Eight Little-Known Facts about Study Abroad Programs

A girl sits on a rock and looks at the ocean and islands below her.

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You probably know that study abroad programs give you the opportunity to live and take classes in a foreign country for part of your college career; besides that, study abroad really can be what you make of it. There is no typical study abroad experience. Most students find that studying abroad actually lets them customize their education while still meeting degree requirements. If you’re toying with a study abroad term, consider these lesser-known facts to learn more about your options:

1. If you do study abroad, you’re in good company.

About 10% of all students will study abroad at some point before college graduation. And some schools or departments have even higher percentages of students who go. Every undergraduate at Goucher College is required to study abroad, for example, and 85% of Centre College students do (30% go more than once!). At schools like these, you don’t have to worry about catching FOMO when you’re far away from campus; your friends will be away too. In the 2013–14 academic year alone, over 300,000 U.S. students spent some time abroad.

2. Junior year is the most common time to study abroad.

About one-third of U.S. students living abroad are college juniors and a quarter are college seniors. Most students agree that it’s important to spend the underclassmen years getting settled on campus and knocking out general education requirements before studying abroad. For that reason, junior year has historically been the most common time to break out of the college bubble, but it’s by no means your only option. While some think senior year is for tying up loose ends and planning for life after graduation, other students have fulfilled their major requirements and now want to enjoy their electives abroad. Your study abroad counselor can help you decide the timing that’s best for you.

A girl decides to study abroad in London.

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3. Europe hosts over half of all U.S. students abroad.

The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and France (in that order) are currently the most popular destinations for American students abroad. Those countries have appeared in the top five since the Institute of International Education began its surveys in the year 2000. Germany, Ireland, Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, and the Netherlands routinely make the top 20. Among these European countries, the continent hosted 53.3% of all U.S. students abroad in 2014. As for the other half? China, Costa Rica, Australia, and Japan are popular destinations, too. Many schools will let you pick your destination, so bon voyage!

4. You don’t have to be a language major to study abroad.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter what your major is; you can tailor your study abroad experience to your interests. Those majoring in hard sciences, business, and social sciences comprise the bulk of U.S. students abroad. In fact, only 8% of all U.S. students abroad are explicitly studying language or international relations.

5. You can enroll in classes geared toward Americans or learn with the locals.

Just as you have your pick of destinations, you can also pick a program type that works for you. Some study abroad models, often called island programs, are designed with U.S. students in mind. You’ll travel and take classes with a group of American students, and the curriculum (and language of study) is designed for you. In contrast, other programs help you enroll directly in classes at the local university. These programs value independence and immersion, so your classmates will be local students. Think about your options and take your pick!

6. You’ll receive program support abroad, if you want it.

Many students are overwhelmed by the idea of navigating a new culture, a new language, and an educational system different from the one they know. But if you study abroad with a program, you’ll receive extra benefits and support from program staff. The program can help you with housing, registrar issues, tutoring, and health care referrals. You’re not in this alone. On the other hand, maybe you want to be. Maybe you want to be more independent than ever in a foreign country. Your college may allow you to enroll directly in a university abroad and then transfer your credits back home. Talk to your study abroad office to learn more.

7. You can use your financial aid.

Really! If you do enroll in a study abroad program approved by your college, the Higher Education Act of 1992 allows you to apply your financial aid package to that experience. Depending on your school and your financial aid package, a glamorous semester in Milan could cost roughly the same price as a regular semester in your rural college town.

8. Your class credits should transfer back to your home university.

Your study abroad experience should never delay your graduation. Your college’s study abroad office should maintain a list of approved programs. If your college doesn’t offer a program in the field you’d like to study or in the region to which you’d like to travel, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make your trip happen. You might be able to petition your school to consider accepting transfer credits from a new study abroad program. Your study abroad office is there to work with you to meet your goals.

To boil it all down, your options are truly countless. On a study abroad trip, you can easily obtain new language skills, passport stamps, and firsthand cultural knowledge. So, what are you waiting for?

Students on a tour of caves that are accessible via boat.

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About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

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