It's true, you can get government $$$ to help cover the costs of your study abroad program - Under the 1992 law, they are treated like any other school program that you participate in. Be careful though, there is a possibility that it may somehow impact your ability to get $$$ the following semester - check with your school to make sure you're okay.
When we talk about "Financial Aid", generally we are speaking of the money American students receive from the federal government each year as part of their program. This can be in the form of loans or grants, and depending on the situation (aka loans) may require re-payment after graduation. Fair warning, the interest rates on these loans can get very, very high. Mine is sitting at 13.5%, the highest possible for my loans, which means every 6ish years, the loans double.
To be honest, I'm not sure what financial aid foreign governments provide to their students; this article operates from the assumption that you are a U.S. student. For US students, this money is usually applied for via completion of the FAFSA application. We do it every year after taxes are filed, informing the government of how much money we have access to and requesting that they help supplement the costs.
How much money you get depends upon how many credits you are enrolled for, how much money your parents can contribute, and how much the school tells the government you need. For example, they say the program costs $1000, then the government usually will help in some form to get you to that $1000.
Some of the usual requirements for eligibility are:
The ability to show that you need the money (your cost of education is greater than your family contribution)
During the Study Abroad program, you should be enrolled at least half time in classes (6-10 credits)
Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen & have a SSN
You must have a High School Diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate
No legal problems with drugs (and sometimes other crimes)
No matter what your situation is, you should contact your university's financial aid office to find out precisely what money you would qualify to receive.
What it Covers, What it Doesn't
Traditionally, financial aid from the government will cover some of the costs for attending school, including tuition, room and board, books, some school supplies, and some transportation. Realistically, you'll usually get tuition, housing (cost of the hotel), some money for books (sometimes 50%-80% of actual cost), a little money for flights and maybe a couple culture tours (40-75% of actual cost), and a little extra refund to live on. Statistically, students often find that the refund is not enough to cover everything but covers about 70-90% of the costs if you're careful. Everything else comes out of your own pocket.
Two Problems for Financial Aid Students. . .
1. One of the first things you will need to look into is arranging for your airline and accommodation reservations. Remember, usually you are paying for the plane tickets (and maybe housing) out of pocket, at least to begin with, if you're using financial aid to fund the trip.
But think back to all those other semesters you got a refund. When do you actually get the money? - - After classes have already started! The government doesn't like to hand out money until they know you are attending class. So you aren't going to see a penny of your study abroad money until after the classes have begun. See where this is going?
You will definitely be paying for airline tickets with your own money - - pretty much no school covers that cost for you unless its a short program. The way it works, you buy the tickets and after classes start, the government includes some money for flights in the refund.
But normally, the school will arrange for housing for you. If they have a large group, sometimes hotels offer group rates to universities and they'll book it together. Since that has to be paid in advance, the school will pay for it and you will just be charged a "housing fee" in tuition, which can be paid after you get fin aid, like any normal semester. Even if they do arrange housing though, you're going to probably have to at least pay the deposit on the hotel room, which may be a few hundred bucks.
2. The second thing you need to remember is that financial aid always underestimates.You will get a "refund" for the money spent on housing and travel--just like the living expenses in a normal semester. But remember how that book allowance was never nearly enough for your school books? Well, you may only get a "flight allowance" for $1000, when your plane tickets alone may be as high as $3000 by the time you cover both ways. And housing allowances are often too short as well. So don't count on the whole amount being refunded to you--some of this money you've got to come up with on your own.
Now this may not mean much to some, but to those who need to pinch pennies--this is a HUGE fee. So shop around a little, check out what's available and see what options fit your needs.