Studying abroad is often someones first experience with long-term international travel. In addition to all the questions about student life and college-level courses in another country, travel in general can be intimidating. We are here to help by answering some of the most common questions people ask when deciding whether to study abroad.
Our goal here at Go Overseas is to make meaningful travel as easy for you as we can. We listen closely to our community members' questions to provide the most relevant information possible. If you are considering studying abroad, read on to have your questions answered!
How much does it cost to study abroad?
The cost to study abroad will vary widely based on what path you take and the destination you choose. The three main paths to study abroad are direct enrollment, exchange, and third-party programs. There is no right or wrong choice between these paths, but each option comes with benefits and drawbacks.
Study abroad paths
Directly enrolling with a university overseas is generally the cheapest option but requires the most work and independence from the student. Exchange programs vary in cost and are run through a collaboration between your home university and the host university. This means that you will likely owe tuition to your home university while abroad, in addition to any program fees. On the other hand, your student loans can likely be used towards this expense as well. Finally, studying abroad through a third-party program provider will typically be the most expensive option, but the benefits outweigh the extra costs in many cases.
Use the Go Overseas Cost Comparison tool to compare direct enrollment vs. third-party provider fees.
Pro tip: Exchange currency before leaving your home country, and exchange any remaining currency back before returning home to get the best exchange rates.
How to budget for study abroad
The actual budget for a study abroad experience varies widely based on your circumstances, including the cost of living in the host city, the type of program, and the length of your trip. That said, here are a few questions you need to answer before building your budget:
- What are the accommodation options?
- What are the day-to-day transportation requirements?
- What is the exchange rate?
- What are your extracurricular goals while abroad?
- How much travel will you do outside of the program?
- Are there additional expenses not covered by your program fees? These might include textbooks, visa fees, health insurance requirements, etc.
Once you have a rough estimate of all of the above, you can calculate a budget. Numbeo is a fantastic resource for estimating various expenses, including food and rent, to determine the cost of living based on location. Be sure to choose the correct currency you're using to build your budget.
It’s a good idea to have a couple of hundred US dollars exchanged to the local currency in case of emergencies, and access to a few thousand dollars in a bank or credit card (this may even be a requirement to receive a student visa). This amount varies depending on where you’re studying, how long you plan to stay, and how much support you’ll have when you get there.
Pro tip: Find a local or a student who studied abroad before you and ask what their expenses were like and if they have any budgeting advice
Additional reading: The Cost to Study Abroad
What factors should I consider when choosing a country to study abroad?
Choosing where to study abroad is one of the first decisions you will need to make, and with so many great options, it can be overwhelming. To assist you with the decision process, answer the following questions:
- What languages do you speak? Are you comfortable living and studying in a non-English-speaking country?
- What is your estimated budget?
- Is there a specific subject you're interested in getting experience in?
- What are your extracurricular goals while abroad?
- What course level or degree are you currently working towards?
Matching destinations with answers to these questions will give you a great place to start. Even better, Go Overseas has a study abroad program search feature that allows users to filter programs based on their goals and circumstances. Using this feature will help inspire your decision by showing the thousands of possibilities across the globe.
Still not finding a country that stands out? Check out programs like Semester at Sea where you get to study on a boat for an entire semester and gain exposure to 10-14 countries across multiple continents.
In the end, the choice is entirely up to you, and there isn't a wrong answer. No matter where you decide to study abroad, you will be pushed to be more independent, gain culturally immersive experiences, and expand your perspective. If you're struggling with the decision, a great place to start is by asking friends and family who have studied abroad what they liked (or disliked) about where they studied.
Here at Go Overseas, we pay close attention to the interests of our community members. During 2021, users wish listed their favorite programs in order to easily find them again. Here are the most popular countries for study abroad programs based on wish listing:
While this data may inspire your choice, just because a destination is popular doesn't mean it's the right fit for you. To find the perfect country and program to meet your goals, read real reviews from study abroad alum right here on Go Overseas.
Additional reading: The 10 Best Places to Study Abroad in 2022
Can I study abroad during COVID?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many study abroad programs, however, many have begun accepting students again. Countries worldwide are processing student visas and allowing international students to enter as long as they follow health and safety guidelines.
