Third-party study abroad providers wrote the book on studying abroad for students from the United States. Long before universities began offering Direct Enrollment to a limited number of countries worldwide, third-party providers had already helped thousands of students realize their dreams of studying in a foreign country.
When I was a junior in Salisbury University, Academic Programs International (API) came to our campus for an activities fair and I was instantly hooked. Until that moment, I had never thought that spending a semester abroad was something I’d ever be able to experience. Between the costs, making sure that my credits would transfer, and making sense of the arduous visa process, I always thought it was something that would forever be out of my grasp. It only took five minutes talking to one of API representatives before I filled out an application to be a part of their four-month study abroad program based in Florence, Italy and I’ve never looked back.
The fact is, choosing to go with a non-profit organization like API or any of the hundreds of other programs available is the ideal way for students with both serious wanderlust and course requirements to see the world, stress-free.
That means no long hours spent worrying about securing housing, visas, flights or transportation. Truth is, while the do-it-yourself trend might appeal to the adventurous solo traveler type, working with an outside provider means all you have to worry about is picking a program, applying and packing your bag. That’s it. That’s why we’re going to explore everything third-party providers have to offer you together.
Let’s jump right in...
A Third-Party Provider is There to Support You From Day One
Third-party providers take all of the guesswork out of the study abroad process. Even before leaving for your new host country, these programs walk you how to obtain your passport and visa, work directly with your university to ensure you get transferable credit, help you organize your round trip flights, and even handpick housing and roommate options for you.
That support doesn’t stop once you’ve landed abroad. Most third-party providers have onsite staff who are a great source of advice, support, and information for students abroad. They are experts in understanding your host cities’ culture and can help you communicate with professors, landlords, or locals on and off campus. Students tap them for insider tips about the best local hot spots or must-see day trips in nearby cities!
You Don’t Pay for Everything Out of Pocket
While third-party providers typically come with a higher price tag, one of the biggest perks is you can access financial aid programs from back home while overseas. As it stands, if a university isn’t listed on this Education Department list, the federal government will deny funds for students using Stafford loans or parents’ applications for federally backed PLUS loans. Even private loan providers like Sallie Mae and Navient won’t send a financial package to an overseas school. The only way to get around that is to go through a third-party provider working with an accredited American school. Better yet, most third-party providers offer tons of scholarship opportunities for incoming students, which helps offset the cost.
Third-Party Providers Help You Stress Less about Culture Shock
Study abroad isn't all weekend trips and late night parties. It can be overwhelming to be suddenly immersed in a new culture. You may not literally be shocked, but a lot of students describe feeling disoriented and find it difficult to processing their new ways of life, attitudes, and cultural norms in the first few weeks. This is by definition culture shock. Third-party providers make the cultural experience so easy for their study abroad students by providing onsite counselors, classes designed to immerse your new culture and pre-planned events to help you get involved with your local community.
Third-Party Providers Help You Travel More
Want to get see more than just your host city when you’re abroad? Third-party providers are your chance to explore your new host country. Most programs offer several day trips and overnight excursions designed to help familiarize students with areas of their host city, country, and surrounding region. Better yet, more often than not these excursions are built into your tuition – meaning all you need to worry about paying for is food and gifts!
You Receive a Lifetime of Support after Studying Abroad with a Third-Party Provider
Your study abroad program may be over, but that doesn’t mean your international journey has to end. By choosing to go with a third-party provider, you’re gaining access to a lifetime of support and massive networking community. Immediately after you land back home, most providers give you access to re-entry activities and tools that help students tackle their re-entry challenge and some even give guidance on how to discuss study abroad in a job interview.
Outside of that, there most providers offer Alumni groups to help you meet other returned students who you have a life-changing study abroad experience in common with. These groups let you connect with like-minded individuals around the world who share your passion for international exchange, and some even sponsor alumni events around the world and in your home city.
How Do You Enroll In a Third-Party Program?
If you want to make your study abroad dreams come to life with a third-party provider, these four steps will get you started!
1. Register and Apply
Choose the program and country that you want to study abroad in, talk to your study abroad and academic advisor about credit transfers, and get ready to apply!
2. Get Your Finances in Order
Whether it’s through financial aid or if you’re paying out of pocket, make sure that you have your payment plan with your provider in place early on. Next, estimate a budget so you know exactly how much you’ll have to spend on trips, food or shopping each month. Finally, make sure your credit card company and bank know that you plan to be abroad. They'll want to know where you're going and when you'll be there so they can keep an eye out for any strange charges.
3. Apply For or Renew Your Passport and Any Necessary Visas
Even with the help of a third-party provider, the passport and visa process is never a fast one. You’re going to want to make sure you submit your paperwork as soon as possible. If this is your first passport, you're going to need to bring:
- Your Birth certificate.
- 2 passport-sized photos
- Drivers License or another form of legal picture I.D.
- Your application.
Get Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is crucial for anyone traveling abroad, especially for longer term trips like study abroad. Now, some third-party providers come with travel insurance built into their program and others have agents available to help you set up travel insurance through a different company. Now, Travel insurance might sound like one of those types of insurance, just like extended warranties, that are generally not worth it. But this is a handy security blanket that is worth the extra penny. Most plans typically cover:
- Trip cancellation coverage that reimburses you if your trip is canceled or seriously delayed due to a natural disaster or illness.
- Baggage and personal items coverage if someone steals something from your bag or your luggage is lost or delayed.
- Emergency medical insurance which usually provides anywhere from $10,000-$50,000 in coverage for emergency medical care abroad.