What Type of Study Abroad Program is Right for You?

Young pretty business woman dreaming about vacation and her tripAt first, Study abroad seems simple enough: just pick a place to go, find someone to take you there, apply and mail some money. Unfortunately, it is a lot more complex than that because for most students, study abroad is not part of the standard curriculum at a college, but an option. Additionally, credit hours earned outside the student’s home university aren’t treated the same as normal credit hours. The process will seem a little daunting at first, but by all accounts it’s worthwhile and many students report their study abroad experience had the greatest impact on them during their entire time at college.

To accommodate the growing interest in study abroad, universities and program providers continue to introduce creative ways to work study abroad into a college experience. One way is to study abroad when students are normally on a break because that way, the student doesn’t have to disrupt their curriculum and course progression. These off-season programs include:

  • January Sessions, or J-Term, are 3 or 4 week mini-semesters at the start of the year designed to squeeze a single course into the end of your Christmas break
  • May or Maymester is a single course over a 3 or 4 week mini-semester that follows Spring finals and finish before the usual summer sessions
  • Summer Sessions – 4 to 10 week programs that can offer one to three academic courses, sometimes broken into two sessions (Summer 1 and Summer 2)

Another consideration is what will be studied and how that relates to an academic major. If the university runs their own study abroad programs, students are probably in luck as the academic credits come from the home university and also the grades will show up directly in the home university transcript and satisfy requirements for the major. Bringing outside credits to a university Registrar will need a course equivalency. Keep in mind that the grade for those courses will not transfer, only Pass/Fail status will.

Since not too many universities offer a full array of courses abroad, so they offer alternatives, either through exchange partnerships or ties with study abroad provider companies. In these cases, programs offered by universities overseas are packaged for American students and offer credit on the student’s home university transcript as transfer credit. Exchange programs are generally most affordable as the student has to take on many more of the program components and while overseas will generally not have as rich a support network as those programs offered through the provider companies. In the study abroad program directories from Abroad101, these exchange programs are identified with the title of Direct Enrollment & Exchange. The programs offered at that same school by provider companies can be viewed in a second tab. Those provider companies offer a host of extra services and support services and can really help students navigate the complexities of an education abroad experience. For those students willing the take the challenge, exchange programs are a great option and the foreign university will have student support. The American study abroad student will be treated like an international student and will likely find themselves in a mix of students from other countries as well as those from the host country. As a tip, try typing the names of the foreign university in the search box in the menu bar on Abroad101.

Another popular option, especially in the off-season comes from Faculty-led programs operated by the home university. Faculty-led programs are growing in popularity and as the title suggests, are lead by a professor from the home university who leads an exploration of their area of interest, immersing students into a specific themed program. Think of it as an elective course on steroids. Faculty-led programs are generally groups of students from the home university and the programs often include organized travel, multiple destinations and tours. Faculty-led programs will offer home university credit, but because they are offered off-season, may not be eligible for standard Financial Aid.

Before committing to a program type, we suggest speaking with both the academic advisor as well as the education abroad office on campus. Consider all options when it comes to transfer credit, financial aid and your degree progression. Ask lots of questions so that you fully understand your options. There’s a program for everyone, once you understand what type of program interests you we suggest you use the advanced program search on Abroad101 to help find and use the reviews to better compare and understand the possibilities.