The availability of study abroad programs during the pandemic will vary based on the specific country you want to study abroad in. For example, Australia and New Zealand are still significantly more restrictive to international travel, whereas the UK currently has no COVID restrictions to receive a student visa.
How difficult is it to pack for study abroad?
If you're new to long-term international travel, packing for an entire semester may seem like a nearly impossible task. Fortunately, in reality, it’s as easy to pack for studying abroad as it is to pack for a week-long trip, or at least it should be. I know it might seem like you need more stuff because you'll be away for longer, but one of the most common mistakes people make while traveling abroad is actually overpacking, not underpacking. That said, it's crucial to prepare for all the seasons you'll be abroad for and to know the weather the country experiences. As a rough list, here are a few essentials:
- 7-10 days worth of clothes, ranging from warm to cold to wet weather options
- Versatile shoes
- A large backpack or duffel bag
- A smaller day bag
- Chargers, power adapters, and converters
- Prescription medication
- Travel size toiletries
- Essential documents in a travel folder, including passport, visa, proof of return flight (if required to enter), proof of COVID-19 vaccine, etc.
- Emergency cash
A key to packing for any trip is to grab everything you’ve used every day for the last week (which should be a surprisingly small number of things) and a week’s worth of clothes (stick with basics, make it stuff you can mix and match). If you are trying to decide whether or not to bring something, think if you need it, and if so -- can it be easily and cheaply purchased while abroad? Remember, if you overpack and end up needing an extra checked bag, that can cost hundreds of dollars, so it's often cheaper to buy things overseas than haul them back and forth.
For a complete packing list and many more tips, check out our Ultimate Study Abroad Packing Guide.
Will studying abroad delay my graduation?
While there are exceptions for certain degrees that have an intensive course load, studying abroad won’t inherently delay your graduation. Even in the case of STEM degrees, there are ways to mitigate the impacts of studying abroad to prevent a setback. Even better, there are some circumstances where studying abroad might actually speed up your pursuit of a degree. For example, those who choose a summer program can gain an entire semester's worth of credits while abroad.
That said, even if your trip abroad makes your road to graduation slower, it will do so in the most meaningful way possible, and it will give you valuable job and life skills along the way. You’ll end up with a broader skillset and more experiences than your peers, so it’ll all be well worth it.
Which is the best year to study abroad?
There is no single best year to study abroad, but the most common time is during junior year of college. That said, it's possible to study abroad as late as your senior year or as early as your freshman year (or even in high school). Some universities have restrictions in place that bar students from going abroad during their first and last year, but a good workaround is to do a summer study abroad program.
Please, disregard the usual advice about going junior year because it's easier, better, etc. None of that is true and delaying your study abroad experience may mean it'll never happening -- so go as early as you can.
Additional reading: When is the Best Time to Study Abroad?
How hard are study abroad courses?
The difficulty of your courses while studying abroad will depend on a few factors, including the program you study abroad through, the courses you need to apply towards graduation, and how much you want to challenge yourself. Some programs, say, Ivy League university exchanges or STEM programs, are as academically rigorous as your home institution. Some program providers even have accredited research and intern programs that might be more difficult. That said, many students strategically take their gen-ed requirements during their time abroad instead of upper-level courses.
The key to a meaningful study abroad experience for most people is to balance school with travel and experiential learning outside the classroom. A good amount of your program should focus on genuine cultural experiences. You should partake in the local cuisine, art, traditions, and past times by immersing yourself in the community.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard work, and even more so if you're in a language immersion program. Taking courses in a foreign language will add another layer of complexity, but you will be shocked at how much you improve in a relatively short time.
Your experiences outside of the classroom will likely be just as educational as your studies. To get the most out of your time studying abroad, push yourself to make new friends, partake in exhilarating activities, and experience a new way of life.
What’s the difference between study abroad and an exchange program?
Study abroad is an umbrella term that encompasses different types of programs or paths. As discussed previously, the three most common paths are exchange programs, 3rd-party provider programs, and direct enrollment. Exchange programs are where two universities partner and swap students directly, resulting in transferred credits and generally few program expenses outside of tuition at the home institution.
