How to Choose a Study Abroad Program
Hopefully you've come to this page feeling confident that studying abroad is the right decision for you. Great! Now it's time to start researching where you want to go and which program to participate in. Luckily finding a study abroad program has never been easier. There are thousands of programs to choose from, in every imaginable country, so you are sure to find something that will fit your goals and desires.
It is important to plan ahead. The entire process of researching programs, applying, and waiting to be accepted can take several months. It pays to work hard and find the right program.
How Should You Choose a Program?
The first step toward studying abroad will be to firmly define your goals and what you would like to achieve through the experience. For example, do you want to study abroad to learn a new language? If so, you will want to avoid programs that are taught exclusively in your native language. A deep immersion is the best way to master a new language. Or perhaps you are more interested in traveling and 'study' is only a secondary motivation. You then might want to find a program that is centrally located and offers good transportation options to easily get around. Careful consideration of your motives to study abroad will ensure that you get the most out of the experience.
With this in mind you will want to next start searching through different regions and countries for programs that interest you. If you are interested in a particular language remember to try and think outside of the box. For example, German is also spoken in Austria and Switzerland, and Chinese is widely spoken in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. Also consider programs in countries off the beaten track. The Top 10 Study Abroad Destinations clearly show that European programs are the most popular, but developing nations are playing an increasing role in the global economy and an extended stay in one will really pop out on your resume.
I wanted to get a better understanding of the world and experience different points of view so that I could contrast them with my own culture. This has brought me to a better understanding of my background and my place in the world. - Enrique Panameno
When you find a program that you are interested in carefully read through the entire listing and pay close attention to its location, length, courses offered, and any pre-requisite qualifications. Visit their website (if they have one) to find further information about the program. In many cases you will also be able to apply for the program directly on their website or contact them with any questions.
Other Things To Consider
As you continue researching different study abroad programs you will want to ensure that your home institution will give you full academic credit for all the courses you will take while abroad. This issue can usually be addressed toward the program staff or at your universities academic office. Don't make the mistake of assuming that you will receive full credit and if you discover that you wont, you may want to consider another program.
At some point you may also want to seek out students who have previously studied abroad in the country or program that you are interested in. These people can provide valuable insights into the experience and will usually be happy to share with you their favorite food or experience they had studying abroad.
When Should You Study Abroad?
Though students have traditionally studied abroad during their junior year, it has become increasingly possible to study abroad at just about any time you want during your academic studies. There are no 'bad' or 'inappropriate' times to study abroad, but you will still want to consider your own personal situation. For example, you may need to be on campus later in your studies to take advanced courses in your major. If you are motivated to obtain fluency in a language while abroad, then it it might be important to take language instruction before you leave to provide a springboard for that development. On the other hand, if you don't yet have a major and it is early in your studies, studying abroad is a great way to discover new interests!
How Long Should You Study Abroad?
Studies have shown that the longer you study abroad the more you will benefit personally, academically, and professionally from the experience. However, if timing or financial issues prevent a longer study abroad period, then a shorter-term program is certainly better than not participating at all. Summer programs are also a great option and will not interfere with the traditional academic schedule.
Make sure you explore all of your options, however, before you rule out a semester or year abroad. Financial aid may be available, and you may find that you can take courses while abroad that will help you make academic progress toward your degree. Don't let false assumptions mislead you!
What Features of a Program Are Important to Look For?
While the answer to this question will largely depend on your goals, many of these features typically create the most rewarding study abroad experiences with the longest-lasting benefits:
- The program is at least a semester in length.
- There is a well-developed pre-departure orientation and in-country support to help you adjust to living and studying abroad.
- The program gives you the opportunity to interact extensively with natives both in and outside of school. Housing with a host family can be ideal.
- There is ample support for language development (if applicable). If you are in a non-English- speaking country, a good program will provide you with intensive corollary language instruction before and during your stay.
- Instruction in other courses is in the native language, and not in English (if applicable).
- There is ample opportunity to participate in field trips and other cultural activities outside the classroom.
- Good programs will tell you before you leave whether you will be able to transfer academic credits to your home school.
- Good programs provide opportunities to contact former and current participants to allow you to ask questions and get first-hand answers.