Being a community college student has its perks. Comparable to four year universities, the community college system is a huge bargain. However, because it is only a two-year institution, students do not have as many study abroad programs as a four year university. I had one goal when graduating high school and that was to study abroad. Seeing how empowered friends and family were after they came back from world travels made me eager to find my identity in the same way.
As a Latina who is low income and a first generation college student, I knew that studying abroad was going to have its challenges. I registered for two programs before I finally enrolled in a program for London Fall 2017. In many senses I felt like this program was specifically made for me. I would be taking all the classes I needed to transfer including some major course work.
Registering and enrolling for study abroad programs is the easiest part, funding your trip is where it gets a bit tricky. As students, our focus is on trying to pass that one math class that gives us equation nightmares, so, talking about money can be stressful. Arranging your funding situation is really important, trust me I learned the hard way. Here are 5 steps that I took to fund my program.
Firstly, check if you qualify for financial aid and make sure to submit your FAFSA application. There is no fee if you don’t qualify and the only way to confirm is to apply. If you do qualify then take advantage of the free grants as this will help fund your trip. However, don’t worry if you don’t qualify – there are still plenty of opportunities.
Yes, some scholarships can be stressful. However, you might be more successful than you thought. For example, just try sacrificing at least one hour of Netflix a day to work on scholarships! If you’re apart of specific programs, ask them about special scholarships that they offer. You can also apply for on campus scholarships. Rejection is scary but you never know if you don’t try! I won an $1000 dollar scholarship the first time I applied! I am also part of an off campus program that awards need based scholarships. There is no essay necessary! I just met with my mentors and communicated my situation. Remember, scholarships are free money that you never have to pay back!
3. Working, working, working
Yes, being a working student is hard. However, it is completely worth it. For example, try and find jobs on campus that are flexible with your schedule. Not only do you get money from working but you also get to add experience on your resume. If working during school is not an option, think about working for Summer or Winter when you are taking less classes. There are also many seasonal jobs.
4. Fundraisers/ Donations
People want you to succeed. The director at my local art gallery offered to open her doors for me to host a fundraiser. In the middle of finals week, working two jobs, I (along with a lot of help from family) planned a fundraiser. It was one of the most stressful weeks of my life, but completely worth it. The fundraiser was a way to not only get my family and friends together to say goodbye, but to also make some money. I invited everyone from my aunt to the mayor of my city. Those who couldn’t attend, generously donated. I sold tickets for food and raffle prizes. I repeat, people want you to succeed.
Throughout my fundraiser, strangers would walk in (it was a public art gallery) and ask me what event was going on. I would tell my story or give my “elevator speech” and they would donate. My community was a large part of my success. Neighbors I didn’t know, classmates, high school guidance counselors all donated as much as they could. After 10 hours (from setup to cleanup) I went home with $1,000 in my pocket. Bake sales are also very popular. In one week, I made about $500 and in a month about $2,000. Third party crowd funding sites like GoFundMe and Venmo are also great ways to ask for donations from family and friends.
5. The big L word
Not love, LOANS. Don’t be afraid of taking out loans. Look at all of your loan options and see which one is the best for you. Seek help from the financial aid department to talk about subsidized and unsubsidized loans. When I took out loans, I saw it as an investment in my education and career. From speaking with other former study abroad participants I realized that taking loans is very common and helped them greatly.
These were the options that I took to make my dream of studying abroad a reality. Family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers want you to succeed. They will invest in you if they believe in your dreams. Studying abroad is affordable for everyone if you are willing to put in the work.
Elizabeth Soto is a Student Ambassador and Student Blogger studying with the Southern Californian Foothills Consortium this Fall semester in London.