Breaking down the finances of studying abroad


Studying abroad offers students a chance to explore new cultures and gain valuable international experience. However, the financial aspects can be complicated, leaving students wondering whether they can participate in abroad programs and, if they can, where exactly their money goes.

Sascha Rizika, ‘25, is preparing for her spring semester studying in Italy, and she said she’s excited to explore the country where her mother once lived. 

However, Rizika said she’s puzzled by the financial details of her study abroad experience.

Tuition for the 2023 to 2024 academic year at Lehigh is $61,180 per semester, not including other required fees. Students who opt for a semester abroad must pay a full semester’s tuition to Lehigh University, irrespective of their chosen program.

“Why would we pay the same amount of Lehigh tuition if the abroad programs are supposed to be cheaper?” Rizika said.

Similar concerns are not uncommon for students considering whether to participate in study abroad, but Katy Rene, the assistant director of study abroad, said the university doesn’t make more profit from study abroad programs than those who stay at Lehigh to study. 

“The same way that Lehigh doesn’t charge a chemistry major more to be here than an English major, the university also doesn’t change the charges for students based on whether or not they’re going to go abroad,” Rene said.

She said this concept is called the “full tuition model,” which a majority of schools in the United States use. 

“It’s what allows students to keep their financial aid,” Rene said. “Otherwise, if they weren’t enrolled or it was done differently, it would really change access for a lot of students.”

Although tuition fees remain the same, Rene said room and board costs are handled differently.

She said the university often observes a small financial loss associated with students studying abroad due to other expenses going to the study abroad programs.

“Instead of being billed by Lehigh, whether a student is on campus or in an off-campus apartment, the students pay the room and board costs directly to the study abroad program,” Rene said.

Study abroad programs are usually transparent. She said they not only specify the exact billed costs but also include estimates of additional expenses that students should anticipate covering out of their own pockets during the semester.

Although semester-long study abroad programs are eligible for Lehigh financial aid, Rene said summer and winter programs do not have access to Lehigh financial aid and need to rely on outside funding. 

With a commitment to inclusivity, Rene said the Study Abroad Office strives to make studying abroad accessible to students of all financial backgrounds.

Jennifer Mertz, the assistant vice provost of financial services, said study abroad students continue to receive need-based aid as if they were on campus.

“All students who are applying for need-based aid have to submit that Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the federal form,” Mertz said. “We also require the CSS Profile, which is through the College Board and parents submit taxes to us.”

In addition to need-based aid, Mertz said students can borrow loans to help cover semester programs if they have additional costs that they need to cover.

She said Lehigh offers a travel grant for study abroad, and eligible students can apply for the national Gilman Scholarship, which is specifically open to those eligible for the Federal Pell Grant.

According to the Office of Fellowship Advising, 76 Lehigh students received Gilman Scholarships between 2017 and 2022.

In addition to study abroad grants, Rene said the Study Abroad Office has a very thorough advising process where each student is assigned a study abroad adviser based on their college and major.

Planning includes both academic and financial aspects, with an emphasis on scholarships for those with financial need, including both internal university scholarships and external opportunities. 

“We do encourage students to come to our office soon after they arrive at Lehigh if they hope to study abroad at some point in their career so we can give them some guidance about how to plan for it right,” Rene said.

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