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Resource CenterCollege LifeStudy AbroadChoosing a Study Abroad Program

Choosing a Study Abroad Program

The international allure, the adventure, the accents - you have your heart set on studying abroad. Congrats on making the decision; now you simply need to decide where you’ll go! Of course, with hundreds of available options, selecting a study abroad program can seem nearly as daunting as choosing a college. As you begin narrowing down your choices, there are a number of factors to consider.


Obviously, geographic location is a fantastic starting point. Are you continually fantasizing about traipsing through a Kenyan safari park? Do you want to study India’s emerging economy up close? Has the Australian outback always held mythic appeal? You can find study abroad opportunities on every continent. If you’re not leaning towards any specific country, look for programs that will complement/meet your academic interests. For example, ecology or environmental science students might gravitate towards a program in Central or South America that allows them to explore/study rain forests. England’s rich and storied theatrical tradition might be tempting to drama majors.

Choosing a geographic location doesn’t only mean figuring out the country in which you want to study. You also need to determine whether or not you’d like a program based in an urban or rural environment. Though the energy and frenetic pace of a city might hold appeal at home, it could become overwhelming in a foreign setting where it might take you awhile to get your bearings. Additionally, a small town will likely prove less touristy and offer more opportunities to truly interact with the local culture. However, cities are clearly cultural meccas. You’ll have greater access to museums, historic institutions and nightlife, not to mention transportation. And, maybe of greater significance, you will come across a larger number of people who speak English (not to be discounted when you’re hopelessly lost or trying to confirm that you are, in fact, purchasing shampoo).


You might choose a program based upon language requirements or language interests. For example, if you’re already studying (or have studied) Spanish, it makes sense for you to consider a country where that language is spoken (there’s no better way to enhance your proficiency than by living abroad). However, don’t automatically default to the country or city you first associate with that language. Sure, Madrid might be an amazing place to live and to study. But perhaps Santiago, Chile is actually a better fit for your needs or interests!

Before zeroing in on a particular program, you’ll need to make sure you meet the language requirements. Some programs expect their students to have a certain level of knowledge while other welcome beginners. Also, you’ll have to double-check whether or not your home institution insists that you take a few language courses on campus, prior to your departure.

Type of Program

Another aspect that you must consider is the type of academic setting you want. Some undergrads opt for the foreign exchange route and enroll in a university overseas. This is a fantastic way to dive right into your host country. You’ll be in classes with local students and fully experience their education system (which is likely somewhat different than your own). If total immersion sounds intimidating, you can seek out an American college or consortium that runs a program in conjunction with a foreign university. In this scenario, you’ll still take classes at a local school but you’ll also be part of an established ex-pat community. And the American university you enroll through will provide a built-in support system.

There are also a number of study abroad programs that don’t involve enrolling in other universities. Many colleges, as well as a handful of private companies, run programs specifically for American students. Therefore, your classmates will be undergrads from other U.S. institutions. While these programs can vary in size, they are likely to be relatively small (at least in comparison to a university). Moreover, they are more apt to have a prescribed curriculum. Lastly, your college or university might run trips and programs specifically for its own students. You’ll travel abroad with a touch of home, studying with your peers and professors. In this scenario, you’ll also probably have pre-established coursework. And you can guarantee that you won’t have any problems transferring credits!


There are also a myriad of housing options to think about. Many programs might secure housing within the dormitories of local universities. This is a great way to meet and socialize with local students. However, this also means that you might not have an ex-pat community to rely on should you encounter a stressful or confusing moment. Other programs might set you up in apartments with other exchange students. Another common housing option is to board with a host family. Host families can help provide a smooth transition to your semester abroad. You can learn a lot about the customs and cultural identity of your adopted/temporary home through them. And they can help you navigate your new surroundings. Finally, for the more intrepid and independent student, the occasional program might leave it up to you to find housing.

Cost and Duration

Cost and duration are important considerations for most students and their families. The price between programs can certainly fluctuate depending on location, amenities, etc. And, of course, the price changes as you contemplate spending a year, a semester or even just a summer abroad. You also must decide if your schedule can accommodate an entire year (or semester) away. Additionally, you need to keep in mind that foreign universities maintain different academic calendars. If you enroll in a foreign institution, this might affect plans for summer jobs or internships.


While study abroad programs are typically less competitive than most colleges, many companies and schools maintain an application process. Therefore, you’ll need to make sure you have a solid GPA if studying abroad seems like an exciting option to you. This is especially important if you’re hoping to enroll in a top foreign university such as Oxford or Cambridge.

Earning Credits

Finally, it’s imperative that you find an approved program. You don’t want to head off for a semester in Buenos Aires only to discover upon return that you didn’t earn any credit. Further, you’ll need to figure out if any (or all) of the coursework you complete abroad will be approved by your major department. If not, you’ll have to make sure you will still be able to fit in all of your required classes before your expected graduation date.

Studying abroad can be an amazing adventure and the signature experience of your undergraduate career. In order to ensure that you maximize your time away, it’s necessary to choose a program that meets not only your academic needs but also your social (and overall well-being) needs.



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