Paying to Study Abroad: Where Does Your Money Go?

a couple of years ago
By Alice Beth Stankovitch

Studying abroad is the academic obsession of our generation. And why not? We live in an increasingly globalized world; it’s more feasible and important than ever to experience living, working, and studying abroad. The number of study abroad students worldwide increases by ~12% each year, a testament to the collective desire to get out of the classroom and into the unfamiliar.

I think we can all agree on the allure of studying abroad. Living and learning in a cool foreign city or hot tropical paradise doesn’t sound half bad. Class lets out, and your crew heads to… the rio?

Kalu Yala students enjoying an afternoon at the rio.  

Paying to study abroad– an indulgence or investment?

Besides all that storybook travel and adventure, studying abroad offers enough legitimate, well-backed benefits to justify the cost.  The research is in favor of studying abroad being as much an investment as an indulgence.

  •  97% of study abroad students found employment within 12 months of graduation, while only 49% of college graduates who didn’t study abroad found employment in the same period (UCMERCED)
  • 25% higher starting salaries for study abroad students verses college graduates who did not study abroad (UCMERCED)
  • 90% of study abroad alumni who applied got into their 1st or 2nd choice grad school (UCMERCED)
  • 95% of the students who were surveyed admitted that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity, 96% reported increased self-confidence, and 95% said it had a lasting impact on their worldview (
  • 98% of the students stated that study abroad helped them better understand their own cultural values and biases, and 82% said that it helped them develop a more sophisticated way of looking at the world. (
  • Three-quarters of the respondents said that they acquired skill sets that influenced their future career paths. (

Of course, any institution that can provide such benefits (and do so sustainably) requires a tuition to operate. Whether your study abroad program of choice is offered by your university or an external party, chances are there’s a tuition cost.

Not to be confused with an internship, in which you trade work for professional experience, a study abroad program should be thought of as an academic semester– only this semester takes place abroad. Most students get academic credit for their time studying abroad; Kalu Yala students have received between 3-12 credit hours for a single semester.

How much are students paying to study abroad?

It depends where they’re going. Tuition costs vary widely amongst programs and institutes, and where you study abroad plays a big role in cost. You have to take into account the country you’re looking to study abroad in; that will affect not only your institute’s operating costs but how far your own spending money will go. Studying abroad in Latin America, for example, is typically more affordable than studying abroad in Europe, and this has a lot to do with the drastically lower cost of living in most Latin American countries when compared to those in Europe.

The table below compares the weekly cost of several popular study abroad programs. The programs selected offer similar curriculum, duration, and geographical settings.

As you can see, the weekly cost varies widely, between $522 and upwards of $1500 per week. You’ll also notice Kalu Yala is considerably more affordable than other study abroad programs. This has to do with both our tuition– which is lower on a per-week basis– as well as the famously low cost of living and traveling in Panama.


Cost comparison of Kalu Yala and similar study abroad programs.


Other costs associated with studying abroad

Remember to check into other costs that may not be included in tuition. Not all study abroad programs cover housing and meal plans, for example, making the actual cost to attend substantially greater. Kalu Yala tuition does cover these amenities.

Studying abroad with Kalu Yala

Kalu Yala is sustainable town being built in the Panama jungle. Its main operation, the Kalu Yala Institute, offers 13 academic programs dedicated to exploring solutions for sustainable living and town-building. Programs range from agriculture and biology to media arts and political science.

Ryan Westberg, Serengetee Founder, leads a class at Kalu Yala

Each 10-week long semester is like a crash-course in sustainable community living. Students work on projects geared to solve tough social and environmental issues, learn and adapt best practices for sustainable living, and explore ways to incorporate sustainability and do-gooding into their careers and lives.

Students pay tuition to attend, which covers housing and robust meal plan (3 meals a day, 7 days a week.) Once at Kalu Yala, there’s really little need for students to spend money unless they opt to travel on the weekends. Tuition also covers instructor salaries, program materials, recruiting, and other essential elements. See the full budget breakdown below.

Breaking down Kalu Yala tuition

The majority of student tuition covers the following four categories.

Staff: The bulk of tuition covers salaries for staff– most notably program instructors who come with years of experience.

Recruiting:  About 15.5% of tuition goes to recruiting top-quality students and staff members for future semesters. Costs include things like going to study abroad fairs, Facebook advertising, and paying to be listed on various study abroad websites.

Food: Churning out 3 meals a day for 150+ people is no small feat– particularly when we grow or locally source as much of that food as possible (though yes, sometimes a few peanut butter jars do sneak their way in.)

Programming: Programs need supplies, whether it’s the ag program pitching for more pitchforks (get it) or media arts trying to get their hands on a drone. About 5.2% of tuition covers programming costs and project materials, which could include anything from dry erase boards and algae samples to molasses for the eco-distillery.

Paying to study abroad

Paying to study abroad is an investment, and should be considered as such. With the proper planning and mindset, your time studying abroad should propel you into a new phase of maturity and intellect, expand your network overseas, and deepen your comprehension of cultural, socioeconomic, and (at Kalu Yala) environmental issues.

At Kalu Yala, we believe studying abroad should be accessible to everyone, regardless of background or economic standing. That’s why we work with our students to provide (interest-free) payment plans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. If you’re interested in learning more, go here or email us directly at