How to: Choose a Study Abroad Program

Choosing a study abroad program is overwhelming. With so many available choices, how do you narrow down your options to find the best one for you?

Here are some questions you should ask yourself to figure out the best program that suits your personal and academic needs.

  1. Experience. What type of experience do I want? Do I want to also intern, work, or volunteer? What’s important to me — cultural immersion, improving my language skills, gaining professional experience, academic rigor?
  2. Academics. Do I need to fulfill certain major/minor requirements or elective units? Is there a foreign language I want to study and practice? How will these courses transfer back to my transcript? Will I be studying with other Americans/international students, or with locals?
    • Tip: Some schools require that your major courses are taken at your home university. If this is the case, your school may have its own program where the courses are considered to be taught at the same level as your university (example: the UCEAP program for all UCs) or affiliated programs with other schools. Your university’s study abroad office should be able to provide information about where past students with your major have studied, and what classes they took. Before finalizing your course selection, confirm with your academic advisor that they will transfer back to your home university and count towards your degree.
  1. Duration of program. How long do I want to study abroad? Can I afford to spend a semester away, both financially and academically speaking? What about a full year? Will spending a semester or year abroad set me back in my major requirements — and if so, am I okay with that? Or would leaving in the summer for a short-term program fit my schedule better?
    •  Tip: The more time you spend in another country, the more immersed you will be in the local culture. My biggest regret about study abroad is that I didn’t go for the full academic year when I was able to.
  1. Location. Where do I want to go? Is there somewhere I’ve always been fascinated by? Do I prefer small towns over big cities? Where could I see myself living, instead of only visiting for a weekend? Do I want to go where everyone else goes, or pick someplace different? If I only speak English, what kinds of language barriers will I face? What are my hobbies and interests, and how can I factor them into my environment?
    • Tip: While it’s important to keep open-minded about your location, you should also think realistically about whether you’ll be able to handle living abroad in a certain area. A really basic example: If you absolutely hate cold weather, pick a warm or moderate location. Also consider your previous travel experience and whether you can live in a place with a standard of living that varies greatly from your current one.
  1. Eligibility. Do I meet the eligibility requirements of this program? What are the prerequisites?
  2. Cost. What is my ideal budget? What’s included in the program fees?
    • Tip: Consider the other factors that will affect the overall price, including cost of living, duration of program, currency exchange rates, and personal expenses. Check with your financial aid office if your grants or scholarships can apply to study abroad. Don’t forget to look for scholarships offered by your university, program provider, and third parties (check out IIEPassport Study Abroad Funding).
  1. Program. What do I want my program to provide for me? What level of support is given? What cultural activities are provided? What about organized excursions? What types of housing options are offered?

Good link to also check out: How to Choose a Study Abroad Program by Hartwick College. This article asks more questions you need to think about, and provides some answers too.

Look forward to: How to Choose a Program Provider (no, the research doesn’t stop here!)



5 responses to “How to: Choose a Study Abroad Program

  1. All of these are excellent things to consider for someone thinking about studying abroad. They all were definitely a factor when I was deciding to study abroad. If you have an interest at all in studying abroad, I would do it because opportunities like this will not come up very often, and there is a program out there that fits your style. You just need to find it!

    • Well said, Mike! There’s a program out there for everyone, regardless of what you study… it just takes the proper research and planning :)

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