Study Abroad

The Ultimate Guide to Studying Abroad Through Direct Enrollment

U.S. students who study abroad independently through direct enrollment can save a lot by cutting out the middle man. Check out our ultimate guide to direct enrollment to decide if it's right for you.


  • Direct enrollment is good for students who are willing to handle study (including housing) and visa arrangements without the aid of a third-party provider.
  • Students who do direct enrollment can save money on fees charged by program providers.
  • Direct enrollment students may feel like they're in it alone but they will have overseas support from their university's international office.
Direct Enrollment Guide - Amy R., VACorps South Africa

For students who have a strong independent spirit, prior travel experience, or are looking to truly immerse themselves in a new language and culture, forgoing a third party program provider and studying abroad through directly enrolling in a university abroad.

However, with added independence comes added responsibility. From applying for a student visa to finding housing and making new friends, students who choose this option will have to handle the bulk of the logistics on their own.

Sound overwhelming? Don't worry, Go Overseas is here to give you a hand. This guide will break down the essentials of everything you need to know to study abroad independently through direct enrollment.

What is Direct Enrollment?

With direct enrollment, students are able to enroll as visiting students in regular classes at foreign universities. By choosing this option, students pay tuition to the foreign university directly, thereby cutting out the middle-man of a program provider. In many cases, students who directly enroll will also have to pay a fee to their home university to study abroad or transfer credits.

Many universities also offer exchanges although this is not the same as direct enrollment. Exchanges are similar in that you are enrolled as a visiting student at a foreign institution. However, with an exchange program, you pay your tuition directly to your home university since a student from the university abroad is taking your place at your university and paying their tuition overseas.

Why is Direct Enrollment a Good Option for Students?

Direct enrollment can be a good option for students for a number of reasons. Whether you're looking for a more cost-effective way to study abroad or want to call the shots on your educational experience, direct enrollment might be right for you.

It Can Save You Money

Third-party providers can save you time and stress. They are able to do this though because they charge more for added benefits like visa support, registering you at your host university, arranging housing, and organizing excursions and social activities. However, not all students can afford to pay for these extra services. This is where direct enrollment comes in.

If your decision to study abroad comes down to money, enroll directly at your foreign university of choice. This is usually going to be the cheapest option and although it will take some extra work on your part, it will be well worth it.

To give you an idea of the savings of direct enrollment vs. third-party provider, we've chosen a popular destination for study abroad students. The following illustrates how much you could save for 1 semester of study at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland:

University College Dublin Direct Enrollment Cost Breakdown

  • Tuition and fees: 9,950€
  • Average housing cost: 3,000€
  • Total Estimated Enrollment Cost: 12,950€ / ~$15,400

3rd Party Provider in Dublin Cost Breakdown

  • Total Enrollment Cost (includes tuition, housing, and on-site support): $22,236

You could save: $6,836

It Can Foster a Stronger Sense of Independence

Direct enrollment lets you infinitely customize your experience. Want to pick the neighborhood your London flat is in? Want to live alone or with roommates? By enrolling directly you are not confined to your provider's housing options. If you don't want to do a homestay with a stranger, live in a dorm, or choose from their limited housing options, direct enrollment gives you the freedom to choose.

Another often-overlooked perk of ditching the third party provider is getting a head start on the experience. There are no dull orientation sessions to attend, watching PowerPoint slideshows about curfews and customs. You can settle in right away and explore your new home when you study abroad on direct enrollment.

It Can Improve Your Language Skills

If you're directly enrolling in a foreign university that doesn't offer the bulk of its course load in English (some universities, especially at the graduate and post-grad level, will offer courses in English -- even if that's not the official language of the country), direct enrollment is a chance to really put your language skills to the test.

You won't just be taking Spanish or Chinese classes, you'll be taking all of your classes in Spanish or Chinese. Meaning, you'll learn your major's jargon in another language and you'll get to practice speaking 24/7.


Direct Enrollment vs. Third-Party Providers

If direct enrollment sounds like a solid choice but you can't be sure that a third-party provider isn't better, let's take a look at the differences between the two.

You should choose direct enrollment if:

  • You're on a strict budget.
  • You feel comfortable being independent and handling a lot of the logistics on your own.
  • You speak the host country's language well enough to attend college-level courses in said language.
  • You're able to study abroad for a semester or full year.
  • You want more interaction with local students.

