You've decided to study abroad for a semester, but do you go in the fall or spring? Deciding when to go abroad can be a tricky choice, because there's so many different things to consider. From the weather and class dates, to holidays and FOMO, picking a semester abroad can get complicated.
There's no right or wrong semester to study abroad, but there are a few important points you should consider when choosing between studying abroad in the fall or spring.
1. Check the Weather
When considering which semester to choose, be sure to check the weather. Most locations in Europe and Asia tend to have better weather in the fall. But keep in mind, the seasons are flipped in the southern hemisphere. Take some time to fully research the weather before making your decision.
I chose to study abroad in Beijing in the spring and it was freezing when I arrived. For me, the cold weather wasn't a big problem because I was so excited to be in China! I also loved the fact that the weather was perfect in the last few weeks of my program. It made last-minute sightseeing trips even more enjoyable.
Are you heading to a city with near-perfect weather year-round? Consider the weather back at home then. Are you looking to avoid those dreaded Boston winters? Spring semester it is then. Do you want to be on campus when the cherry blossom trees bloom? Then go for fall!
2. Look for Special Programs and Opportunities
Some universities have special programs and opportunities that are only offered in the fall or spring.
For example, my university had a special "Focus on Fall Study Abroad" program that fall study abroad students could apply for. Not only did they receive a small scholarship, but all of the students also lived together in one dorm after returning from study abroad. They participated in fun events, and had plenty of opportunities to discuss their meaningful experiences abroad.
When deciding which semester to choose, be sure to see if your school has any special programs or scholarships like this one. Having a special program to return home to will make your experience all the more meaningful. You can meet new friends, work through reverse culture shock, and hopefully save some money too!
On the other hand, some study abroad programs might only be offered in one semester or the other -- in which case, you might not have much say in the matter if you have your heart set on a specific program.
3. Check your Graduation Requirements
Some classes at your university at home or abroad may only offer certain classes in the fall or spring. If there are specific classes you need to graduate on time, be sure to check when they're offered during the time that you'll be there so that you won't run into problems finishing your courses on time.
4. When are your Friends Going?
While I've never been an advocate for blindly following the pack, let's be honest: studying abroad at the same time as your friends can be a great experience. While I didn't study abroad with any of my friends (studying abroad alone is also pretty great), it was fun to keep in touch and compare our photos and stories from our study abroad experiences in our respective locations. Besides, we didn't have a chance to miss one another because we were all having an incredible time abroad.
When we returned home that next fall, it was great to be able to share all of the stories from our vastly different study abroad experiences. I also had no issues in regards to housing and finding roommates because my roommates and I all studied abroad at the same time.
5. Consider Summer Travel
Do you want to backpack Europe or Southeast Asia over the summer? If you study abroad in the spring, you'll have the whole summer to travel after your program. While you can also travel before your program starts, this can be very intimidating, especially if you're studying abroad in a place you've never been. Consider studying abroad in the spring to do some extra travel after your program has ended.
6. Beware of FOMO
Is there anything at home you really don't want to miss out on? Whether it's football season, sorority recruitment, or a big theater production, be sure to take that into consideration when choosing a semester for study abroad.
While there are always little things you'll be worried about missing out on, don't let that stop you from having an incredible experience abroad. Just be sure to think of any big yearly events you don't want to miss, and consider choosing the opposite semester.
7. Check the Program and Course Dates
Sometimes school schedules can be different across countries. For example, many universities in Asia don't start spring semester until February because of the Lunar New Year. Australia also has a slightly different schedule because their summer holiday is during the Northern hemisphere's winter.
When you're choosing a semester for study abroad, be sure the dates of your university don't conflict with anything important -- like graduation for example. Do you want to take summer classes or start a summer internship? Check to see your study abroad dates don't overlap with your summer commitments.
My program in China didn't start until February, so I spent the whole month of January sitting at home on Facebook, looking at photos of other people's study abroad adventures that had already begun. While it was a bit lonely, I was extremely excited to board that plane when February arrived! I also had a month of no distractions to focus on packing, studying the language and I even started a blog!
8. Are You a Sophomore or Senior?
While most people study abroad in their junior year, sometimes the third year of college just doesn't work for everyone. Most universities will allow students to study abroad in their spring semester of sophomore year or fall semester of senior year. If you're thinking abut studying abroad as a sophomore or senior, be sure to check with your university and see which semesters are open to you -- since your status might impact which semester you choose.
9. Research Holidays and Festivals
Are you dying to attend Oktoberfest in Germany, Dia de los Muertos in Mexico or the Floating Lantern Festival in Thailand? Consider timing your study abroad dates to coincide with these festivals. Attending a major festival or event while studying abroad is a great opportunity to explore the local culture.
Do some research on holidays, festivals and events in and around your study abroad city. See if anything catches your eye, and consider timing your study abroad semester to coincide with these dates.
10. Don't Forget Housing
If you study abroad in the fall, will you be able to easily find housing at home in the spring? If you study abroad in the spring, will all the housing in your host country already be snagged up by local university students? Do you have possible roommates to live with? Do you need to be in the area to find an apartment over the summer?
It's important to think about your living accommodations when planning your study abroad adventure, both in terms of where you'll stay in your host country and when you're back at your home institution. While many programs will place international students with host families or in dorms, it's possible that you might need to find your own housing. Check out student housing locators such as AmberStudent, which can help you find housing close to universities as well as match you with roommates.
On the other side of things, you may consider studying abroad during your university's less popular semester to have a better pick of housing back on your home campus. If most students study abroad at the spring, studying abroad in the fall may give you a better pick of accommodation on or around campus once you're back.
So, Fall or Spring?
Like I said, there's no right or wrong semester to study abroad. Pick the points that are most important to you when making your decision. Do you want the weather to be perfect when you're studying in Spain? Is it important for you to study abroad at the same time as all of your friends? Is there a special fall study abroad program that's only available during that semester?
The hardest part of studying abroad is preparing to leave. It can be scary to set aside your life for an entire semester and leave your campus and friends behind. It may seem too difficult to find the perfect time to leave. Unfortunately, there will never be a perfect time.
It's important to remember that regardless of when you study abroad, you'll have an amazing experience. Whether it's fall, spring or even summer, just go with your gut and have the time of your life.
This post was originally published in October 2015, and it was updated in June 2020.