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Studying Abroad – The Ins and Outs of Choosing a Program

(photo by: www.supergamedroid.com)

Choosing a program can be a bit like selecting a college; there are way too many options to choose from and the process can feel incredibly overwhelming at times. Never fear, here’s a quick guide to the different options available to you, some of the pros and cons associated with them, and some topics to consider when selecting your program.

Program Lengths:

Option 1: Semester or Academic Year

These programs are exactly what they sound like – you study abroad for either a semester or a full academic year. Some students even choose to study in two separate locations for the academic year and spend the first semester in one country before moving on to a different country for the second semester.

Pros: more time abroad = more time to learn about the culture; can usually use financial aid to pay for a portion (if not the entire cost) of the program; easier to find classes that fit your major or requirements; more time to travel on your own (weekends, day trips)

Cons: you miss a whole semester back home (clubs, activities, etc.); can end up spending quite a bit of money on extracurricular travel; if you choose a program that doesn’t offer your courses, you may be behind a semester or term


Option 2: Summer or J-Term

These programs are considerably shorter than the semester or academic year options. Many summer programs will run for anywhere between 3 and 10 weeks, and January programs tend to be just a few weeks over the winter holiday.

Pros: shorter travel times means you are not away from home as long; easy to find electives so you could take a couple of general elective classes rather than major courses; can be more affordable overall; more traveling/multi-country programs tend to be available during the shorter time periods; good for those with limited travel experience

Cons: many international students do not take summer classes, so there’s less of a chance to meet local students; many students are unable to take financial aid on summer programs so costs would be out of pocket; limited opportunity to explore the country and become acquainted with the local language and culture

 iStock_000017906987Small(Which program type will you choose? Photo by: michaelhyatt.com)


Types of Schools/Programs:

Option 1: Direct Enroll

These study abroad programs allow students to enroll directly within the overseas university, meaning that you will live with local and other international students and take classes with those same students. These programs tend to be for students who are on the more independent side and are more open to learning about the local culture rather than sticking with the Americans. Since you interact daily with the locals, you will pick up the local traditions and lingo and will be sure to make friends from many different cultures

Pros: more independent; more chances to mingle with the locals; more variety of class topics not found in an American school; often more affordable than other options

Cons: need to be proficient in the local language; immersion in the local culture can be challenging and requires a high level of student maturity and flexibility


Option 2: American Centers/Island Programs

These programs tend to be heavily American in the sense that many of these centers are schools established just for American students or are satellite campuses of U.S. schools. Often because the schools are more American, you are more able to find classes to fit your majors and transferring credits back home may be easier

Pros: live and study with other Americans; the language of the program is usually English;

Cons: not a lot of opportunity to interact with the locals and learn about local customs or language


Option 3: Faculty-Led and Traveling Programs

Traveling programs are options that allow you to visit multiple locations on one program. These can take the form of programs like Semester at Sea (which allows students to spend the semester traveling the globe by ship and docking at ports for several days at a time) or faculty-led programs where students travel for a small amount of time (anywhere from 1 week to several months) with a faculty member from the home school.

Pros: good for those with a rigorous course load; can be more affordable; you get to see more sites on a traveling program

Cons: you might feel overwhelmed or rushed due to the often busy schedule; little time to adjust to traveling; less of a chance to really learn about the locations you’re traveling to and to learn the local language and customs


Option 4: Study Abroad Providers

These programs are organized by a company versus your school. They are usually some combination of a direct enroll program or an American school/island program. Often providers will put together a package for you that can include housing, tuition and fees, excursions, possibly meals, insurance, among other items, that may not be available with a direct exchange or direct enroll program.

Pros: more support during the process and on the ground; offers students some type of program package; you meet students from all over the U.S. who are on the same program as you

Cons: can be more expensive than your school tuition and other program options; there are a ton of providers – make sure to research the company and programs before selecting one


Option 5: Exchange Programs

With these programs, students exchange places with a student from overseas; for example you would go to the University of Auckland in New Zealand for a semester, and one New Zealand student would spend the semester at your home university.

Pros: your school already has a partnership set up with the overseas school; because of this established relationship, it can be easier to find classes and transfer credits back home; you might be able to find more upper level classes in your major; huge level of cultural immersion; cost of the program is usually very similar (or the same as) the home school tuition and fees

Cons: sometimes very competitive to get into; language of instruction may not be English




Meaghan Murphy

Meaghan found her passion for travel after a high school trip to Italy and Greece; since then she’s studied abroad in New Zealand for a semester, has worked abroad in Scotland for 3 months, and has visited Australia, England, and Canada. After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Meaghan completed her Master’s Degree in International education from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT. She currently works at University of Hartford in the International Programs Office and really enjoys speaking with students interested in traveling abroad.