Weighing costs to study abroad

Molly MacGregor came to SPU in the fall of 2005 knowing she wanted to study abroad.

Last quarter, MacGregor, who is majoring in the international affairs track of the political science major, was able to spend nearly four months in Russia through the Russia Studies Program of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ (CCCU) "Best Semester" program. Her time was filled with learning and exploring Russian culture during the day and discussing Russian politics and philosophy with local people in the evenings.

MacGregor had wanted to study abroad independently, but when she explored her options, she discovered the only study abroad opportunity that was financially available to her would be through SPU or the CCCU.

"I studied with the CCCU because I had to," she said. "If I didn’t go through the CCCU program, I was going to lose my SPU scholarship and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it."

While MacGregor described the trip as incredible, this was not the study abroad process she had in mind when she came to SPU.

"More financial options from the university are available to students through affiliated programs," said Heidi Seivert, student accounts programming coordinator at Student Financial Services. "Each situation is different. Students always need to talk to their financial counselors and their academic advisors."

When students intend to study abroad through programs that are not affiliated with SPU, they must take a leave of absence from the university, Seivert said.

However, when students study abroad through an SPU-affiliated program, they maintain enrollment. This allows them to retain all of the university distributed financial aid, she said.

Students who study abroad must take many factors such as academics, finances, expectations from the experience and time management when researching study abroad opportunities, said Jordan Grant, director of Student Financial Services.

"For students seriously interested in studying abroad, they must start researching and preparing at least nine months in advance," Grant said.

Academically, students studying abroad independently must prepare in advance to make sure that credits earned will transfer over correctly, Grant said.

The summer before MacGregor came to SPU, she studied in Costa Rica for credits toward her intended Spanish minor. She said she tried to contact people from SPU, but none were able to tell her if her credits would transfer over or not.

"They said, ‘Just go and we’ll figure it out in the fall,’" MacGregor said. "The 15 credits that I took did not transfer over and I had to repeat everything."

If she had known that the credits would not transfer over, MacGregor said she would have done things differently in Costa Rica.

"It was worth going there to live in the culture and to be surrounded by the language, but I could have done a lot more besides studying," she said. "That was the expensive and the hard part about going there, and I could have done that very differently."

In addition to ensuring that credits transfer over, students must know how they are going to pay for their trips beforehand, Seivert said.

"SPU students pay in full before they leave," she said.

Jasmine Lybrand, a junior, studied abroad in Uganda through the CCCU last quarter. She came into SPU assuming that she would study abroad for at least one quarter and said she stopped looking for other programs once she found the Uganda Studies Program and the Middle East Studies Program through the CCCU.

"I looked into the CCCU first and got really interested," she said. "The CCCU was also the program most supported by my professors."

Lybrand estimated that she spent around $18,000 for her quarter in Uganda. In addition, she paid roughly $1,000 for things such as immunizations, her passport and application processing fees.

The $18,000 included tuition, books, room and board, as well as roundtrip airfare from Washington, D.C., to Uganda.

Lybrand’s financial aid for fall quarter covered all but $2,000 for the program. She was not allowed to take out any additional loans, so Lybrand decided to get creative with how her financial aid in other quarters could help her.

"My SPU aid for winter and spring quarters covered more than I would need if I moved off campus," she said. "I had to write in to the financial office and explain my situation to them and then I moved my loans over to fall quarter.

Because the CCCU is on semester programs, students must pay for credits earned that are above the 18-credit limit for undergraduate students at SPU, Seivert said.

Lybrand received 24 credits for her program, meaning she had to pay $689 for each of the six additional credits above the SPU limit.

"When you compare the gross costs [of SPU and independent programs], SPU costs may appear more expensive. But when you factor in aid, it could be less than or equal to other programs," Grant said.

Senior Rachel Liberto decided to look beyond the CCCU and other SPU programs and found study abroad programs through the School for International Training (SIT).

Through these programs Liberto was able to spend 10 weeks studying independently in Jamaica. Her semester transferred 24 credits over to SPU and cost her $16,000.

"I don’t have any financial aid coming from SPU, so I was able to go through SIT for a cheaper price than going on an SPU program," she said. "Financially, I’m stinking lucky."

Liberto’s family had set aside money for her college tuition, which has enabled her to graduate without any debt. She also brought in enough credits to allow her to graduate a year and a quarter early, which also contributed to her ability to graduate debt free.

While Seivert said there is a lot of value that comes from studying abroad, she tries to deter students from taking out extra loans to cover the costs. This advice comes from both professional and personal experience.

"I’m still in repayment on my own private loans and it affects me daily," she said. "You don’t want to blindly go in and go into debt."

Despite the cost, Liberto and Lybrand said their experiences were worth everything.

"The experience was invaluable," Liberto said. "There is something really important about seeing the world through other eyes without filtering it through your own eyes."

Going into another country as a student also paints a different image of a person in the eyes of those who live there, Lybrand said.

"You’re not a missionary and you’re not a tourist," she said. "It is a humbling experience to come in and say ‘I’m here to learn.’"

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Title: Weighing costs to study abroad | Author: Shawnrene Keppel | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-01-30 | Internal ID: 6247