What Should Students Know About Studying Abroad?

US News and World Report

September 28, 2011

The allure of studying abroad grabs hold of most every student at some point in their high school and college careers. The choice, however, has more to do with money and being separated from one’s family for a few months. It also includes relevant experience for a student’s major, cultural exposure, and so on. This week, we ask the Unigo Expert Network:

Q: What should students know about studying abroad? Pros and cons?

A: Plan thoughtful to avoid the cons.
James Montoya, vice president of higher education, The College Board

Whether you participate in a study abroad program offered by your university or one affiliated with another university, choose a program that will have you speaking a foreign language. (In other words, avoid solely hanging out with other Americans while abroad.) Before heading out, do two things: Confirm that your course credits earned abroad will transfer back to your home institution, and arrange for campus housing for your return. Two advantages of studying abroad in the spring (vs. the fall) are that you will not be returning to your home campus midyear, and that you may have the summer to travel.

A: Take advantage of studying abroad.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

No matter your major, there are so many benefits to studying abroad. You get to select nearly any location and immerse yourself in that culture for a few weeks, semester, or year. You will grow both academically and personally in ways that you can’t do by staying on campus. You will be exposed to new people, new ideas, new ways of living, perhaps a new language, new classes, and a new way of viewing the world. Plus, by going through your university you will receive credit for graduation. Many times the cost is very similar to staying on campus. The only con may be completing the paperwork that is necessary for credit transfer and studying in a different country, but most schools have departments to help you with those details. So, when deciding on a college, take a look at their study abroad program to see how you like it. Then you can go learn the world.

A: Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; take advantage if you can!
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise

Studying abroad affords students the rare opportunity to live in another country, experience a new culture, and gain independence. If you’re considering studying abroad, look for immersive programs that allow you to further your coursework and explore areas of interest. Many courses integrate offsite, hands-on learning experiences with classroom seminars and lectures, providing a more stimulating learning experience. Studying overseas also presents an opportunity to solidify foreign language skills and put them to practice in daily conversation. Go for a semester or a whole year and try to take the same course load as you would at your college. Studying abroad may not be for you if you: plan to graduate early; are majoring in a subject that has many course requirements; will incur additional expenses beyond your school’s normal tuition, room and board etc.; or have family/other obligations that require you to be at home.

A: Read the fine print.
Michele Hernandez, president and founder, HernandezCollegeConsulting.com and ApplicationBootCamp.com

Check who runs the program you are investigating and how the grades will transfer to your school. Some colleges like Dartmouth College run their own programs with Dartmouth professors and standard Dartmouth level grading. Those are the “purest” type of study abroad programs as the grading and level of classes is exactly the same as it would be on campus. Not all schools are this meticulous; if you go an another school’s foreign study program, find out beforehand if the professors are from that college or from a local school and how your grades will transfer. Will the costs be the same? If your goal is to become fluent in a language, be sure to pick a program where you live with a host family, not in a dorm with other English speaking students. In short, there is a huge different in the quality of foreign study programs. Research carefully before committing to one.