Study Abroad

When is the Best Time to Study Abroad? Pros & Cons

We'll help you decide the best time to study abroad. Read the pros and cons of going abroad in high school, senior year of college, and everything in between.

You want to study abroad but there are so many factors to consider. Where do you start? We’re here to guide you through one of the most important parts: picking the best time to study abroad.

Whether you want to go during high school, summer, or your senior year of college, we’ve got the pros and cons you need to help you decide.

How to decide when to study abroad

When picking a time to study abroad, the good news is that you have options. To start narrowing it down, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Timing: When does the school year start and end for the school you want to go to? Do you want to do your semester abroad in the spring or fall? Do you have any obligations or activities that you don’t want to miss? Where does study abroad fit best in your academic plan?
  • Duration: Do you want to go for one semester? If so, which semester? The full year? Four to eight weeks over the summer?
  • Academics: Are there any prerequisites you should complete before you go abroad? Will going abroad at a certain time delay your graduation, and if so, is that something you’re willing to do?

Trying to balance all of those factors is hard! In the rest of this article, we'll break down each time you can study abroad so you can get a better sense of when the right time to study abroad is for you.

Studying abroad in high school

When to Study Abroad - Dominique L. Carpe Diem Education Alum

While not all high schools offer international programs, if you happen to go to one that does, it’s certainly worth considering. If you don’t have access to one through your school, some private providers organize trips for teens. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of studying abroad during high school.


Gaining international experience at a younger age can set you up for success later in your studies and eventual career. Here are some advantages of studying abroad in high school.


Despite the pros, there are also potential drawbacks to studying abroad during high school. These include:

  • Being away from home for the first time can be hard
  • High school study abroad can be expensive
  • Your parents might take some serious convincing to let you go abroad alone

Studying abroad as a freshman or sophomore

While not the usual choice for many students, studying abroad your freshman or sophomore years are two viable options. Check out the positive and negative aspects of doing your study abroad during your first two years at university.


If you pursue study abroad early on in college, you’ll learn to manage issues on your own and attain a stronger sense of independence. Studying abroad as a freshman or sophomore could have the following positive benefits:

  • It could make you realize you want to study abroad again before graduation
  • You’ll be able to knock out potentially boring general education requirements in a cool place
  • You’re guaranteed to gain experience that will guide the rest of your college experience


For the same reasons studying abroad in high school may inspire homesickness, going overseas immediately upon enrolling in university may have a similar effect. Consider the following cons of studying abroad as a freshman or sophomore:

  • You may give up the “typical” freshman experience
  • It can be hard to navigate administrative issues as a new student
  • Your university might not allow it

Studying abroad as a junior

A woman standing near a building looks at a brochure.

Choosing to study abroad as a junior is the most popular time to study abroad in college, and many universities recommend taking this route. Because of this, schools often build their international programs to occur during students’ third year, making the process easier for you.


Studying abroad during the most popular and common time of your college career comes with a host of benefits. A few of the top advantages include:

  • You’ll have had time to adequately prepare and plan
  • You can focus on classes for your major and gain a new perspective on your field
  • There’s ample time to transfer credits from your overseas university before graduation


With that in mind, that doesn’t mean you’ll be home-free with your college degree by the time you’ve reached junior year. You’ll still need to make sure study abroad fits seamlessly into your educational plan. A few of the cons you may encounter are:

  • It may be difficult to leave an exciting campus life you’ve established
  • It can be harder to find classes to fulfill upper-level major requirements abroad, especially if you don’t speak another language
  • You may miss grad school fairs on campus

Studying abroad as a senior

You’ve been meaning to study abroad but time slipped away from you. The good news is, you can still participate during your senior year of college. Depending on where you’re at in your academic career, this may be the best choice for you.


If you’re ready to shake things up and experience something new in your last year, this is your chance! It can also be a last hurrah of sorts before you graduate. Here are some pros to studying abroad during senior year.

  • If you mix study with interning, you’ll gain international experience right before entering the workforce
  • You’ll be more confident and secure about going abroad
  • Time abroad may shape your future plans (especially if you were struggling to decide!)


That being said, there are still possible downsides to studying abroad in your last year. For example, writing a thesis while away can pose more challenges. Make sure to also take note of any limitations your school may impose on overseas opportunities in your last year and how those may affect graduation. Additionally, consider the following:

  • It can be stressful to make sure all the credits you earned abroad transfer back in time for graduation
  • You will likely miss senior year campus events and activities
  • You may miss career fairs on campus

Studying abroad over the summer

Three women sit on a beach.

Studying abroad during the school year may not be possible for some students due to a range of reasons. Fortunately, most schools have international opportunities over the summer in addition to the school year. Summer study abroad programs can last anywhere from a week to three months. The typical time spent is one month.


Studying abroad over the summer combines the best of both worlds, allowing you the chance to earn academic credits while simultaneously traveling around a new destination. The pros of studying abroad in summer include:

  • Summer programs can be ideal for student-athletes
  • You won’t miss out on campus life during spring and fall semesters
  • You’ll likely enjoy small class sizes and plenty of excursions and activities

Read more: 15 Best Summer Study Abroad Programs


Because of time constraints, summer study abroad programs are often abridged and short-lived, concluding in a matter of weeks, as opposed to months when you go during the school year. If you’re thinking about studying abroad in summer, consider these potential cons:

  • Once you start to feel comfortable, it’ll be time to go home
  • Some destinations can get extremely hot (and air conditioning may not be widespread)
  • Excursions to cultural sites will have your group competing with tourists

Studying abroad over winter break

Study abroad programs during winter break, often called J-Term, typically last from one to four weeks. J-Term can be a great introduction to study abroad and may set you up for a longer program later in your university career.


A short study abroad isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might be the perfect fit for your academic plan!

  • If you choose somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll get a break from cold weather
  • You’ll avoid tourist season in most places around the world
  • It may fit better with your schedule, especially if you’re heavily involved in activities, academics, or sports on campus


J-Term study abroad programs can leave you wanting more. Take a look at a few of the cons of studying abroad during winter break.

  • Most programs are very short
  • You’ll miss out on downtime between fall and spring semesters
  • You may not earn many credits

How to pick a program

Once you’ve picked when you want to study abroad, start to weigh the following to find suitable programs.

  • Location: Factor in considerations like language, available classes for your major, and opportunities for travel in the wider region.
  • Cost: If you want to keep costs low, you may opt for a shorter summer or winter program. However, while more debt is not ideal, don’t forget that you can use student loan money to study abroad.
  • Direct enrollment vs. program provider: You may be able to save money by enrolling in an overseas university directly. On the flip side, program providers include all major expenses and support you through the entire process (including while you're abroad).

Read more: How to Ace Your Study Abroad Application

Any time is a good time to study abroad!

A group of people walk down a street in Mexico.

Regardless of when you choose to study abroad, the most important thing is that you go if you have the opportunity. Studying abroad is beneficial in so many ways and will help you grow both personally and academically. Don’t miss out on the fun, start planning to study abroad!