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The Most Important Questions Students Ask about Study Abroad

The 11 Most Popular (and Important) Questions Students Ask about Study Abroad

Anyone who has studied abroad can tell you that you'll never have all your questions answered before you go - sometimes it's even hard to know what to ask.

Thankfully, hundreds of students have already considered this for you - and then they brought those questions to our community so you don't have to! We want to make meaningful travel as easy for you as we can, so we've found 10 of the most popular questions (and a few bonus ones) from the Go Overseas Study Abroad community and have answered them below.

1. How Much Should I Save Before Studying Abroad? How do I Pay for Studying Abroad?

"I am new to all this, need all the help I can get. what can I expect to see when it comes to expenses," asks Betty-Jean. "How much money should I save for study abroad?"

In general, figure $200 US a week in expensive cities, $100-150 a week on average for the majority of the world, and $50-80 a week in super affordable places like Southeast Asia. Note that this doesn't count housing and travel expenses - this should just cover eating out, public transportation, and nights out.

Even more generally, it’s a good idea to have a couple hundred US dollars exchanged to your new local currency before you leave for emergencies, and maybe a thousand or two in the bank. This is very, very flexible depending on where you’re studying, how long you plan to stay, and how much support you’ll have when you get there.

There are two resources you might want to explore depending on how much you already know about where you’re headed.

The first is our post about the cost of studying abroad here on Go Overseas. That will get you up to speed on the estimated costs of the most popular types of programs, and can be incredibly helpful if you’re still deciding where to go with a budget in mind.

Once you know where you’re studying abroad, your next mission is to check with your sending organization and/or program provider and determine the total cost of your program and what expenses you’ll be responsible for overseas.

If your program covers everything including housing, travel, and food, then you know exactly what you need when they tell you the program cost. If your program doesn’t cover any of that and you’re on your own, you can very roughly estimate your total cost using a tool like Numbeo by using the total length of your trip combined with the local cost of living to estimate what your expenses will be.

If it's possible, try to ask a a local or a student who studied abroad before you what their expenses were like to get the most recent and accurate idea of what to expect.

2. What's the Coolest Place to Study Abroad?

The 11 Most Popular (and Important) Questions Students Ask about Study Abroad

"London seems like an obvious choice but where are some other more original study abroad destinations?," asks Casey. "What's the coolest place to study abroad?"

My personal favorite would be Barcelona. There are incredible opportunities for interning with global companies there, and plenty of lifestyle bonuses: they have a fun, laid-back, adventurous culture, there’s so much to do, the streets are so nicely organized (go take a look on Google maps, seriously), and the architecture is out of this world.

That said, there are also opportunities like Semester at Sea where you get to study abroad on a boat for an entire semester and visit half a dozen or so different countries along the way.

In the end, the choice is up to you. Just as everyone has a favorite destination in the world, each person will have a different answer for this question. Start by asking friends and family who have studied abroad what they liked (or disliked) about where they studied. That might help you narrow your choices.

3. How Difficult is it to Pack for Study Abroad?

"I know airlines only allow a limited amount of baggage, and I am very nervous about packing," Savannah says. "How difficult is it to pack for studying abroad?"

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 I'd actually suggest that you:

  • Pack about 7-10 days worth of clothes.
  • Bring 2-3 pairs of shoes, max.
  • Get a backpack or sturdy duffel bag to pack it all in.
  • Bring a personal bag like a backpack, large enough to use for weekend getaways.
  • Make sure you have converters, reusable water bottles, and any prescription meds you'll need while abroad.
  • Bring toiletries for the first few weeks only and plan on restocking once you're settled in.
  • Make sure you have extra copies of important documents (e.g. your passport and visa). Leave a copy with your parents, and back it up on Google Drive or Dropbox.
  • If you know you'll have a furnished room/apartment, leave the house items behind. Instead, pack a few photos of friends or one very small mementos of home to personalize your space.

The people who over-complicate packing for long trips end up miserable lugging their lives around with them. They 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).

Put your clothes in a bag, double check that you have all your chargers, extra copies of important documents tucked somewhere safe, and that’s it.

It really is that easy. The hard part is exercising self control and keeping it that easy.

4. How Do You Decide Which Country to Study Abroad In?

The 11 Most Popular (and Important) Questions Students Ask about Study Abroad

Kristi asks: "How did you decide which country to study abroad in?"

I decided, like most students who study abroad, by picking one of the few options I was given by my university. I got to choose between France and Hong Kong, so I picked both (but one at a time, France first).

You’ll probably have more than two choices, but you can choose by whichever criteria is most important to you: cost, support services, activities offered, class credit offered, opportunities for extra-curricular travel, nearby historical sights, languages spoken locally, and so on.

If you have a hard time narrowing things down, it’s likely that your school only has partnerships or exchanges with a few programs anyway. Go to your study abroad office some time this week, tell them you’d like to study abroad, and ask them what programs they offer, which are the most popular, and pick from those.

If you want to take matters into your own hands, you can dive into the study abroad listings here on Go Overseas and find the perfect program for you. Particularly picky people even make their own study abroad programs by mixing and matching different offerings, and some even find a way to swing getting class credit for it all.

It just depends on how much effort/responsibility you want to sign up for. Good luck!

