During the 2017-2018 school year, Cal Poly ranked second in the nation among master’s institutions in the United States for the number of students studying abroad, according to the Institute for International Education

Cal Poly was also ranked first in the nation for the number of students abroad in mid-length programs (a semester or quarter), fifth for long-term programs (a full academic or calendar year) and ninth for short-term programs lasting less than 10 weeks. A total of 1,231 Cal Poly students went abroad last year.

For many students, the financial aspect often plays a role in whether or not they will participate and also influences where and when they will go. While there are a number of resources available to students, many are unaware of them and do not realize until the application deadline has passed or they have already gone abroad.

Here is a look at strategies Cal Poly students use to make studying abroad more affordable.  

Cal Poly study abroad scholarships

There are more than 500 Cal Poly pre-approved study abroad programs in 75 different countries, which fall under five categories: Cal Poly Global Program, Cal Poly International Exchange Programs, CSU International Programs, National Student Exchange and Cal Poly Partner Programs.

The cost of a student’s studying abroad experience varies considerably depending on the type of program they chose. The Exchange programs, along with some of the Global Programs, are some of the most affordable options because they are the same prices as Cal Poly tuition.

According to Assistant Vice Provost of the International Center Cari Vanderkar, the Center is always looking to find ways of increasing funding for students through fundraising and implementing new scholarship opportunities. 

For the first time this year, Cal Poly is giving away five $15,000 scholarships to students attending the Cal Poly London program in Summer 2020. There are also a number of study abroad scholarships that range anywhere from $500 to $7,500.

Annually, the International Center awards over $150,000 in scholarship funds toward study abroad. The funding comes from endowed and other scholarships through the International Center, scholarships through departments or colleges and funding support from partner providers,” Vanderkar wrote in an email to Mustang News.

For more information about scholarship opportunities visit Financial Planning.

Financial aid through Cal Poly

In addition to the university and program specific scholarship opportunities offered to students, those who are eligible may also qualify to receive financial aid.

City and regional planning junior Amelia Cane found these resources to be extremely beneficial during her study abroad experience in Prague through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) program.

“The financial aid and scholarship money is what allowed me to be able to study abroad, which was amazing, but I wouldn’t say the process is good,” Cane said. “It was difficult because I had to choose a program that took financial aid and also make sure the program was the same cost or less than Cal Poly tuition so that the financial aid I was given covered the whole cost of abroad.”

This required her to seek out additional scholarship options because she was unsure if the financial aid loans she received would be enough to cover the cost of her program. 

“I applied for scholarships through my program, USAC, and through Cal Poly,” Cane said. “I ended up getting a scholarship to study with USAC and this helped ease the cost greatly in that my loans now covered more than the expense of the program, which gave me some extra spending money.”

For Cane, the scholarships are what worked best. While the financial aid helped cover the cost of the program and housing for the time being, the process was tricky and she will still have to pay off the loans after she graduates.

Non-affiliated programs

Alternatively, students may opt to study abroad through a non-affiliated program from an independent organization. This option is often overlooked because it is not promoted by Cal Poly, so some students do not know what these programs offer. 

For psychology and child development senior Sabrina Green the ALBA program in Barcelona was the way to go. She said she enjoyed her experience so much that she decided to become an ALBA student representative to encourage others to apply for programs that do not come with the Cal Poly price tag. 

Last year, approximately 50 Cal Poly students participated in the ALBA study abroad program in Barcelona, which is a personalized experience through Portland State that offers a variety of general education classes and major specific courses including business, liberal arts, journalism and architecture for just a fraction of the cost, according to Green.  

“The cool thing about ALBA is that programs are capped at about 60 students every quarter, so everyone feels like their needs are being met,” Green said. “It’s a very individualized program with about 10 staff members, so you have a really good opportunity to get to know them and everyone else in your program while exploring the huge city of Barcelona.”

According to Green, a fall quarter through ALBA is roughly $9,000, winter and spring are around $10,000 and summer is about $6,700.

Comparing that to the Barcelona study abroad programs offered through Cal Poly, the typical fall and spring semesters average around $18,200 and the summer programs are about $6,300. There are currently no winter programs offered. This makes studying abroad in the fall and spring semesters in Barcelona through Cal Poly more than twice the cost of ALBA.

All of these costs are estimates and only include program fees.

Independent study

Another popular trend among students who study abroad in non-traditional ways is to not go through a program at all. Instead, students may enroll in online classes through Foothill College or any other online schooling, and stay at various places for the duration of their travels.

This provides students with the flexibility to travel where and when they want to. It gives them the freedom to choose exactly how much they are willing to spend on housing, meals and other necessities without being restricted to program specific rules. 

Some students, like journalism junior Lili LaBaron, used this “do it yourself” abroad method with her boyfriend to see and do as much as possible while still sticking to a budget. She said that they spent three months in Europe, two weeks in Australia, and two weeks in Bali. During those months, they went to 14 different countries.

“My boyfriend came with me on the trip and he is a mechanical engineering student who is planning on graduating in four years. Most people thought he couldn’t do it, but because Cal Poly offers summer classes and online courses, he pulled it off. It means everyone can do it, which is inspiring I think,” said LaBaron. 

When asked about the financial aspect, LaBron said it ultimately saved her money, especially when comparing it to the price of Cal Poly programs. 

“I went with another person and was able to save money by staying a few nights randomly with family or friends who were studying or living abroad and I think I did well financially. Between my boyfriend and I, we spent around $15,000 to $16,000 together, so about $8,000 per person including three long haul planes, tons of transportation, Airbnb and hostels, food and activities,” LaBron said.

Some students are realizing that they must take matters into their own hands and go outside the box to make their study abroad experience possible when Cal Poly financial aid support and scholarship opportunities just are not enough.

This could change, however, as the International Center develops new programs and opportunities in the future that make studying abroad more accessible to all.

“We continue to look at fundraising opportunities and collaborate with University Development and our colleagues in the respective colleges to increase funding. We also negotiate with our partner programs for scholarships for students with high financial need,” Vanderkar wrote in an email. “Creating broad access to study abroad is a key priority for the International Center.”

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