specific steps that can only be completed after finishing previous ones. Visa appointments will also be crucial as availability varies, so the sooner you can get your affairs in order the better. You can split the the planning of the year into three parts:

  • First 4 months - Choosing a program, coordinating with your university the articulation of classes, setting financial goals, and starting any preliminary paperwork you can take care of. 

  • Second 4 months - Submitting applications to both your university and your target university, applying for scholarships, grants, etc., beginning the filing of your student visa.

  • Last 4 months - Making housing choices, finalizing all required (and optional) paperwork, attending your visa appointment (can only be done for France within three months of leaving), buying your flight, and packing!

This is of course a simplified overview of what to expect as there are many specific details which I will try and cover as best as possible but additional information may found elsewhere.

Depending on the university you attend there will be different programs available to choose from.

Most programs will fall under two categories, internal and external ones. Internal programs that already have a direct partnership with the university are by far the best choices as the process will more guided. This financially also has lower cost when compared to external national programs or independent ones. 

The UC system (UCLA, Irvine, Berkeley, etc.) has an entire network of programs and a complete guide to take you where you want to go. Their process is very guided and there are plenty of options and help with every little detail.

Check their page here:

The Cal State Universities currently do not have a system in place for such a network. You must check with your particular university to see a list of available options. This applies to private universities as well.

In either case picking a program that already has a partnership with the university, I repeat is your best option, as most classes will already have been pre-approved to work within your major that way you don't lose valuable credits.

If you do have a particular university you want to attend that is also your choice as most international universities do accept independent student applications. That however usually requires paying all the cost upfront and getting department approval for making your classes count. 

To get the most information about particular programs it is best to do thorough research by visiting their websites, attending info sessions from your university, reaching out to program advisors/coordinators, and talking to students who have previously done the programs. 

You can use the contact form to reach out to me personally about any questions you may have, I am more than happy to help. I did my program from Cal State Los Angeles at ESSCA Paris in 2017.

After choosing your program your next goal is making sure you will have the necessary funds required to achieve going abroad. In the image below you will find a detailed breakdown of my expenses for Paris 2017.

Please note that the cost for my own program are not in this sheet as my study abroad agreement was done as an exchange student, which was charged by my university at the standard semester rate (approximately $4000). Other programs have additional cost but some programs deduct the fees from the overall total for housing, applications, etc. This is not at all indicative of the cost of your particular plan but I believe it is a good average of what to expect.

Remember that each city is different and has its own particular cost of living (Paris is quite pricey for example) so do some research on your city as well. You must also remember the exchange rate of the US to foreign currency conversion changes because you CAN buy foreign currency way before your trip that may appreciate in value when you go, saving you good money.

Your two biggest categories will be housing and food. About 35-40% of your budget will go to your housing cost and that number may be lower depending on your choice of accommodations. You can stay with a family, apply for university student apartments, which tend to be farther out from the city but cost less, or finding your own independent place by using AirBnB, or private listings. 

The other big category in your budget, about 30-35%, will go towards survival and living (entertainment) expenses. Depending on your level of expertise with cooking, you can save a lot by making your own meals and buying groceries instead of eating out everyday.

About 10-15% can be travel expenses like your initial flight, but for the most part metro transportation will be the other category, with a smaller percentage for optional trips you may take.

The remaining cost can be grouped together as administrative/international cost. You will have application fees, health insurance coverage, visa fees, phone plan, etc. These cost may take up another 10-15% of your budget but they will be paid towards the beginning and the middle of your timeline and not during your stay. 

I recommend adding a small buffer ($500 - $1000) for unexpected cost as well since you never know what may happen either good or bad. For example you may want to do extra weekend trips to nearby cities, countries, and if you are not careful can you blow your budget pretty easily. 

One obstacle with regards to France in particular (though I suspect other countries to be similar) is that in order to get a student visa you must submit full proof of available funds during the application process. This can either be in the form of a financial aid letter guaranteeing the amount or a bank statement showing the funds available. This is important as they ask for the amount to be in multiples of $820 (as of 2017) per month of your stay. For example, if you are asking for a visa with validity of four months your letter or statement must show the amount of funds to be $3280 (820 x 4). These details are important as they affect your visa validity and your own internal timeline for completing the visa process. 

My personal recommendations are to immediately talk to your financial aid counselors (if you receive aid) to begin exploring your options. There also a number of study abroad specific scholarships that you should apply for besides general ones. Money is always left on the table somewhere by students who never submit their applications. 

If you receive aid depending on your package you can use all or a partial amount towards the cost of the program. If you already work or don’t but can juggle classes and a workload you can try and get more hours, or finding a side job. If you don't have summer classes start looking for internships which also have early application periods. 

Instead of gifts, ask for cash for your birthday to reach your goal. If you know how to manage credit cards (which I don’t recommend for everybody) you can use travel points to save on those expenses. It may feel impossible to finance your dream but believe me it is not. I personally accomplished my goal through financial aid, scholarships, and a summer internship. I come from a background where such a thing does seem unrealistic but if you are determined you can get there. Don’t be discouraged by the prices it will be worth every penny. 

For this next section I will cover just the basic details as most programs have detailed guides to their process and the visa application is also very complex to discuss here. Please check your target country’s consulate for all information.

Here is a link for France:

In general terms there are three major sets of applications to consider. The university application, the visa application, and your personal ones like passport, insurances, etc. The school application is the most straight forward one. Deadlines for these applications tend to be at the beginning of a new semester for applicants wanting to go abroad in the next one. For example, fall programs will have deadlines for hopeful candidates late February to mid-March. These applications usually involve a series of questions on your desire/ability to study abroad which may or may not include essays but they do check to see if you are a qualified candidate based on different criteria like GPA.

This process tends to be a formality as anyone wishing to study abroad is encouraged to do so and as long as you process everything on time you will have no trouble getting to the next part. Submit early if possible as this can be very helpful since there may be many students who apply as well and all decide to clear up any questions with advisors at the last minute. Once approved you can get started on the visa application.

Although advisors and counselors may help you out with general visa questions be prepared to tackle a lot of the process yourself. The basics of the student visa process include submitting proper documentation of where you will stay, the length of your stay, availability of funds, proof of acceptance into your target university and setting the appointment. All of which have their own particular hurdles.

Make sure your passport is valid 6 months after arrival from your program as most countries/airlines reject any applicants from traveling if your expiration date is near your return date. Get your insurance and travel affairs in order. You may not be able to purchase your flight until after you’ve obtained the student visa, so be careful about jumping early on that part.

The paperwork is a hassle but you cannot avoid it. Be organized, take notes, follow up with offices/people if you don't hear back sometimes things get lost, believe me. Most importantly focus on the big picture. Treat every little task with care since all the hard work you put in will be very rewarding looking back. 

Once all the paperwork is done the rest is now the beginning of an amazing adventure. What will you expect when you arrive? Read about it on the next post.


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