5. Will Studying Abroad Slow Me Down on the Road to Graduation?

A great question from Bryan, who asked our forum if studying abroad will slow him down on the road to graduation.

In many cases studying abroad won’t slow you down. In some it will actually speed you up. For example, I got full credit for all my classes during both of my summer semesters overseas, and by doing so I graduated a full year early. I actually got to fly back from Hong Kong a year after graduating to see the rest of my friends from freshman year graduate back at my home campus!

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 better paid, more experienced, and more skilled than your peers thanks to travel, so it’ll all be worth it in the end.

6. Which is the Best Year to Study Abroad as an Undergrad Student?

"What's the best year to study abroad?," Hope asks. "I've heard junior year is best -- why is that?"

There is no single "best" year to study abroad, but typically students will study abroad their junior year of college. That said, it's possible to study abroad as late as your senior year or even as early as your freshman year of college. Some universities have restrictions in place that bar students from going abroad during their first / last year or semester, but a good workaround is to do a summer study abroad program.

Again, I studied abroad after my freshman year. Some people study or intern abroad even in high school. It’s never to early to get started, and the earlier you go, the more time you’ll have if you decide you want to go again. (spoiler alert: you do).

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 will likely keep it from ever happening -- so go as early as you can.

7. How Easy are Study Abroad Courses?

The 11 Most Popular (and Important) Questions Students Ask about Study Abroad

The difficulty of your courses while studying abroad really depends heavily on which program you study abroad with. Some programs, say, Ivy League university exchanges, are academically rigorous as your home institution. Some program providers even have accredited research and intern programs that might be more difficult.

That said, most are probably a bit easier than whatever school you call your home campus. The idea with study abroad is to balance school and travel in a way that opens your eyes to other cultures. A good amount of your program should feature exploring and experiencing the local culture, cuisine, and art, and hopefully that’s a little more light-weight than your usual coursework.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard work, especially trying to balance adventures with friends and homework. Always try to keep in mind what the important parts of your life are. Grades always feel incredibly urgent and important in the moment, but you won’t look back on your grades, you’ll look back on adventures with friends. So make sure you leave time for both.

Whatever you do, don’t worry so much about school work that you forget to take advantage of the fact that you’re traveling. Get out, make new friends, explore, and experience. That’s what you’re doing this for in the first place.

8. What’s the Difference Between Study Abroad and an Exchange Program?

This could vary from organization to organization. In most cases, an exchange is a type of study abroad where two universities partner and swap students directly, resulting in transferred credits and no change in cost to those students from their sending institutions.

Study Abroad is a more general term that refers to almost any kind of travel combined with academic study.

9. What are the Qualifications to Study Abroad? (GPA, etc.)

Anyone can study abroad! Unless your school specifically makes rules dictating who can and can’t study abroad (for example, some schools don’t allow freshman to study abroad because they require them to live on campus), the only qualifications are those you set for yourself. Some examples of self-imposed qualifications are cost, academic rigor, and opportunities to travel.

Cost will be determined by how much support you want. If you want your hand held every step of the way, from getting housing set up to having meals and trips planned and paid for, you can pay a ton to have that all done for you! Or you can study abroad quite cheaply (you may even save money compared to studying in the US) if you choose to organize it all yourself. Most students opt for something in between, like an exchange or a faculty-lead program.

Academic rigor of your study abroad program depends on what kind of program you choose. If you’re a graduate student going to do self-directed research overseas, your work-load might be quite high and incredibly serious. If you’re a fine artist going to France to practice your photography (as I was) you might just end up having fun and not realizing you’re doing any work at all!

Some programs will provide more opportunities to travel than others, you can pick and choose depending on what kind of experience you would like. Make sure to ask your exchange university or program provider if there will be opportunities for self-directed travel before you leave, and maybe even start to make plans with friends before you go. Just don’t forget to leave some weekends open to be spontaneous!

10. What Subjects Can You Study While Abroad?

The 11 Most Popular (and Important) Questions Students Ask about Study Abroad

You can study any subject you can imagine while you study abroad.

Why? Because students all over the world study the same variety of things you do in your home country, so that means you can go to any of their universities and study whatever program you happen to be in here at home while you’re overseas!

Try to find an exchange program or a program provider that offers a program specifically for your major, or get adventurous and study abroad while taking all electives outside of your field of expertise. Either is a wonderful way to expand your mind and expose yourself to experiences you wouldn’t have during your typical course of study here at home.

11. What is the Cheapest Way to Study Abroad?

The cheapest way to study abroad is simple: do the research and coordination yourself (with the help of your study abroad office, registrar, and financial aid office). It’s hard work, but the main cost (and main benefit) of program providers is in the assistance and advising the provide you along the way.

Study abroad somewhere that the cost of living is much lower than in the US. By doing this you might even save enough money to make up for the cost of your plane ticket.

Finally, if you want to really study abroad cheaply, go to one of many European universities that offer accredited courses in english to US students for free. If you manage to get class credit for these back home, let us know, we’d love to feature your story here on the GoOverseas blog.

Photo Credit: RichardLey, StockSnap, eltpics, danielfoster437
Steve Moraco

Steve is based in Colorado and founded The Abroad Academy to support, encourage, and inform students who want to travel. He is chair of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Member Interest Group (MIG) in the Association for International Educators, NAFSA.