Starting Point

Where do I begin?

With hundreds of options on where to go, which program to go with, how long, etc. it can be extremely overwhelming trying to find the best study abroad program for you. There are many things to consider and questions to ask yourself when choosing which program you will go through to study abroad. These range from when you want to go and for how long, what is financially feasible, what academic or career priorities you have, etc.

Something to keep in mind is that from the moment you decide to study abroad, to when you actually are abroad, is a very long process--not difficult, but it does take time, therefore deciding when you want to be abroad should be your first step. Also, in the beginning process it is very important to talk with your advisor, or the international education director at your school. They can help start you off looking in the right direction.

*Tip* the international education coordinator is usually the one in charge of helping courses taken abroad count for credit at your home university, therefore, make sure you get to know them, and vice versa. It will be very helpful to you when you return to have your advisor on your side.

Choosing a Program

The first question you have to ask yourself is, why do you want to study abroad? Which leads to the question of, what are your top priorities in you experience abroad?

  • Do you want to learn a new language? or practice one you have some knowledge of?
  • Do you want to study at an institution that is world renown for your field of study, or do you want to work with specialists in your field?
  • How long do you want to go for? What works best with your academic studies at your home institution?
  • Are you hoping this will benefit your career goals? What countries would be best to study in then?
  • Do you need to graduate on time at your home university? Which programs are campus affiliates and will easily transfer credit?
Your priorities could also be both academic but also non-academic:

  • How important is location? Is there somewhere you've always wanted to go?
  • Do you want to be in a big city, or a smaller town?
  • Is the climate and weather a deciding factor?
*Tip* Defining what your priorities are will help you narrow your program options, and will also help your advisor guide you to the right programs.

What types of programs are there?

  • University-Sponsored programs
    • these are programs that directly enroll you in the foreign campus which your home campus has an agreement or exchange with. Some are also faculty-led programs, where faculty from your home university go abroad as well, and are your teacher. 
    • These can also be programs through other American universities that have exchanges with a foreign university you are interested in.
  • Provider, Program
    • These are third party organizations, such as CEA, SIT, or CIEE, which you apply through, and that organize your enrollment, living area, flights, excursions, etc. 
  • Direct Enrollment
    • You choose the university you want to go to, and directly enroll in the institute. You have to do the organizing yourself, but this could be a university that providers or university-sponsored programs don't go to.
Each type of program has it's pros and cons:
  • University-sponsored programs often make transferring of credit very easy, and also the costs are that of your home campus, and financial aid usually is accepted. Plus, your home campus has established relationships with the host university. However, the locations and options may be limited and might not have what you are interested in, and the length of the program may be longer or shorter than you wanted.
  • Faculty-led Programs you spend a lot of time with a professor or professors that you know and take classes you are familiar with and are the course credits will transfer. You will be with a group of U.S. students, which can either be seen as a pro or con. With the comfort of being surrounded by people from your home university, it might be difficult to expand your circle.
  • Providers tend to have more options of where and for how long you can go. But, the you pay extra fees for support services, and financial aid might not be accepted. They are great because they really do provide you with a smooth and easy transition abroad. However, sometimes you are isolated from the host country culture and natives.
  • Direct Enrollment will be a very authentic experience and you will be well-immersed with the locals and other students. It will often be less expensive than what you would pay at your home university. However, the system will be different, and might be difficult to figure it out. Also, teaching styles abroad are often much different than in the U.S. and it could make your learning experience more difficult. Also, if it is in a foreign language, proficiency in the language is required, and you will have to take a test to show that.

Other things to Consider
  • For Language Integration
    • Courses taught in the foreign language only, usually need to have a high level of proficiency and must pass a test to show it. Usually taking classes with native-speakers.
    • Courses specifically for international students learning a new language. May need beginners level of understanding of language. Downfall: you will only be with international students. Can make it difficult to meet locals, and can resort to speaking English.
    • Courses taught in English, with some courses in the foreign language. This may also be the case if English is widely used especially in countries which have colonial history. You will have the opportunity to learn the local language as well.

  • For hybrid programs like half studies, half internships
    • Some programs provide first semester of academic studies and second semester with internships opportunity

    • Program Requirements
      • Many programs of requirements that you must meet in order to study abroad
      • Here is a list of a few:
        • Minimum GPA
        • Sophomore or Junior Standing when applying
        • Certain amount of semester/quarter units of foreign language
        • Pre-requisite courses
        • Official transcripts of all universities attended
        • General Elective Substitution approval from advisor
        • Recent Passport
        • Student and Resident Visas
        • Health Insurance
      • Many programs or your advisor will help you with the paperwork aspect, however if you don't meet the minimum GPA for that program, you will have to look at other program offerings.

      • Living Conditions
        • Do you want to live in a student dorm, apartment, or host family?
        • Student dorms
          • Pros:
            • full immersion with local students
            • easier to make friends with locals
            • usually nearby campus
            • if in a foreign language, will be constantly around it and will help you learn
          • Cons:
            • may feel isolated if not around others you know
            • distractions from studying
            • may not be best/cleanest housing
            • can be far from center of town
        • Apartment
          • Pros:
            • own personal space
            • in center of town
            • comfortable
          • Cons:
            • if living with fellow American/English-speaking friends, may not be conducive in learning foreign language or meeting locals
            • May not experience full culture immersion
        • Home-Stay
          • Pros:
            • Experience of cultural norms of the locals
            • Language immersion
            • Opportunity to try local foods/recipes
            • Can meet other locals through home stay family
          • Cons
            • Often not in center of town
            • May not get along with family
            • Can be more expensive (but provides 2-3 meals a day)
            • Feelings of isolation

        • The Host Institute
          • There are many differences in education systems across the world. The two types that dominate are the U.S. system and the European System
            • U.S. System
              • highly structured curriculum
              • weekly assignments
              • lots of quizzes and tests
              • many opportunities to improve your grade
            • The European system
              • Midterm and Final
              • Must be self-motivated to do well
            • both systems have positive and negative aspects to it, but you have to find out what you would do best in academically, and this could be a deciding factor in what institute you will enroll in, or if you will choose faculty-led programs.
          • Size and type of Institute
            • If the institute is larger or smaller than your home university, it could either hinder or help your studies
            • If the institute is for international students only, it may make it difficult to immerse yourself with local students at a different university
          • Professors
            • Professors interaction with students is often quite different than what you're used to at your home institute. Often "Office Hours" don't exist, and professors may be more or less accessible

        With all the options available, hopefully going through this list has helped you narrow down and given you a better idea of what direction you want to go in. This is the first step and may be the most difficult. You need to explore your options, talk with your advisor and other students who have gone abroad, but the most important thing to do is find the right program for you.