What are the qualifications to study abroad?
With so many options, nearly anyone can qualify to study abroad! However, universities and countries have varying requirements that students must meet to study abroad at the respective locations. For example, many countries will require you to be enrolled as a full-time student on campus to be issued a student visa. Another common student visa qualification is proof of finances. You may have to show you have access to enough money to pay for your program and all living expenses throughout the semester. You may also need to pass a physical and background check.
There may also be academic standing requirements for you to study abroad, most likely from your home university. Contact your school's study abroad or international department to inquire about their exact requirements. That said, even if you don't meet the GPA threshold, you can still study abroad through direct enrollment or with a 3rd party summer program.
What subjects can I study while abroad?
There are no limits to the subjects you can study while abroad. You may choose to study topics that relate to the country you're in, like Maori dance in New Zealand or sustainability in Sweden, or you may want to stick to your major. It's important to communicate with your home university if you plan to transfer credits to ensure that they qualify.
There are also programs that provide you with work or internship experience during your study abroad semester. These are for those looking to specialize and maximize their exposure to their specialty in an international environment.
What is the cheapest way to study abroad?
Direct enrollment is the cheapest way to study abroad (when not including scholarship opportunities). To successfully directly enroll with a university overseas, you will need to do the research and coordinate the entire experience by yourself. It’s hard work and will take significantly more time relative to exchange and 3rd-party programs. One of the main costs (and benefits) of established study abroad programs is the assistance and advice throughout the semester. If you can do this work yourself, you can save a significant amount of money.
Another way to lower the cost of studying abroad is by choosing a country with a low cost of living or inexpensive tuition fees. The German publically-funded program DAAD, for example, funds international exchange for both Germans studying abroad and students from overseas studying in Germany. The overall cost to study abroad in Germany makes it an incredible choice for those trying to study abroad on a budget.
Lastly, there are many study abroad scholarships and financial aid opportunities that you might qualify for! To maximize your chances of finding funding, start applying well before deadlines and apply for as many scholarships as you can. With hard work and a bit of luck, you may even get your entire study abroad experience funded!
Additional reading: 5 Ways to Study Abroad for Free or Cheap
Can I study abroad virtually?
There's no denying that the Coronavirus pandemic has pushed program providers to adapt to the complicated international travel environment we are still currently in. One way providers have continued offering meaningful experiences to students is through virtual study abroad programs.
Virtual study abroad (also referred to as online study abroad) programs provide students with exposure to diverse communities where they will learn about international issues in a global classroom setting. Like traditional study abroad, virtual programs vary significantly, so finding one that fits your goals and expectations is essential to a meaningful experience.
While virtual programs come with the obvious trade-off of you not actually traveling, you will still be pushed to expand your perspective and grow your international community. Plus -- who knows -- you might just find your future travel companion or bucket-list destination.
Additional reading: What is Virtual Study Abroad and Why You Should Consider It
What are the biggest difficulties when deciding to study abroad?
We've covered many of the challenges students face when studying abroad. However, to make your decision and planning process straightforwards, we have many guides and articles right here at Go Overseas. Here are resources to take you through the entire process, from choosing when and where to go to what to do when you return.
- Learn about the best destinations to study abroad
- Get off the beaten path with one of these non-traditional study abroad programs or decide if a summer program is right for you
- Let us help you apply for a student visa
- Create a reasonable budget and prepare for the costs to study abroad
- Get packed with our ultimate packing guide
- Know what to expect and how to deal with culture shock
- Keep in touch with your friends and family back home
- Be prepared for reverse culture shock when you return home
Make your study abroad dream a reality
When first deciding to partake in an international experience during college, the options and hurdles to make it happen may seem monumental. Fortunately, there are many resources, organizations, and people willing to help you along the way, including us here at Go Overseas.
The hardest step to take is the first, which is committing to yourself that you will put in the work to take a semester, summer, or year to study abroad. Personally, my first attempt at studying abroad fell short as I couldn't afford the program. After that, I learned my lesson and spent countless hours searching and applying for scholarship opportunities, building my savings, and ultimately was able to spend the semester of my dreams at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. In the end, all the time, energy, and work was well worth it.