You should choose a third-party provider if:

  • You can afford the program fee (scholarships and grants can help).
  • You'd rather have more support with logistics like housing, visas, travel, etc.
  • You don't have a sufficient level to study in the local language.
  • You want to do short-term (summer or winter) study.
  • You don't want to go abroad alone.

How to Apply for Direct Enrollment

Direct enrollment requires students to apply to their overseas university of choice just like they did for their home university in the U.S. This tends to consist of locating universities abroad of interest and consulting with their study abroad advisor to ensure foreign credits will transfer back. Many universities have minimum GPA requirements, usually a 3.0.

Students participating in direct enrollment are often called visiting students. Overseas universities that are popular for direct enrollment, like University College Cork in Ireland, may even have a page on their website devoted specifically to U.S. students.

Prospective students will then need to submit several items which typically include:

  • Online application form
  • Approval letter from home university
  • Academic transcripts
  • Copy of passport
  • Proof of language proficiency (if applicable)

Some universities may ask for a personal statement and/or references to support the application.


Preparing for Departure

Chances are, the process of obtaining a visa will seem very overwhelming at first -- and that's normal! To help yourself get a better understanding of the requirements and stay on track, break the process down into step-by-step action items and write each down on a to-do list. The task won't seem so intimidating, and you'll be able to make progress slowly, but surely. Make sure you also leave enough time to complete the process as it can take several months to obtain a student visa in some countries.

The following items are commonly asked for in visa applications, though every country has its own process. Be sure to check with the international student office at your host university to obtain specific instructions.

  • Student visa application(s)
  • Proof of host university admission
  • Proof of language certification (if needed)
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of funding
  • Passport-style photo and/or fingerprints for identification
  • Copies of current passport or valid travel documentation
  • Copies of vaccination results (varies by country)

Generally, visa applications require payment of a fee at the time of submission.


A Word on Finding Housing for Your Study Abroad Semester/Year

Direct Enrollment Guide - Housing

If you're studying abroad independently, you'll have to find a dorm, apartment, or homestay on your own. Your advisor at your host university might be able to give you some recommendations or direction, but ultimately it's up to you to arrange your accommodation.

At first glance, finding housing on your own abroad can be a daunting experience -- but it's not so bad if you know a few tricks. Your options:


Many universities abroad offer student housing for international students or allow international students the option of living on campus with local students. Check with your host university’s housing office to see what your on-campus options are.


If you want to live with a local family, your best bet is to ask your host university or use a service like This way, you'll be able to find a vetted family to live with.

Shared off-campus apartments

If your host university does not offer on-campus housing, or you are looking to have a different kind of living experience, you can find a flat on your own. If you plan on finding your own apartment abroad, it can be a good idea to wait until you get to your destination to find housing so you can check it out in person.

Arrive before your classes start and stay in a hostel or hotel while you look at options. Orientation can be a good place to meet potential roommates, and be sure to ask trustworthy locals you encounter about their insider tips for finding housing.

Countries will also have their own, local version of Craigslist that you can use to find an apartment. Gumtree is a popular option in the UK and Australia, Tealit in Taiwan, and Idealista in Spain.

Be wary of scams

It's important to be wary of scams as you search for a place to live. Never send money without seeing a place first, and be sure to research potential neighborhoods on the internet ahead of time to avoid safety hazards. If you are worried about going to look at flats on your own, ask a fellow student to go with you. This may even be the start of a new friendship!


Don't Worry, You'll Have Support Abroad

Direct Enrollment Guide - Making Friends -

As an independent study abroad student, you may feel insecure heading overseas without the help of a program provider. This is normal. Though it's true that you won't have the same level of support, you definitely won't have to find your way alone.

First and foremost, the international student or study abroad office at your new institution is your go-to when you attend your direct enrollment semester or year. The staff working in these offices are trained to help international students and may even have individuals dedicated to U.S. or North American visiting students.

Beyond that, if you have other questions about studying abroad, the other international students around you are a great source of information. If you want to learn about the area, ask your local classmates for advice on the best things to do and places to go.

Studying abroad independently can be intimidating, but we hope this guide takes away most of the guesswork for you. Though you'll be managing most of the planning alone, you'll have much more freedom while studying abroad and will undoubtedly grow as a person.

This article was written with the help of contributions by Go Overseas writer Lauren Salisbury.


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