Even before you get into college, everyone and their mother (literally sometimes) will tell you that junior year is the year to do a study abroad trip. If you even attempt to think about going senior year instead, the torrent of excuses as to why your junior year is better to go abroad flood the conversation:
“It’s too busy your senior year, you’ll miss out, you won’t be able to graduate on time, and you’ll miss the graduation ceremony and GASP… NOT BE ABLE TO THROW YOUR CAP IN THE AIR!” Don't listen to them.
Even though it isn’t the norm, you can definitely study abroad senior year -- though it may come with a few more complications. Here are a few of the things to expect if you study abroad senior year, as well as ways to deal with them to make studying abroad senior year happen!
Hurdles of Studying Abroad Senior Year
If you've decided that you want to make study abroad your senior year work, understand first some of the challenges you might face when trying to apply to a study abroad program.
Your school may try to persuade you otherwise
Firstly, your school may tell you it's not possible, or try to dissuade you from studying abroad senior year. You may even have to sign something from your school like this Senior Year Statement from Clark University that's essentially a way of saying "I understand that studying abroad may delay my graduation".
As long as you've accepted that you may have to have a unique graduation experience, you’ll be just fine studying senior year. Clark is right in that studying senior year may affect your graduation date, but depending on your status thus far, there's also a chance that it won't.
It could complicate fufilling your required courses
When universities create degree program, many don’t have study abroad in mind -- which means there are a specific amount of classes per semester that you are required to take.
Leaving study abroad until your senior year may mean you risk not fulfilling some requirements for your degree and, therefore, delaying graduation. On the other hand, it could be a solution to schedule requirements that complicate studying abroad in your senior year.
Then again, it happens with juniors too. When I was planning on studying abroad, I wanted to go my junior spring semester. I soon found out that one class I needed for my major was only offered in the spring semester -- and only every other year.
This meant that if I wanted to study abroad my junior year, I would have had to enroll in an entire additional year of school to graduate. Ain’t nobody got time (or the money) for that. So I switched my major -- however senior year could have been a great option if someone had told me that it was viable.
Our Content and Teach Abroad Director, Jessie Beck, was a student that successfully studied abroad her senior year -- but not without some of the same common problems. “I had gotten all but one of my gen-eds done before study abroad and just had to fulfill a bunch of general credits towards my major, anthropology. Fortunately, I had chosen a university abroad that had lots of classes in anthropology, so that was easy to do.”
This is another big point that Jessie brings up -- your gen-eds may sound perfect to leave till the last minute of your college career – but don’t do it! Jessie was lucky in that she got most of them done and then chose a program that it was easy to complete all of her requirements. But even still -- she had to leave early.
“Finding equivalents for one of those two specific gen-ed courses was pretty tough though, and I ended up having to return back from study abroad two weeks early to take one last course during the summer semester and graduate. My other option would have been to stay enrolled for an extra semester -- but for just one class, it wasn't worth it.” She’s with me on the extra semester/year thing... no thanks!
Schedules could conflict with graduation
Whether you're taking one last summer course or graduating right on time, keep in mind that if you study abroad for a full academic year or in the spring semester of your study abroad, other university's schedules could overlap with your graduation date and you could miss walking on graduation day.
For example, many universities in Europe run a little longer than those in the U.S., and semesters in Australia are totally flip-flopped -- meaning, you could be busy wrapping up your semester in July while everyone else is walking down the graduation aisle in May.
That being said, focusing on a fall semester abroad, or choosing a program with dates that correlate well with your university's schedule, will prevent this problem entirely.
Are you trying to save for after graduation?
If you're heading abroad your senior year, the odds are that you’ll be spending more money than making any while you’re going overseas. Though some students do find study abroad jobs, they are difficult to snag and don’t have many hours. For example, on a student visa in Italy, work allowances are only up to 20 hours a week -- as stated by the Florentine, an English paper out of Florence, Italy. This means that if you’re trying to save up for a road trip or getting an apartment after your graduation date, this may become a bit tricky.
So, Can You Make Senior Study Abroad Work?
Despite some of the hurdles and complications of studying abroad senior year, yes, you can absolutely make it work. You may have to spend a little extra time proving to your study abroad office that it won't interrupt your studies, or that you're OK with a delay in graduation, but our main point is: it's not totally off the table. Here's how:
Spend your fall, summer, or j-term abroad
As mentioned earlier, doing study abroad your senior year will be far less complicated if you spend it abroad your fall semester, or opt for a short-term j-term or summer abroad.
You'll have less of a chance of missing your graduation, and can use your spring term to catch up on any courses you may have opted out of or not have been able to do in the fall.
Not to mention, some schools are less likely to veto a fall semester abroad rather than a spring semester.
Choose schools with a partnership with your university
If you choose to do a direct exchange with a university, a faculty-led program, or basically anything that's already been pre-approved by your university, you'll have less trouble transferring back your credits -- which ultimately makes it easier to get those course credits approved without delaying your graduation.
Better yet, choose a study abroad program that will help you get some of those remaining credits you need fulfilled. That may limit your options some, but it's better than foregoing study abroad entirely or staying in college an extra year, right?
Present your study abroad advisor with a clear plan of action
Before applying to your study abroad program -- likely in the spring of your junior year -- you should already have listed out which courses you still need to take in order to graduate. Bring those, in addition to a plan of action as to how you're going to get them all checked off, to your study abroad advisor when you apply. This way, you can prove to them that studying abroad senior year won't disrupt your graduation plans and make them more likely to approve your request.
Consider that you may spend an extra semester in school
When all is said and done though, you may still end up spending an extra semester attending college -- especially if you're trying to do a full academic year abroad. Make sure you budget, both in terms of finances and time, for this. If you're lucky, it might just end up being a couple weeks of summer school, but for some, it could be longer.
If you’re looking for international job prospects -- this is your time to shine
There's one huge reason that you actually should study abroad your senior year of college -- besides being more confident and likely to approach study abroad maturely, studying abroad at this time could be your way to break into an entry level job abroad.
You can make amazing connections or get an internship for the summer after your semester of study abroad. Being a senior may be difficult in many ways -- but telling your connections that you will be setting out into the real world in mere months will make them extremely excited.
Studying junior year or earlier is definitely easier on a scholarly level, but for employment opportunities, senior year is it. If you’re studying senior spring -- there is even the potential to snag a job or internship (and maybe even a work visa abroad) right after graduation. Want international job options? You're on the right road!
Don't Discount Senior Study Abroad!
Study abroad may be called "junior year abroad" to many, but don't let that confuse you. You can absolutely study abroad your senior year of college, just so long as you're prepared for some of the potential hurdles and approach it with a well thought out plan of action. So get out there -- find your own path to battle senioritis and live life to the fullest! Even if it doesn't go exactly well with the curriculum!Photo Credits: Gaby Chiha, Jyoti Dewan, and Rachel Stuckey.