Like with any serious investment, you should find out what other people are saying about the product before you commit. In this case: a study abroad program provider. Talk to some of the alumni to find out their honest opinions before you commit.
When browsing Barcelona programs, I had so many options and did my research thoroughly. All of the companies started to look the same after a while, though; with fairly similar prices and benefits, I would just be trading in one perk for another. Personally, the main reason I finally decided to go with ISA is because I talked with some of their alumni (both a friend and a random person from my university) and had all of my questions answered directly and honestly. It’s also one of the main reasons I decided to live in a homestay, because nearly all of the alumni I reached out to said they chose that and highly recommended it.
Here are some ways to get in touch with study abroad alumni:
- Universities: Your school’s study abroad site may have a directory of past participants or a returnee list, and their contact information. If it isn’t posted publicly for privacy reasons, visit your international office and find out if you can get access to this.
- Program providers: Some of the company websites will have contact information for their alumni. If not, many have student blogs which can provide some insight about the experience as well.
- Networking: Reach out to your friends who have studied abroad or who know someone who studied abroad.
- The internet: Use websites like Go Overseas, which has student reviews of study abroad programs. Another site to use is Rate My Study Abroad. You can use these sites to find out how one company rates against another.
- You can also read more student blogs and don’t be afraid to leave comments/ask questions. (FYI, in the future at SGG we will be introducing new features that will make it easier for you to find this information and connect!)
Tips for reaching out to alumni through the internet:
- Use a clear subject line in your e-mail so your message won’t get tossed immediately
- Introduce yourself and why you’re contacting them
- Let them know how you found their information
- Have all of your questions laid out beforehand. Don’t ask the really obvious stuff that you can find online (like program price and duration). Ask questions that will give you a better picture about if this is the right company for you.
- Thank them for their time at the end
- Don’t constantly email them if you haven’t received a response; not everyone is going to reply (but that’s okay because there are a lot more alumni to reach out to!).
I couldn’t find my old e-mails but they probably looked something like this:
Dear so and so,
My name is Jennifer and I’m considering studying abroad through x company. I found your contact information through university/company site. I was hoping you would have some time to answer some of my questions regarding the program.
(list of questions)
Thank you for your time.
Sample questions to ask:
- What kind of support were you given (academic, emotional, etc.) during pre-departure and during the program?
- How did the on-site staff treat you?
- How did the excursions work? Did you enjoy them?
- What type of housing did you choose? How was your experience living in an apartment, homestay, dorm …? (This gives you a better idea of how housing works and the amount of effort this program makes to recruit quality host families or find good student apartments.)
- What were classes like? (Note: Depending on the type of program, you may be enrolling directly into a university through a direct exchange, take classes at a satellite campus, or have class with only other international students.)
- What did you like best about studying abroad through insert program here? What did you like least?
- Based on your experience, would you recommend going with this company?
While you can find a lot of general answers to these questions by searching online, the point is to find out specifically about what you’ll experience through this program.
When your program ends, feel free to opt in to being included in these alumni directories if you feel comfortable answering questions. It’s always nice to have someone to talk with!
(As a side note, I noticed I wasn’t included in the ISA Alumni list even though I’m sure I agreed to it… so if anyone has questions about studying in Barcelona through ISA, particularly through the International Studies program at UAB, feel free to email me.)