Presented with the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for one semester, choosing a study abroad program can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve created a guide to help you take your first steps towards planning the academic adventure of a lifetime.
The basics of studying abroad
Studying abroad is all about leaving the country to take academic courses, usually for one semester during a student’s junior year. Most of the time, this happens either through a satellite campus of an American college (run by your school or another) or by taking classes at a foreign university. Either way, it’s an opportunity to get credits that count towards your stateside degree all while immersing yourself in a new and exciting place outside of America.
What are some of the benefits of studying abroad?
There are plenty of reasons to consider leaving campus for a foreign land for a few months. It’s the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture without permanently relocating. Studying abroad gives you unprecedented access to a different way of life and a new set of customs up close, which can expand your horizons and teach you to view the world through a new perspective.
From an educational standpoint, studying abroad is a great chance to take classes that might not be offered back home. It’s the perfect way to learn new ideas from new professors, approach an area of study from a different angle, and to learn about a favorite subject in a unique way.
Plenty of students also parlay their abroad experience into skills that become useful after graduation. It’s a fantastic way to practice your language skills and become bilingual, and for those who manage to find an internship during their abroad semester, international business is an excellent addition to any resume. Even if your time abroad is purely educational, having a global outlook can give you a leg up on other graduates in the job market.
How to choose the right study abroad program
There’s no perfect program that works for everyone. What works best will vary based on what you’re hoping to get out of your international experience. At the same time, there are plenty of practical concerns to think about. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and how you weigh the importance of each of these factors is up to you, it can help you generate a quick pros and cons list of the programs you’re considering.
- Is this program offered through your college or university? If not, how easily will credits transfer?
- Does this program give you the chance to take classes at an established university in your location of study, or will you be taking classes taught by American professors?
- From scanning the course catalogue, does it look like this academic program offers the chance to take unique and immersive courses that you couldn’t get anywhere else?
- Will you have the opportunity to earn credits that count towards your major?
- How are students housed in this program? Will you be paired with a host family (the best way to immerse yourself in a culture and language), or will you be placed in a dorm with other English-speaking students?
- Does this program grant you free or discounted student access to popular cultural attractions in the area like museums?
- How does the cost of this program compare to a typical semester at your school back in the U.S.?
- Will any scholarships or financial aid package you currently depend on help cover your program of choice?
- Are there any excursions or weekend trips that are included in the program?
Factors to consider when deciding where to study
Whether you’ve dreamt of living in a specific city from a young age or you have no idea where you want to go, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the kind of location that would offer you the best overall abroad experience. No one destination is perfect, and no set of criteria is for everybody, but thinking about the following factors is a great way to start narrowing down your options.
- How easy is it to get around? What’s the public transportation like? Is it a walkable city, or will you need to hop in a cab to get from place to place?
- Is it easy to get to other cities or countries by bus, train or plane for weekend trips?
- How does the cost of living compare to other countries, or life back in the United States? You can use cost of living tools or a currency converter in order to get a sense of whether studying in a particular country would be cheaper or more expensive than you expected.
- What kind of attractions and events are popular in the area (sporting events, festivals, museums, concerts, etc.)?
- Do you speak the predominant language? If not, is it easy for non-speakers to get around? Do a significant percentage of the locals know English?
- Is the city safe?
- Would you prefer a global, cosmopolitan city or somewhere more rural and hidden away from the industrialized world?
Frequently asked questions about studying abroad
Is spending a full semester in one foreign country the only way to study abroad?
No! While spending a semester at an established university or a satellite campus outside the U.S. may be the norm, it’s far from your only option. If you have serious commitments that would make it too difficult to spend a semester away from campus, a summer abroad program is the perfect alternative. In many cases, these shorter stints are a fun way to check out a new corner of the globe while getting some extra college credit along the way.
Likewise, if you find yourself struggling to commit to a single location, that shouldn’t stop you from studying abroad. From semesters at sea to cross-border and regionally-based programs, there are plenty of ways to experience what the world has to offer without tying yourself down to a single location.
Are there any drawbacks to studying abroad?
While studying abroad is usually an overwhelmingly positive experience, there are a few reasons why it might not make sense for some students to pursue. If you have a demanding course load or are pursuing a double major, it might be difficult to get the course credit you need while abroad. In this case, try a summer program if you’ve got your heart set on studying abroad.
Cost can also be a prohibitive factor, but it’s worth investigating if an abroad program run by your school will honor the scholarships or student loans you depend on. Choosing to study in a city or country with a relatively low cost of living might also offer some relief, at least in terms of day-to-day expenses.
Now you’re ready to start not only dreaming up your ideal study abroad experience, but also start taking concrete steps towards making it happen. Before you start packing and get on that plane, be sure to check out some useful tips for how you can get money to fund your dream study abroad experience.