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When Scholarships & Financial Aid Just Aren’t Enough…

March 24, 2016
by CEA MOJO
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Most study abroad students start with the same dream: strolling the streets of Paris, café au lait and baguette in hand; exploring the plush rainforests of Costa Rica; or tasting curious, brightly colored Japanese delights at a local food market. And then reality hits. Studying abroad has a price tag—it’s not small and it never goes on sale or gets any less pricy.

You may be at the same point where I found myself during my three study abroad experiences to Switzerland, France and Indonesia. Scratching my head, wondering, “How in the WORLD does anyone afford this?” (See how global my mindset is?)

You’ll read all the articles about study abroad scholarships. You’ll hear all about the merits of the competitive Benjamin Gilman Scholarship (of which I am an alum – don’t discount yourself, you can earn one!), and about small local scholarships from your school. But, sometimes, these can seem impossible to achieve.

You’ll read all the articles about applying your financial aid and student loans to your tuition. And, sometimes, neither will do all the work. Sometimes, they won’t cover anything related to your dream experience at all.

So…now what?

You fundraise! I’m sure you’ve heard of the many Kickstarter sites and other options for gathering funds online such as GoFundMe, IndieGoGo and more. But did you know there is a funding site just for studying abroad? Try out FundMyTravel to create a beautiful website that draws your friends, family and even strangers in. With FundMyTravel, you can send emails to potential supporters, keep track of their information and gifts, and easily send thank you notes in a timely fashion.

However, in modern times, when it’s so easy and tempting to just click delete on all of those Kickstarter emails, instead of making a meaningful donation…sometimes, you just gotta kick it old school.

SAY WHAAAAAAT?

Think paper. Think printers. Think ink. Sending a letter in the mail may seem retro but its normcore  enough to get people’s attention. Who doesn’t love getting something in the mail? Isn’t that why we are all subscribing to 5-10 subscription services at any given moment (Just me? Oh, okay.)?

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Write out why you want to study abroad. What has led you to this moment in your academic career? Give us your narrative!
  2. What goals will studying abroad help you accomplish? Companies and individuals want to know how your adventure is going to help you become a productive member of society – tell them.
  3. Tell them what you need. Gather up your expected costs—tuition or program cost, airfare, living costs, etc., and what other resources you are using to cover it.
  4. Give them a way to get the money back to you. Include a return envelope that is pre-addressed and paid for, if you’ve got the cash for stamps.

Put the aforementioned points into a short and simple classic letter format. Be sure to personalize letters by addressing them to the individual! Make them feel special! You might also want to include a photo of yourself in the corner so as to let individuals and companies know you are a lovely college student and not a droid. Print those letters on a decent weight of paper, send them out, sit back…and watch the bucks roll in…

You haven’t heard anything and no bucks have rolled anywhere.

Did you give your donors enough time? Fundraising certainly isn’t a last minute ditch effort. I would recommend giving your donors at least 2-3 months to get back to you, and remember that it doesn’t hurt to follow up. Give them a call or send a little postcard with a picture of your study abroad destination as a reminder.

Finally, the most important part of any solicitation is the thank you note. A little goes a very long way in this arena. Be sure to send out handwritten notes as soon as gifts are received. Pick your favorite stationary and maybe even plan to buy trinkets for some people once you get abroad. By closing the metaphorical loop on your experience (providing an update on your progress or how your study abroad journey went), you might be able to rely on support from your donors in the future.

There you have it. Funding study abroad isn’t impossible, it’s just kind of time consuming. But think back to the beginning of this little article – finally sitting in that French bakery eating a croissant du chocolat will be well worth the effort.

Jessica Madison is an international higher education coordinator who enjoys advising students through their pre-departure process. She has extensive fundraising experience both personally and professionally and once worked to raise funds for one of the nation’s largest non-profits.


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