As a parent, the importance of saving for college is ingrained in you from the day your child is born. So, when it's finally time for freshman year and you've run all the numbers — you know how much you can contribute, and how much will come from financial aid, grants or scholarships — you may want to set your payments on autopilot and forget about it. That is, until your kid comes home from fall break and announces that he wants to study abroad, making you think your carefully laid financial plans are going to crumble. But don't put your foot down just yet.
Parents and students alike often perceive study-abroad programs as out of their reach, financially. In fact, a recent survey by IIEPassport.org and StudyAbroad.com found that money is the greatest concern to students when they are considering the opportunity — surpassing language barriers, cultural issues and academic requirements.
The surprising thing is: You can probably swing it — without digging into your savings or racking up extra debt. Why? Because many study-abroad programs' costs can be nearly equal to that of a typical semester at a U.S. college or university. You just have to know — and make good use of — your options.
- Get a jump-start on research: College students have a habit of deciding they really want to do something before they consider all the ramifications. The earlier you start researching and planning, the easier the trip will be on your wallet.
So, if and when your offspring comes home gung-ho about jetting off next term or next year, rein her in a little bit. You need plenty of time to compare programs and locations, which can often vary widely, particularly when it comes to price, said John Duncan, director of StudyAbroad.com.
There are a number of Web sites that can help you start to sort through the options. In addition to IIEPassport.org and StudyAbroad.com, check out GoAbroad.com and StudyAbroadDirectory.com.
- Broaden your scope and save: The most popular locations — think London, Paris and Rome — also happen to be some of the most expensive. Students often think of these destinations first because they're the places they hear about most often. Coax them into looking at other options, both so that they don't overstep the budget and so they have the opportunity to consider all the places available to them.
Kimberly Gradel, director of IIEPassport.org, noted that — in part because of the strength of the dollar — "Argentina and Latin-American countries are low-priced and far more cost-effective."
- Pay attention to details: Choosing a program is the fun part, but students need to be careful to pick one that meets not only their requirements for fun and culture, but those of their college or university as well.
Double check that credits earned while abroad will transfer back to the student's home school. Failing to do so could end up costing an extra semester's tuition spent on making up those classes.
Then, when looking at and pricing package options, keep an eye out for extra costs that may not be included. Books, insurance and plane tickets — which can add up to thousands of dollars — sometimes fall in this category. Selecting a package that is more inclusive eliminates financial surprises.
- Make use of financial aid: Often, families overlook large amounts of financial aid because they just don't know it is there.
"Many students are surprised to learn that their existing financial aid, including their federal aid, is frequently transferable to studying abroad," Gradel said.
Most colleges and universities have study-abroad offices that can help search for any scholarships or grants. Or, students can search online at StudyAbroadFunding.com or nafsa.org/secussa.
- Stick to a budget: I know that it sounds next to impossible to set up a working budget before the plane lands overseas, but it's not.
Have your child make a connection with one or two students who came out of the program last semester. Not only will that result in a true sense of how much pocket money he'll need, it may help him maneuver in unfamiliar territory at least for the first few weeks.
Additional Reporting: Arielle McGowen
Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .