How to Avoid Student Debt and Still Study Abroad

Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience, and it’s great to see you’re considering it. But it’s very easy to let the excitement overwhelm you and forget about all the fees and costs.

In fact, many students find the prospect of studying a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree abroad quite burdensome after realising it might involve getting a loan and being in debt for quite some years in the future.

But you don’t need to take a loan to study abroad, and avoiding student debt is easier when you’re well informed:

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1. Choose a degree you can afford

The simplest thing you can do to avoid debt while studying is choosing a degree that matches your budget. Actually, in our study-abroad guide, we explain how setting a budget is one of the first things you should do as part of your planning.

Not only does this stop you from overspending or biting off more than you can chew, but it can also make the university or programme selection a lot easier.

It doesn’t matter that much where you want to study; most countries — including popular destinations — have tuition fees for everyone’s pockets. You can use the filters on our portals to search efficiently. For example, we were easily able to find affordable degrees in:

You can decrease or increase your budget, select other countries and the length of your studies — all these and more on Bachelorsportal and Mastersportal.

2. Find the sweet spot between value and costs

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Keep this in mind while evaluating your study options. Write it down if necessary. Why?

Because it’s an obvious but essential lesson. Just because the price of something is high, that doesn’t mean its value is also high. Similarly, a lower-priced degree doesn’t necessarily mean a lower grade education. Actually, European countries like Germany and Norway offer some of the best higher education in the world that is also free for all internationals.

It’s up to you to find those hidden gems, those courses that offer great bang for your buck. Student reviews might help with that, but you should also research more about the institution’s values and past.

When dealing with universities, actions always speak louder than words. Institutions or professors might say this or that; but if it’s actually true, it will always show up in academic results and the experience of their alumni.

Student calculating her loan debt

3. Apply for scholarships and funding programmes

Applying for financial support (excluding student loans) is a great opportunity to reduce or even cover the full costs of your higher education. Look for various types of available funding:

  • scholarships
  • grants
  • sponsorships
  • assistantships
  • subsidies
  • crowdfunding (relatively new)

You can learn more about them in our guide to finding scholarships abroad. In general, these awards are given based on academic results, financial need, research purposes, and other criteria. Don’t forget you can also apply for the Studyportals Scholarship: International Distinction Awards.

For those of you who are already working, talk to your employer. Some companies are willing to invest in their people and offer tuition reimbursements. These might cover 20%, 40%, 60% — who knows how much of your fees — and it’s a welcome help for any student.

4. Get a part-time job while studying

Many countries allow internationals to work at least part-time. Non-EU/EEA students are usually limited to 20 hours per week. EU/EEA citizens can work more as long as they keep their grades up. This is a good way to either cover the costs of your studies or pay off your accommodation and living expenses.

Sure, a part-time job will make studying more difficult or stressful. But there’s also the option to combine a part-time degree with a part-time job. Consider that. You might graduate 1–1,5 years later, but you’ll have a CV boosting a higher education diploma and work experience, which is so important in the current job market.

5. Avoid taking large loans

A common saying goes like this: “You can’t put a price on education.” But the fact is… you can. Most universities do, and some of them put an incredibly high price tag.

We’re trying to remain unbiased here, but the truth is the best way to avoid debt while studying abroad is to NOT get a student loan. It’s as simple as that.

And this is especially true for those of you who want to study in the USA, where student debt reached 1.7 trillion USD in 2020 and where you have to pay off that debt even if you drop off or don’t graduate. Ouch! All in all, if you can avoid a student loan, do it. Your future self will thank you!

Now, to be fair, some countries (like the United Kingdom, for example) offer much more reasonable loan schemes. You only need to pay in instalments, after graduation, and after you reach a certain income threshold. But even in the UK, this option is no longer available for internationals from 2021 onwards.

If you do find other countries with a similar loan system, check it out but make sure you understand all the details, implications, and the exact way and timeline for paying back your loan.

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Student loans in the EU

In some European countries, it might be worthwhile to consider taking a student loan.

Maybe not always for EU/EEA students, who already pay lower fees — or none at all — but this is a good option for non-EU/EEA students, who pay tuition between 3,000 and 20,000 EUR per year, which is still much lower than what they’d pay in the US.

Each country has different policies regarding student loans; these also vary based on the institution that offers the loan (e.g. a local bank, the government). Here’s an overview:

  • the loans usually need to be paid back within 15 years after graduation
  • you start paying back the loan in instalments either immediately after graduation or as soon as you get a job
  • you have to pay off the loan even if you don’t graduate or drop out
  • in some countries, you can burrow as much as you need, in others the amount is limited and might not cover the full tuition costs of your studies
  • to get a loan (especially from a bank), you’ll likely need a surety — someone who accepts to pay the debt in case you won’t be able to — this can be your parents, a sponsor, or someone else

Keep in mind that student loan regulations might be different in the country where you want to study. Learn as much as you can before deciding to apply for one and only use it as a last resort.

And… there you go! That’s all you need to know to avoid a student loan or getting in debt while studying abroad. Now get ready to follow your dreams and have an amazing study adventure!

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