Avoid crashing your GPA and have an experience of a lifetime!
Those 3 little letters - GPA - can make all the difference in your college experience. While study abroad is definitely celebrated for its commitments to experiential learning (you know, the kind that happens outside of the classroom), there are still going to be times where you are required to sit in a classroom and listen to someone talk at you for a few hours of your day.
While the view out the window may be a little more exciting than normal (think: Eiffel Tower instead of university quad) or the subject matter may be more useful in your immediate situation (a lesson on French vocabulary for shopping is more practical while in France than back home), there will still be times where your boredom gets the best of you and your mind will start to wander.
The reality is - your grades, and particularly, your GPA, is important. A low GPA may reflect your inability to focus as a student, and inconsistencies in a good work ethic. You may lose your eligibility for financial aid, or may be the breaking point for future employment or graduate school opportunities.
A GPA serves as a snapshot to who you are - can you set goals and accomplish tasks? Are you a motivated learner? Are you disciplined in your studies? Employers and admissions counselors will look at this little number and make big inferences. According to National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2010 survey, the job market and leading employers have higher expectations for candidates they hire, including an increased emphasis on GPA. Plus, according to the U.S. News and World Report, maintaining a high GPA is crucial to those who dream of attending top graduate schools, where many schools' average GPAs rank over 3.5.
Here are some tips and tricks to avoid crashing your GPA while you are enjoying your study abroad experience.
#1. Choose wisely when you will miss class
Don't just wake up one lazy morning and decide going to class is not a good idea. It is likely that you will miss class - but miss it with PURPOSE! Plan fun trips or special days to attend once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as a short-term exhibit at a museum, an awesome championship rugby match, or spending your birthday doing something you have always wanted to do. Do not waste your absences on general laziness (or having a little too much fun the night before).
Be mindful of exam dates or assignments so that you do not fall behind in your classwork. It can be tough to learn a new chapter independently.
#2. Study while you travel
You are going to have to do something to entertain yourself during those long train and bus rides from country to country or while you are waiting around in airports. Why not bring your book along and do some studying? If you are traveling with a fancy handheld device, you may also be able to find and download useful study tools or games. Practice writing your characters or memorize important dates in history. A bonus? By utilizing transit time to study, you may free up other time to have more fun.
#3. USE the language
What a waste of an opportunity it would be to study abroad in a country, acquire new vocabulary and language skills, but NOT use these new skills in your everyday life and interactions with people. While you may sound a little silly and feel slightly apprehensive during your first few weeks in the country, it will get easier (trust me!). By the end of your trip, it will be hard to remember the days when you could not confidently approach a local to ask for directions, or order off the menu by reading the item instead of just pointing and saying "this."
By using your language skills, your studies will improve heaps and bounds, thus making you more likely to succeed in the classroom.
#4. Take your exams seriously!
I was surprised when I studied in China and the bulk of my final grade rested solely on exam performance. Whereas in the United States its customary for not only exams but also assignments, attendance, and classroom participation to culminate in your final grade, it is not so in every country. Study hard and study often for midterms and final exams, because they may end up having a bigger impact than you think!
#5. Always ask for help
Whether it be your direct advisor, your advisor back home, your professor, your classmate, or a stranger on the street, always be willing to ask for clarification if you come across something you do not fully grasp. You never know where these conversations may lead - especially if you inquire a local, who may have personal anecdotes or testimonies to complement the subject matter, enriching your understanding (and probably making it easier to remember!). These experiences may not directly affect your GPA, but it will help add depth to the overall learning aspect of your trip abroad.
Your study abroad experience should be a POSITIVE addition to your resume, and for someone to look at your transcript and see it is also a semester of low attendance and poor grades, it is likely any desirable skills you picked up during your time abroad will be offset by your clear disregard to your actual studies while there. While your GPA is not something to stress out about to a point of exhaustion while you are abroad, it is important to have a healthy respect for its ability to greatly affect your future plans.
There is a reason why it is called studying abroad instead of living-the-life abroad. In between those amazing adventures, you will need to put some effort into your homework and attending classes. Besides, who wants to come home from a study abroad trip with a lousy GPA as a souvenir?
#1. Study something you LOVE! Search our database for popular study abroad programs for a program that does not even feel like work to begin with.
#2. Already have a rockin' GPA? Check out the world's Top 400 Universities according to US News.