You know how when you go to a restaurant; usually Chinese food or a diner, and the menu goes on forever and you think to yourself ‘how am I ever going to decide? I wish I could try everything!’
At first glance, deciding how to study abroad can be as daunting as deciding where.
The amount of options available can seem limitless. The good news is that there is an entire staff on campus dedicated to helping you select the perfect program the same way your high school counselor helped you find a perfect college.
I wrote this so you can be informed before you walk into that office for your initial meeting. So if you give me 10 minutes here I promise the entire process will be easier from start to finish.
But first, let’s start with the why…
Studying abroad is one of the most memorable opportunities you’ll ever have – a life-changing experience where you can complete part of your university degree program while exploring the world outside your home country.
There’s nothing like it. I studied abroad during my senior year and can tell you that it was the most enriching adventure of my life.
It’s difficult to sum up the full impact of studying abroad, but one of its the biggest benefits is the opportunity you’ll have to meet new friends and live like a local in a culture that’s totally different than your own.
You’ll also gain confidence by improving the skills that help you connect and interact with others. Skills like leadership, team management, relationship-building, and problem-solving – all of which, by the way, can give a big boost to your job search after graduation.
It doesn’t matter if you select an academic year, a semester, or summer term, you’ll discover that the experience will be an exhilarating challenge of educational and cultural immersion.
Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. But, I’m sure you’re wondering how to choose the program that’s perfect for you.
What are the Requirements to Study Abroad?
First things first. To ensure that students get the most out of the study abroad programs they choose, every college or university has eligibility requirements. These can vary by school, the country where you want to study, or your major. At a minimum, though, all programs require that you submit an online application and transcript of your grades.
Meeting your school’s eligibility requirements is not difficult and your advisor will help you through the entire process.
SIX BASIC REQUIREMENTS
Eligibility requirements can vary, but these typically are the ones all potential study abroad students are expected to meet at the time of application:
1. Maintain the Required GPA (usually 2.5 or Above)
2. Be in Good Academic and Class Standing
3. Meet Program Specific Requirements
4. Have Established Major Plans
5. Demonstrate Study Abroad Readiness
(such as maturity, responsibility, and preparedness for an international program)
6. Meet the Application Deadlines
Keep in mind that this list isn’t set in stone.
Take the language requirement for example. While many departments do not allow students to to fulfill the language requirement through study abroad, exceptions do exist.
The best thing to do is to consult the appropriate department for specific details and a determination. It’s pretty much your responsibility to learn whether the language courses you take abroad will be credit-worthy or not.
TYPES OF STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS
Specific eligibility requirements also may be altered by the type of study abroad program you have in mind: academic; internship; volunteering; exchange program; or study abroad through a third party or affiliate program. Finally independent study or a combination of any of the above. And if you really want to see the world a Semester at Sea is quickly becoming a popular option.
Rely on your advisor’s expertise to help pinpoint the exact requirements you’ll need to fulfill your goals and achieve the learning outcomes you desire.
Let’s break down the program options:
Students sometimes opt for an international internship. The work is usually with a company, government or non-government entity, a research group or institute, or some other organization and allows hands-on experience in a field relevant to your studies or career interest.
It is a terrific option for students who would like to integrate academic credit with real world on-the-job experience.
Internships can span a diversity of fields – from business administration to the arts to public policy, with full-time and part-time options available. . They are for-credit and usually are included in program fees.
Volunteering abroad is a component that’s frequently overlooked so don’t automatically omit it when making your international study plans; it can take your program to the next level by providing a way to connect deeply with the local community where you’ll be living.
You can sign up for a regular academic study abroad program and augment it with volunteering or you can enroll specifically in a study abroad volunteer program from the start.
If you don’t think you’ll have time while classes are in session, a third option is to find short-term volunteer opportunities to join in during your academic breaks.
Talk to your program coordinator, advisor, and professors to learn about available options.
Going the volunteer route will get you out of your comfort zone and offer new cultural experiences you might otherwise miss.
The conversations you’ll have with staff members and other volunteers just might lead to a job opening either abroad or back at home.
And don’t forget the positive impact this experience will have on your resume. Graduate school, for example, can be extremely competitive and many students use volunteering as an opportunity to punch up their credentials.
These tend to be the most popular option because of the .
As I learned in my interview with Ben Mckelfresh, exchange means something different in high than it does in college. In high school it means that you switch houses with another student; you live at their house and they live at yours.
In college it means you study at a partner institution, also known as a sister school, while paying the normal tuition you pay at your homeschool.
Talk to your advisor to see who your ‘international siblings’ are. The goal is to find somewhere you want to go while benefitting your career aspirations at the same time.
Third Party or Affiliate
With third party, or affiliate, programs you pay a provider (rather than the university) directly for study abroad placement and other services.
Most programs feature on-site staff in your host city which means there’s always an incredible amount of assistance readily available.
Need help with…
- Passport and visa
- Credit transfer
Your provider will handle all of it.
Once you’ve landed in your new locale, they will be a great source of advice, support, and information. The down side is that you may never leave your comfort zone and could miss out on memorable personal experiences of your own.
Of course, all this added service typically comes with a higher price tag. But on the other hand, if you register with a provider that’s pre-approved by your university, they can access financial aid programs for you from back home while you are overseas.
Only third party providers working with accredited American schools are able to make this type of arrangement. More good news – most providers also offer scholarship opportunities for incoming students.
Here are some third party programs you may want to check out:
This is discipline-specific learning through courses that can be applied toward your chosen degree. You’re essentially earning credits by taking the classes you need at a foreign university instead of your home school.
Just make sure your credits will transfer (they almost always do) and you’ll be all set.
This is what I did and what I recommend. Read about my trip and how you can get the same results here. 325,329 students study abroad each year (studyabroad.state.gov) – how are you going to stick out?
Semester at Sea
If you can’t decide on one country (or even one continent, for that matter) Semester at Sea might be the perfect option for you. Students board a ship and then chug their way around the world stopping in at various ports. Yes, this is a thing. If you’ve never heard about it before I suggest you check it out.
Apply Even if You Don’t Meet the Requirements
What if you don’t meet certain eligibility requirements for a particular program?
Apply anyway and work with your study abroad advisor as there often is flexibility. For example, you can still apply if your GPA is between 2.0 and 2.5, but likely will need to consult with your advisor to determine your academic and personal preparedness.
Eligibility “glitches” may also be based on unique or specific requirements of a program.
If you encounter one of these, why not broaden your horizon – maybe there’s another program that will appeal just as much to you?
The popularity of the city you have your heart set on or the number of students interested in the same program can factor into eligibility, as well.
Whatever the barrier may be, don’t get discouraged. Apply to at least three universities even if they are in different locations. I guarantee you’ll find a host country that’s perfect for you.
Apply Yesterday…no joke.
Once you’ve made the decision to become an international student, get started with your application right away.
More and more students are signing up for the study abroad experience so the earlier you begin, the higher the chances are that you’ll be accepted to the university of your dreams.
Applying a year ahead of time if you can is not too early.
Study Abroad Financing
This is the number one reason more students don’t study abroad and it goes something like this:
“I’ve already got a mountain of student loans, why on earth would I accrue more?”
Study abroad programs are standard offerings at universities of every size. But the cost – sometimes double what a semester at a private college runs – has become the single largest non-academic deterrent to students who want to experience this once-in-a lifetime opportunity.
Tack on living expenses like sightseeing, dining and traveling around and study abroad trips only get costlier.
Don’t throw in the towel!
Yes, paying to fly across the world and set up housekeeping in a foreign country is definitely not a drop in the bucket. But financial aid IS available.
There are thousands of international and domestic organizations dedicated to funding student travel. That means every student can find a scholarship, loan, grant, or fellowship to fit their needs – including YOU. Your parents, too.
Researching these options would be a daunting task if it weren’t for your advisor who will simplify the process dramatically by filtering programs according to field of study and country.
Hopefully This Simplifies Things
In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. — HBR
When you know the location, length, and amount you’re willing to spend it will be a lot easier to narrow down your search. So don’t get overwhelmed!
The next step is to set up an initial consultation with your study abroad advisor. All things considered, you should walk out with about 3 or 4 options to pick from.
That’s what happened with me.